A US educational organisation has cancelled an event planned for a Mahatma Gandhi biography that was banned in part of India after reviews hinted the father of the nation’s independence had a homosexual relationship.
The event, in honour of Pulitzer Prize-winner Joseph Lelyveld’s book 'Great Soul', was to have been hosted on April 13 in Santa Clara, California, by the Foundation for Excellence, a non-profit group which provides scholarships for students in India.
“We didn’t want to be involved with any controversy because that is not the purpose of our organisation – we are not a literary society that encourages debate and discussion on different authors and their books,” foundation spokesman Abhu Shukla said. “So, it is correct that we cancelled because of the controversy.”
Although not out yet in India, 'Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India' has been banned by a western state there after reviews suggested Gandhi had a homosexual relationship with a German named Hermann Kallenbach. More bans have been proposed in India, where homosexuality was illegal until 2009 and still carries social stigma.
The book, which as of yesterday ranked 80 on Amazon.com’s bestseller list, was published this week in the US by Alfred A Knopf, whose spokesman Paul Bogaards said he knew of no problems for events scheduled in New York, Los Angeles, Boston and other cities.
The author has said the book, about Gandhi’s struggle for social justice and the evolution of his social values, is being misinterpreted. He said his work did not allege Gandhi was gay or bisexual but that “he was celibate and deeply attached to Kallenbach. This is not news.”
Yesterday Mr Bogaards called the foundation’s decision to cancel the book event “shameful” and “one that reeks of censorship”.
“Their decision to cancel is based on misinformation, not facts,” he said. “Mr Lelyveld is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and it is the foundation’s great loss that their members will be denied an opportunity to hear him.”
Mr Lelyveld, a former executive editor of The New York Times, won a general non-fiction Pulitzer for 'Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White', in 1986.