Gay icon champions Gandhi in book row

Kathmandu: Nepal`s only openly gay public figure, who became an icon for South Asia`s sexual minorities with his crusade for gay rights, has now thrown his support behind Mahatma Gandhi, saying the sexual orientation of the preacher of non-violence could never detract from his immense contribution to India`s battle for freedom and world peace.Sunil Babu Pant, the only openly homosexual member of Nepal`s parliament and founder of Blue Diamond Society, the pioneering gay rights organisation that has won court nod for same-sex marriages in Nepal, became the latest public figure to join the growing controversy over a new book on Mahatma Gandhi following a ban on it by the Indian state where Gandhi was born in 1869.

Pant, who has been campaigning against violence against homosexuals, lesbians and trans-genders by security forces, government officials and members of the public, said "Great Soul", the new book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Joseph Lelyveld that reveals Gandhi`s love for German-Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach and triggered speculation that Gandhi could have been homosexual, had no bearing on Gandhi`s work.

"I agree with the statement by Gandhi`s great grandson," said Pant, who was invited by the Indian government to New Delhi recently to interact with Indian lawmakers.

After "Great Soul" was banned by the Indian state of Gujarat, where Gandhi was born Mohandas Karamchand, his great grandson Tushar Gandhi opposed the censorship, saying: "How does it matter if the Mahatma was straight, gay or bisexual? Every time he would still be the man who led India to freedom."

"No matter who Gandhi was, straight or gay, he remains a great source of inspirations to countless people in the world, throughout history," Pant said, echoing Tushar Gandhi. "His principle of non-violent struggle and non-violent practices in life inspires me every day."

The Nepali gay icon, who has been honoured by international gay celebrities like British singer Sir Elton John and the world`s first transsexual MP, New Zealand`s Georgina Bayer, also said he hoped the ban on the book would be lifted.

"I hope India will continue to remain the symbol of democracy and uphold the freedom of expression and press," he said.

Six decades after his death, Gandhi`s philosophy of satyagraha and non-violent opposition continues to deeply influence neighbour Nepal with the last two major pro-democracy movements in Nepal in 1990 and 2006 having been modelled on it.

Even Nepal`s former Maoist guerrillas, who fought a 10-year armed war against the state from 1996, have switched over to non-violent protests since laying down arms in 2006.

Besides watching the book controversy keenly, Nepal is also closely following the fast unto death begun in New Delhi by veteran Gandhian and social activist Anna Hazare, who is demanding strong government measures to weed out corruption.



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