Orwell’s Reflections on Saint Gandhi

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Gita V. Pai

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In 1949, George Orwell published “Reflections on Gandhi,” in which he offers a posthumous portrait of the Indian independence leader. My reading of the essay is at odds with some contemporary views voiced in the village of Motihari in Bihar, India, Orwell’s birthplace as well as the site of an historic visit by Gandhi in 1917. In this small Bihari village, a 48-foot pillar was erected in the 1970s to commemorate Gandhi, and more recently controversies have erupted over local attempts to construct a memorial to the famous English writer. Now some are working towards the 2017 completion of a Gandhi memorial park in this village, to mark the centennial of Gandhi’s visit and the beginnings of his civil disobedience movement. Local politicians claim that a relatively insignificant Orwell merely represents British oppression and an “enslaved India,” while Gandhi represents the liberation of the nation. “Reflections” complicates these views, and more generally complicates people’s understandings and memories of both historical figures, in South Asia and around the globe.