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Optician says ‘despicable’ Gandhi statue plan degrades women

Dr Kusoom Vadgama. Picture: Nigel Sutton. Dr Kusoom Vadgama. Picture: Nigel Sutton.

Friday, August 15, 2014
5:00 PM

A Temple Fortune optician has launched a campaign to stop a statue of Mahatma Gandhi being erected in Westminster’s Parliament Square because of the Indian independence leader’s “despicable” sexual exploitation of young women.

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Mahatma Gandhi addressing a women's meeting in Bombay in 1931. Picture: PA Archive.Mahatma Gandhi addressing a women's meeting in Bombay in 1931. Picture: PA Archive.

Dr Kusoom Vadgama, who has run her own practice in Finchley Road for 46 years, is starting a petition calling on the UK government to scrap the statue plans.

The 82-year-old, founder of the Indo-British Heritage Trust, said she revered Gandhi as a “god” for years until she discovered he used to sleep with teenage girls, including his own great niece, in self-designed tests of his celibacy.

She has decided to speak out now following a spate of gang rapes and hangings involving female Indian victims.

“Half the world’s population are women and look at the way we are treating them in India,” said Dr Vadgama. “Men have got away with murder for too long.

“I can’t see this statue of a man who used women for his experiment. It’s despicable. Go and sleep with a prostitute or another woman, not your niece, who’s barely out of her teens.

“What about the girl who is going through puberty? How does she feel about it?”

Last month, Chancellor George Osborne and then-Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed the plans for a Gandhi memorial during an official visit to India.

Dr Vadgama’s parents were born in India and had moved to Kenya’s capital Nairobi when their daughter was born, instilling a staunch anti-colonialist mindset in her from a young age.

She grew up hating the British government and idolising freedom champions like Gandhi, before moving to the UK permanently in 1953.

Over the years, Dr Vadgama’s views on Gandhi have changed.

“This statue will represent everything negative about Indo-British relationships,” she said. “There is nothing positive about this man that could be represented in Parliament. He didn’t like the British, he wasn’t a Parliamentarian.

“He’s been elevated to a degree where no one can touch him. But why not? Until now, people accepted it – saying, ‘He’s a great man, he did it [slept with teenage girls], so what?’ But it isn’t so what.

“There is something very unpleasant about this statue in Parliament Square and I will do my damnedest to stop it.”

She pointed out there was already a statue of Gandhi in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury, and insisted a more suitable candidate for a Parliament Square statue would be Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian MP.

Dr Vadgama is calling on people to get behind her campaign, adding: “It’s been 100 years since women got the vote, now let’s get our dignity back. When women have been raped and hanged, someone has to stand up for these women.”

If you wish to support Dr Vadgama’s campaign against the statue, email kusoomv@gmail.com

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