No, You Can’t Cancel Gandhi


Vinay Khosla, Staff Writer

This past summer as the United States, and the world at large, wrestled with long-standing systems of racial inequity and general inequality, the microscope under which such systems and institutions were placed was shifted to arguably some of the most influential historical figures of all time. To name a few: Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the famed Salt Marches and India’s liberator; Martin Luther King Jr., the most famous American civil rights leader; and Margaret Sanger, the revolutionary American birth control activist. 

Generation Z, in particular, has transformed into one of the most active voices for progress and change, and with that, one of the groups most willing to condemn individuals and entities for actions or inactions considered immoral or unscrupulous. A major aspect of this new movement for progressivism and activism is a focus on intersectionality, which is characterized by fighting for the rights of a myriad of minorities in terms of gender, sexuality, race, and beyond. Essentially, intersectional activism is inclusive. This focus has gained popularity and has become the modern progressive standard. In the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, the demands to fight for Black lives have been extended with an addendum to specify that includes LGBTQ+ Black lives and disabled Black lives. 

And this isn’t to say intersectionality isn’t valid or even important, because it is. However, like I previously stated, it is a modern progressive standard, but what we’ve seen in recent months is the “cancelling” of historical figures for not living up to such a standard. Sanger has been cancelled for her eugenic beliefs that accompanied her fight for the promotion of birth control and family planning. King has been cancelled for his sexist viewpoints and womanizing actions. And Gandhi has been cancelled for early racist beliefs (which he later denounced) and various sexual allegations. 

The distinction has to be made however, that no one, especially myself included, is condoning any of the assuredly serious transgressions these icons made. But it is possible to condemn a select few of their actions while recognizing and appreciating the absolutely revolutionary changes they brought about. Gandhi freed India from over 400 years of brutal British imperial rule. Sanger pioneered birth control education and methods which are used by millions of women today. King was the single most important force in the 1960s civil rights movement that secured basic human rights for African Americans in the United States. These are figures who, in their time, were pushing the envelope to extremes which ostracized them or even put them in immense danger. In their time, they weren’t just progressive, they were radical

Yes, they weren’t intersectional in their activism and even sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, they did or said things we would consider immoral today. But we should not fault them for failing to live up to our modern progressive standards. In fact, we need to recognize the danger of expecting them to. 

By demanding better of those who are unable to do so sets these icons up for failure, obviously. Yet, their failure merits their consequent cancellation. Not only is this an unrealistic practice to apply, it’s just plain nonsensical. Fifty years from now, there will be new standards of progressivism that I doubt most of our current “radical” leaders will compare to, so should their accomplishments be cast aside in the face of this? No, obviously not. In fact, it’s practically laughable to expect a dead person to (no pun intended) live up to progressive sentiments that didn’t gain note until after their death. 

So, before you cancel some of the most famous historical figures, those who subverted the status quo and uprooted centuries-old systems of oppression, ask yourself what gives you the right? I promise you, just because you’re “woke” doesn’t make you judge, jury and executioner for Gandhi’s legacy.