A look at how Gandhi shaped our nation, along with the parts of his character not discussed popularly.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi or Mahatma Gandhi is popularly remembered as the Father of the Nation. He was one of the leaders at the forefront of the Indian freedom struggle, and has a significant role in the attainment of Indian Independence. These are few of the lines we have been told throughout our lives as children – on the 2nd
October every year, on Independence days, and through our History and Political Science textbooks. This is true for the most part and Gandhi’s return from South Africa did
provide a much-needed boost to the freedom struggle. His work with the downtrodden, and his ideas of non-violence still hold a prominent place in the society today.
However, due to the nature of his death, many of Gandhi’s idiosyncrasies and frailties are ignored when it comes to mainstream dialogue. He is considered to be a man beyond wrongdoing, to be the definition of moral standards, and everything we have been taught all our lives just adds to that line of the narrative. The book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld was banned in his home-state of Gujarat when it came out in 2011.
This is interesting because the book does not break any new ground as such, and still speaks glowingly of Gandhi. Although, it does contain the description of some negative aspects and flaws in the great man’s character.
The banning of this book simply shows how the Indian population cannot withstand any attack in any form on those who they deify as gods.
There are many aspects to Gandhi’s character that should be questioned, because it is through the crevices in popularised and validated ideologies that people find the scope to improve society and, by extrapolation, the world.
One of these aspects showcases that Gandhi was a racist for most of his adult life, especially while working on civil rights in South Africa. His work centered on giving Indians more power and rights, as compared to the local natives who he felt were “inferior”. Gandhi wrote to Adolf Hitler twice in 1939 and 1940,and while it was to call for peace, he did write the following- “…nor do we believe you are the monster described by your opponents”.
Sexually, Gandhi had maintained a vow of celibacy; however, according to Lelyveld’s and Jad Adams’ Gandhi: Naked Ambition, it was said that he maintained close and intimate contact with females, making teenagers, women, and allegedly even his own grandniece sleep naked with him
to test his vow of celibacy. He was incredibly sexist and homophobic, propagating the belief that women should be responsible for the sexual assaults they face. He justified honour killings, labelled women who used
contraceptives as “whores”, and once chopped off the hair of two female followers who were being harassed so that the perpetrators would stop. He also led a campaign to have all traces of homoerotic tradition removed from Hindu temples as part of a “sexual cleansing” initiative.
Gandhi might have been the reason that India is still an ideologically backward, and sexually repressed nation. However, it is no justification for the current narrative propagated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and the extremist right-wing labelling Nathuram Godse, Gandhi’s killer, as a hero. The incident involving Pragya Thakur serves as a recent example to this belief. The rise of Hindutva under the extreme right has led to many such people being given a status that
they do not deserve.
To conclude, here is the statement by a student from the University
of Delhi, who does not wish to be named, “I know Gandhi did a lot of messed up things, but how can anyone even think (that) celebrating his killer is good? He still helped our freedom struggle; the celebration of his death because he worked to help the Muslim minority just shows the rising intolerance in our country.”
Feature Image Credits: DU Beat Archives.
Prabhanu Kumar Das