Gandhi ji  – A Mahatma?

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or more colloquially, Mahatma Gandhi, is a name known to all. But do all of us remember the person, the soul behind this name, or have we raised him on a pedestal to revere him just one day of the year and turn a blind eye to the idea behind the name, for the rest of the time?

The word ‘Mahatma ‘ means a holy person or a sage. This title was bestowed upon him, for the 1st time on 6th March 1915, by Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore. The word was originally used to acknowledge and appreciate the way he gave up his career as a barrister, which at that time was not only a lucrative one but also came with a great deal of prestige and status attached to it, for the independence of our nation through his means of Ahimsa (non-violence). It has stuck with  time and has become so popular now that if you run a search for ‘M K Gandhi’ on Google, you are going to get results for Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhiji, who is most famous for his beliefs of Ahimsa and patience, was described by his father as truthful, brave, generous but short-tempered, (according to Romain Rolland). He himself confessed that he wasted a lot of time and money trying to become an Englishman in the initial few months, when he was sent to London, to study law at the University of London.

He opposed child marriages vehemently, but himself had a child marriage at the mere age of 12 to Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia. As mentioned in his autobiography, ‘The Journey of My Experiments with Truth‘; when his father was bed-ridden, suffering from fistulaGandhi was all of  16 years of age. Gandhi, like a diligent, obedient, and devoted son, devoted all his time to taking care of his father. It was also the time his wife realised she was with child. Quoting From his autobiography-

“ It was a blot I have never been able to efface or forget, and I have always thought that, although my devotion to my parents knew no bounds and I would have given up anything for it, yet it was weighed and found unpardonably wanting because my mind was at the same moment in the grip of lust. I have therefore always regarded myself as a lustful, though a faithful, husband. It took me longer to get free from the shackles of lust, and I had to pass through many ordeals before I could overcome it.”

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After many years, at the age of 38, he took  the vow of celibacy. A year after, in 1907, he started urging others to follow suit. His advice to the newlyweds was,

“Adultery does not consist merely in sexual intercourse with another man’s wife. Sexual intercourse is justified only when it is the result of a desire for offspring… It is the duty of every thoughtful Indian not to marry. In case he is helpless regarding marriage, he should abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife.”

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“Abnormal and unnatural” was how the first Prime Minister of independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, described Gandhi’s advice to newlyweds. 

These views are highly controversial now . At our current growth rate, the Indian population is most likely to peak by 2048, and if people begin taking these views seriously and procreate just for showing their allegiance to the revered ‘Mahatma’, then maybe the situation will get out of control sooner. Also, it is a personal option, and should only be a personal choice .

One of the many controversies surrounding the Mahatma is his  ‘infamous’ common celibacy experiments, in which he used to measure his self-control and celibacy by sleeping with naked women,including Manu , his great niece and Abha, the wife of his great nephew. Before these experiments started, his wife had passed away. Now as quoted by his biographer Ramachandra Guha, most historians think it is problematic-

“Gandhi was obsessed with his sexuality and celibacy, which is hugely problematic. He was doing these experiments to test his celibacy. He wanted to make sure he was not a sexual predator. Those experiments cannot be defended. They were an imposition on young people and an exercise in power because he is the great Mahatma and she’s just a young follower.”

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He was an unwavering believer that women and men were equal and elected women for senior positions in the Congress party and asked women to participate in the demonstrations and marches for independence. He was a supporter of women’s education and an advocate for women working outside the home, but he claimed that the responsibilities of a woman were homemaking and child-rearing.

He felt that women had to bear the primary responsibility of household chores and child-rearing, like many men of his day. Gandhi’s views on the rights of women definitely fall short of what would be expected by a contemporary, 21st-century sensibility. At the same time, it was definitely very progressive to introduce women into public life in the 1920s and 30s and enable them to become ministers and parliamentarians (as Gandhi did).

In her book Sex and Power, author Rita Banerji writes that Gandhi, “believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman’s soul by her sexuality.”

Quoting the Bapu’s own words – 

“I have always held that it is physically impossible to violate a woman against her will. The outrage takes place only when she gives way to fear or does not realize her moral strength. If she cannot meet the assailant’s physical might, her purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her… It is my firm conviction that a fearless woman, who knows that her purity is her best shield can never be dishonoured. However beastly the man, he will bow in shame before the flame of her dazzling purity”.

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Gandhiji was also not in favour of women dressing up. He wrote to Manu Gandhi,

 “What a pity that the modern girl attaches greater importance to following the code of fashion than to the protection of her health and strength.” 

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The reasoning behind first bringing to light his controversies can be defined aptly by his quote, ‘my life is my message’.

He taught us the Ahimsa principle, the non-violent, non-cooperation principle. In the real world, Gandhi was a politician who while trying to achieve independence for his motherland, tried to bring peace and harmony to India as well. He pioneered satyagraha and practised it. The process of reform, which must be ethical, peaceful, and democratic to give rights to all minorities, was very important to him. He managed to pull together the disparate Indian masses, to be united towards a common objective of independence, to accomplish the intricate task by integrating people from all backgrounds to work collectively towards independence.

While focusing on someone’s positive inspiring actions and praising them for the same is important, we must remember that one person’s six could be another one’s nine-it’s all a matter of perspective. In an alternate dimension, maybe Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would still have been a great politician in 2020, but he may not have been Mahatma Gandhi in 2020.

Ramita Misra

F.Y B.Sc. Economics

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