Another Side of Mahatma Gandhi
Having two contradictory opinions on Ghandi
Published: Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, October 9, 2013 16:10
Not long ago, the 144th anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday was celebrated Oct. 2 in India and throughout the world. Gandhi led the Indian independence movement through non-violent civil disobedience, in the struggle to free his country from the British Empire. This progressive movement inspired many other leaders around the world including Nelson Mandela and here in America, Martin Luther King Jr.
I do not wish to list Gandhi’s achievements and write an autobiography about him on his 144th birthday. But I do wish to express two contradictory opinions. Firstly, I want tell how Gandhi’s vision impacted my life, and secondly, I want to tell why I condemn his obscure experiment of celibacy.
I was genuinely apolitical before I became an advent follower of Gandhi’s principles. I could not find my place within the masculine-dominated politics where power and oppression governed the world. In this realm, non-violence was seen as “weakness.” But Gandhi’s vision helped me to establish a feminist position on politics where non-violence was not considered as a weakness, but strength.
The idea that violence could be fought and defeated through non-violent means made sense to me ideologically. But I did not want to stop there; I tried to apply this principle to my life. It helped me in certain ethical and moral dilemmas, and it helped me to form my political positions on issues such as death penalty and abortion.
When I came to NDSU, quite interestingly, I met some Indian international students who did not support Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedient movement. They made valid points by arguing for the importance of self-defense against non-violence.
There were those who argued that Gandhi’s powerful political presence in the world overshadowed some other influential freedom fighters in India like Bhagat Sing. Arguing with them helped me to understand alternative viewpoints against non-violent resistance. But these arguments also helped me to understand how to apply the core principles of Gandhi’s vision in argumentation.
Thus, Gandhi remains an influential person in my life, because his vision helped me to deal with different political questions and find my way through dissent. Having said that, let me get to the obscure part that I was appalled to learn about Gandhi by a recent discovery made by the India Today magazine.
As you may know, Gandhi embraced celibacy and practiced it in his life. But some of these practices are highly questionable. Recently, India Today published a series of diary entries of one the closest associate of Gandhi, named Manuben (also known as Mirdula Gandhi) who was subjected to Gandhi’s obscure experiments of celibacy.
Manuben was a loyal follower of Gandhi in the latter part of Gandhi’s life, and she considered Gandhi as her sole caretaker. She was also a member of Gandhi’s child activist group.
When I read the diary extracts of this young girl, I felt like Gandhi had given her extreme love and care, but also had overshadowed her life and used her to fulfill his own personal and spiritual achievements. The diary entry reads:
“Tonight, when Bapu (Ghandi), Sushilaben and I were sleeping on the same cot, he embraced me and patted me. He put me to sleep with great love. He embraced me after a very long time. Then Bapu praised me for remaining innocent (of sexual urges) despite sleeping with him.”
Now, I do want to make our readers understand that, Gandhi was open about his experiments. Even the diary entries of Manuben say that Gandhi openly spoke about his experiments with her. I urge my readers to read more of Manuben’s diary entries and learn more about Gandhi’s experiments to form opinions on your own.
The disturbing part of his personality to dominate and manipulate others by his so-called experiments must have been coming from his strong conviction.
Many people around this world (not only Indians) may feel strongly about Gandhi’s commitment to freedom in and non-violence. And I share that feeling, but we need to see this obscure side of Gandhi, which is not acceptable.
Gandhi’s presence made a remarkable psychological impact in Manuben’s life, and it was revealed later in her life by a letter written to Jawaharlal Nehru from Morarji Desai on August 19, 1955, Desai wrote, “Manu’s problem is more psychological than physiological. She appears to have despaired for life and developed allergy to all kinds of medicines.”
Sometimes under vast canopies little plants tragically cannot grow. For me, Manuben was a small plant that grew under the powerful canopy of Gandhi. I cannot judge her love and devotion towards Gandhi, and I cannot understand the emotional trauma that she went through in her life after the death of her beloved Gandhi.
But, after all, I should stop looking at Gandhi just only as this great leader who changed the world, and who brought justice to many and who inspired millions of people to achieve freedom from imperialism, but also as someone human who had terrible flaws in his character.
Samantha is a senior majoring in journalism.