Fact Check: Mahatma Gandhi’s Football Club Team Picture Viral As A Serving British Army Officer

A picture of Mahatma Gandhi, standing with a large group of people, is being circulated on the social media with a claim that he had served as a Sergeant Major in the British Army.

The caption read: “आप जानते हैं महात्मा गांधी कभी ब्रिटिश आर्मी में सार्जेंट मेजर थे और उन्हें ब्रिटिश सेना में शानदार काम करने के लिए दो पदक भी मिले थे लेकिन हां कांग्रेसी की नजर में गद्दार तो सावरकर है” (English translation: Did you know Mahatma Gandhi was once a Sergeant Major in the British Army,  and received two medals for his brilliant work? But in the eyes of Congress party, Savarkar is a traitor.)

Here’s the link to the above post.


NewsMobile fact-checked the post, and found it to be misleading.

Firstly, we put the picture through a Reverse Image search and found the same image in a 2010 article by Mint. The picture was captioned: “Ahead of the game: The ‘passive resisters’ in South Africa, 1913. Mahatma Gandhi is standing sixth from left in the back row, with his secretary Sonia Schlesin. Photo: Dinodia”

As per the article, while in South Africa, Gandhi started two football clubs in Johannesburg and Pretoria both of which were named ‘Passive Resistors’.

We found the same image on the stock website Alamy. The picture was captioned: “Football team in South Africa with Mahatma Gandhi.”

After establishing that the image is of Gandhi with his football club, we proceeded to check the veracity of the claim that he was in the British Army.

We ran a keyword search and found one article in The Times of India, mentioning that Gandhi had established the Indian Ambulance Corps during the Second Boer War and Zulu War, in which he served as a Sergeant-Major of the British Army.

However, another article by Hindustan Times, in 2008, quoted well-known historian Ramachandra Guha as saying: “Gandhi was never employed by British forces. He had only raised a voluntary Ambulance Corps, consisting purely of non-combatants, to render medical aid to British troops. It is incorrect to say he served the British Army.”

In his autobiography, Gandhi has written, “Our corps was 1,100 strong, with nearly 40 leaders. About 300 were free Indians, and the rest indentured. Dr Booth was also with us. The corps acquitted itself well. Though our work was to be outside the firing line, and we had the protection of Red Cross, we were asked at a critical moment to serve within the firing line. The authorities did not want us to be within the range of fire. The situation was changed after the repulse at Spion Kop, and General Buller sent the message that, though, we were not bound to take the risk, the government would be thankful if we would do so and fetch the wounded from the field.” It is also mentioned that the corps was disbanded after six weeks’ service.

On searching further, we also found the image of the corp on Alamy website, with a caption: “Mahatma Gandhi with Indian Ambulance Corps during Boer War in South Africa, 1899-1900.”

From the above information, it is clear that the viral post is misleading.

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