Mahatma Gandhi, who employed nonviolent civil disobedience to lead India to independence after more than a century of British rule, was posthumously baptized by proxy by a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, according to information provided to The Huffington Post.
Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who has until now has focused on researching incidents of proxy baptisms being proposed for or performed on dead Jews, discovered the Gandhi records on February 16 in a genealogical database restricted to Mormons. She was prompted to search for his name after seeing a statement by a Nevada-based Hindu activist, Rajan Zed, who expressed concern the practice might be performed in the name of many Hindus.
A screen shot of the database page sent to HuffPost by Radkey shows a proxy baptism for Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was completed in a Salt Lake City Temple on March 27, 1996. The record has since been removed and Radkey said a subsequent search came up with "Unknown Name."
A request to a church spokesman for comment on the alleged baptism by proxy of Gandhi was not immediately returned.
Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Gandhi who lives in Rochester, N.Y., said he was " surprised" to hear about the posthumous baptism. "It bothers me in the sense that people are doing something when a person is dead and gone and there is nobody to answer for that person. That’s not the right thing to do," said Gandhi, an activist who teaches nonviolence. He also noted that his grandfather was against proselytizing of any kind, whether it involved Hindus or others. "He thought people must decide for themselves which religion they want to follow and they should follow that religion. It's not up to others to force them. He was respectful of all the religions."
Zed, who lives in Reno and runs a group called the Universal Society of Hinduism, told HuffPost that the posthumous proxy baptism of Gandhi is “appalling" and that Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints President Thomas Monson should personally apologize. The church should give an accounting of how many Hindus have had the ritual performed on their behalf and outline steps to assure it doesn't happen in the future, Zed said.
Hindus do not mark death as the end of existence but rather believe that the soul is reincarnated into different physical bodies through cycles of birth and death. To perform proxy baptism to a Hindu is "deeply offensive" because of the belief in rebirth, said Suhag Shukla, co-founder of the Hindu American Foundation and now its managing director and legal counsel.
"Each of us is innately divine, which is diametrically opposed to this concept that we are innately sinful and needing to accept Jesus as our savior in order to cleanse our soul," she said in an interview. "We do not believe there is only one way to salvation."
The history of British colonialism in India was inextricably tied to Christian missionaries who viewed Hindus and other non-Westerners as "heathens languishing in religions other than Christianity," Shukla said. She said many Hindus view missionaries -- whether Mormon or from other groups, as unwelcome "church-planting" operations.
"The irony is that Mahatma had some very specific criticisms about conversion and missionary activities, or "predatory proselytization," Shukla said. "He felt it was at the root of all conflict," she said. "He was interested in interfaith engagement and peace between religions. But he felt it was very important you have respect for other religions and not be coming in with this attitude that mine is better than yours."
According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a Mormon might propose the baptism of another person posthumously. The church has explained that it conducts the practice of proxy baptisms "because all who have lived on the earth have not had the opportunity to be baptized by proper authority during life on earth, baptisms may be performed by proxy, meaning a living person may be baptized in behalf of a deceased person. Baptisms for the dead are performed by Church members in temples throughout the world."
"The person acting as a proxy uses only the name of the deceased," according to the church, leaving the "mortal remains of the deceased" undisturbed. "To prevent duplication the Church keeps a record of the deceased persons who have been baptized."
Just because a name of an individual is submitted for a proxy baptism doesn't mean that the ritual takes place. "Such baptisms can only be performed in special fonts in Mormon Temples," the BBC has reported. "Women act as proxies for women and men for men. There are witnesses present and a proper record is kept, although the ceremony does not make the person for whom the baptism is performed a Mormon."
And as the church points out: "There is nothing in Mormonism that states that the person who is being baptized by proxy must accept this ordinance; he or she is simply given the opportunity to choose."
Mormon author Samuel Brown has written in The Huffington Post that Mormon proxy baptism is a solution to "Christianity's 'scandal of particularity' because it enables Christ to "be brought to everyone in the afterlife." Still, he wrote that he understands how the idea could offend members of other religious groups who do not consider Jesus as essential to their salvation.
Last week, HuffPost reported that teen diarist and symbol of the Holocaust Anne Frank had been baptized this month for at least the ninth time since she died in a Nazi concentration camp in 1945.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Weisel, who is still alive, also was targeted for "posthumous" baptism, as were the murdered parents of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. Wiesel demanded Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speak out about the practice. Romney, has performed the ritual of proxy baptism in the past, but has referred questions about the ritual to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Negotiations between Mormon and Jewish leaders led to an agreement in 1995 for the church to stop the posthumous baptism of all Jews, except in the case of direct ancestors of Mormons. After this, Radkey found that members of the the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had failed to adhere to the agreement. A subsequent 2010 pact resulted in a promise by the church to at least prevent inappropriate proxy baptism requests for Holocaust victims -- although not of all Jews.
Related on HuffPost: