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Shades of Mahatma Gandhi

Truth of Mahatma Gandhi?

By Ena Published about a month ago 12 min read

The remarkable Mahatma Gandhi, an Indian hero, led his country to freedom from British Imperialists through a non-violent campaign. He was not only a revered figure in his nation but also held in high regard by many as almost saintly. However, it is important to acknowledge that he had some controversial aspects to his character. For instance, he had a peculiar habit of sleeping alone in beds with his grandnieces and other young women, which raises eyebrows. Additionally, he held shockingly racist views towards other races. Today, we aim to challenge your perception of Mr. Gandhi. By the end of this show, we believe you will have a different perspective on him. Before delving into that, let's provide a brief introduction to the man himself. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on October 2, 1869, grew up in a relatively comfortable environment as his father held a prominent position in the Indian state of Porbandar. His mother, a deeply religious woman, instilled in him the value of cherishing the simple things in life. This upbringing shaped his ethical principles, which included non-violence, tolerance of others' beliefs, vegetarianism, and acts of self-purification. However, it is important to note that these beliefs were not without their contradictions. Gandhi faced a test of his principles when he traveled to London to study law. Despite promising his mother to resist the temptations of modern life, avoid women and meat, and uphold her teachings, he was exposed to the harsh realities of late 19th-century industrialization. The streets of London were far from the golden image portrayed, with many impoverished residents struggling to benefit from the country's industrial wealth. Gandhi witnessed poverty and activism during his time in London. This pattern continued when he journeyed to South Africa, where he encountered widespread destitution among the population.

Gandhi might have been an educated lawyer by this time, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t told like other Indians that because of his skin color he wasn’t allowed to walk on certain footpaths or enter certain buildings. There’s more to this story, but just let us tell you the good Gandhi story first. He was disgusted. There he was, an educated man who considered himself as much English as he was Indian but treated as a second-class citizen by the Europeans. One time, he was kicked out of a train coach because of his race. Like many other people of color, his rights were taken away from him. On another occasion, he was beaten up for not making room for a white passenger. If that wasn’t bad enough, he was barred from staying at certain hotels even though he had the money to pay for them. The story goes that Gandhi understood the many wrongs committed by the imperialists. And so it was at this juncture in his life when he decided that he was going to bring about change. But his resistance, in line with his religious beliefs, had to be peaceful. One of his most famous lines is, “Every revolution begins with a single act of defiance.” And this is how he began fighting for the rights of Indians. This is how he got a name for himself as an activist, which on one dark day in Durban, South Africa, almost got him lynched by a mob of angry white folks. He spent several years in South Africa, but he knew that India needed him. When he announced his departure from Africa, a statesman wrote, “The saint has left our shores.” This statesman was a white South African. He finished the sentence, “I hope forever.” Back in India, Gandhi carried on fighting for people’s rights. He’d been beaten up; he’d be jailed. He’d been harangued and oppressed, but he still preached peace. He might have supported the British war effort, but he also never shied away from criticizing the British imperialists. We apologize to our Gandhi enthusiasts for skipping over many years of his life, but we think most of you know that this man became one of the most powerful people in India. His form of Indian nationalism was embraced by much of the country, most of the country in fact, and they started to believe that with the right will, the Indian people could be free of the British. His activism got him arrested on March 10, 1922, and he spent the next two years behind bars, but he wasn’t done by any means. In the years to follow, he would lead many of the Indian people to peacefully revolt against many facets of British rule. His followers - and there were many - went to prison for their acts of civil disobedience. In 1932, while in prison again, he undertook a now-famous fast over the disenfranchisement of those at the bottom of India’s caste system, people called the “untouchables.” When Indians saw how willing Gandhi was to die for his people, for the rights of the country’s poorest, it spread hope through the hearts of a nation. Then the second world war happened, and again, the Indians were expected to fight for the British. But this time, the Indian National Congress wanted a form of self-government if it were to throw Indian nationals onto the battlefield. Close to 90,000 of them would eventually die, not to mention the perhaps 2.5 million total Indian casualties of war. Before the war ended, Gandhi had already started the “Quit India Movement”, and then on August 15, 1947, India finally got its independence. Ok, so what you’ve just heard is the condensed story of a man who saw cruelty and unfairness in the world and wanted to do something about it. He then took considerable risks in fighting the perpetrators of these wrongs and he made it his life’s work. It’s now time we got into costume and became the devil’s advocate. Here’s a quote for you, “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher's knife. They should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs...It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany...As it is they succumbed anyway in their millions.” Yep, those were the thoughts of Gandhi. He was taking non-violence to another level and he was not surprisingly condemned for saying such things. While his beliefs might not exactly fall into an ugly truth category, his moral absolutism just made no sense at all to some people, especially those under attack from Germany. When the Nazis were bombing England, Gandhi seemed to think the Brits should not bother fighting back. This is what he said about that: “I would like you to lay down the arms you have as being useless for saving you or humanity. You will invite Herr Hitler and Signor Mussolini to take what they want of the countries you call your possessions...If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourselves, man, woman, and child, to be slaughtered, but you will refuse to owe allegiance to them.” In hindsight, we all now know the many added horrors that would have occurred had governments followed Gandhi’s instructions and just allowed Nazi Germany to do what it wanted. His assertion also sounds much worse when you consider some people now say that Gandhi was a racist. In 2019, in the African nation of Malawi, people were saying just that. In Ghana that same year, a Gandhi statue was taken down at a university. You might think that strange given what we told you about Gandhi fighting for people’s rights when he was in South Africa. Well, in Ghana, many people right now don’t have much love for Gandhi, which can be seen on Twitter when folks use the hashtag “#GandhiMustFall.” Maybe you think that is a bit severe, but it sounds righteous enough when you know some of the racist things Gandhi wrote back when he was in Africa. For instance, he once wrote that white folks, despite their flaws, should be “the predominating race” in South Africa. You see, the young Gandhi as you know went over to England to get himself an education. It seems it was his dealings with the ruling British that convinced him that the Europeans were just more civilized than black people in Africa. We should say that he changed his entire stance in time and became an anti-racist, but it wasn’t always like that. He also wrote in a letter summing up the beliefs o the British that the “general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are a little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa.” He absolutely thought that many Africans were savages, and he used derogatory language too when referring to black people – such as the term kaffir. In 1904, he wrote another letter stating that he was upset about these people living among Indians, saying, “About the mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly.” He wrote that as long as blacks were mixing with Indians then diseases such as the plague would further spread. You can now understand why people are now calling Gandhi out. They also accuse him of being a hypocrite, stating that he didn’t believe in the rights of Africans at all while also working with the British government in segregating whites from blacks. A stunning example of this is when Gandhi petitioned the colonial government in South Africa to ensure that Indian people didn’t have to share the same queue as black people when they went to the post office in Durban. He didn’t think it was fair that Indians couldn’t queue with the whites. Some people now try to cover for Gandhi saying he was just a product of his times, although one would think that a person of high intelligence would still have known right from wrong even if they didn’t always fight for what was right. Others now say that Gandhi was a card-carrying member of the Aryan brotherhood, and no, we don’t mean that bunch of violent angry neo-Nazis whose pastime is smoking amphetamines and sharpening shivs. We mean the brotherhood that wore suits and smoked pipes in dingy boardrooms. For example, when asked just how racist Gandhi was, one of his new critics wrote: “Gandhi believed in the Aryan brotherhood. This involved whites and Indians higher up than Africans on the civilized scale. To that extent, he was a racist. To the extent that he wrote Africans out of history or was keen to join with whites in their subjugation he was a racist.” As we said, Gandhi shifted his stance, but how much he shifted we can’t say. The question is, when he was telling people to lie down for the Germans did any part of him still believe in superior races? You have to remember that when Gandhi was in South Africa it wasn’t as if black people hadn’t already for years been fighting for their rights. You can’t just say Gandhi was a product of the times because he knew very well that a race of people rightly felt they were violently oppressed. When Gandhi was in England he spent most of his time hanging out with intellectuals and the odd vegetarian, and then once he was in South Africa, he found himself having to share the same train carriages and join the same queues of a people he referred to as “coolies.” He hated this. That much was evident in 1906 when during the Zulu rebellion, Gandhi supported the British in what he termed the “revolt of the Kaffirs.” These people, who he pretty much believed were barbarians, he said deserved Britsh rule because they spent most of their days in “indolence and nakedness.” Again, people say you have to forgive him for his foibles. They say he had his road to Damascus moment, and he changed his views. Nonetheless, as his critics still point out, even if he did hold some racist views on racial hierarchies, why could he not ever refer to African people as Africans and not coolies and kaffirs? His utter lack of respect for Africans was evident when he attended a dinner party held by the British imperialist, Hugh Wyndham, 4th Baron Leconfield. Gandhi was overjoyed to be seated next to some of the empire’s toffs, and he quite enjoyed his aubergine cutlets and plum tart. He gave a speech about his leaving Africa, saying he hoped “the Europeans of South Africa would take a humanitarian and imperial view of the Indian question.” But one of his biographers pointed something else out. That was the fact Gandhi never said any farewells to any Africans, even though he’d been in Africa! That biographer said Gandhi didn’t think Africans deserved a goodbye message. We hammered this point home just a little bit only because you have to admit that it’s quite a huge deal when a human rights advocate fighting to end discrimination went along with discrimination and human rights abuses. If he was flawed in public, what about his personal life? Things get even more strange now. Gandhi once wrote to this son that “a person who marries in order to satisfy his carnal desire is lower than even the beast.” He had no time for casual sex in human relations and he himself became celibate at age 38. He’d gotten married when he was 13 but turned away from sex later. So, then why did the Guardian newspaper write that Gandhi was prone to having “weird, manipulative flirtations with young unmarried women?” Why also, in 2021, did some people in California knock down a statue of the great man? The answer is that some people think Gandhi wasn’t just hypocritical when it came to racial equality, but also in relation to his thoughts on sexual purity. When it was decided that the statue in California should be re-erected, a group called the Organization for Minorities of India was dead set against it. When asked why, a spokesperson for the group explained, “Gandhi was instrumental in influencing national treatment of women in India. He said ‘my life is my message’ and the life he modeled for the nation was one of sexually exploiting his grandnieces and many other teenage girls under the guise of performing ‘celibacy experiments’.” Gandhi stands accused of being sexist, racist, and also of committing creepy acts with young women. Like other spiritual leaders that have tainted the Earth with their footsteps, Gandhi has been called a “predator” which we don’t have to tell you is a really bad look for someone touted as being a man of peace with a pure soul. Nonetheless, when people are accused of such things, we should hope there’s a lot of evidence or even some evidence to back it up. Well, he was against birth control unless it was the kind of control that involved a man or woman taming their “animal passions.” He once said if people have too much sex, “They will become soft-brained, unhinged, in fact, mental and moral wrecks.” Then, when he was an aging man in the 1930s he asked his young grandniece to get into bed with him. He told her that it was an experiment to see if he could control his own animal passions. As bad as it looked, he didn’t hide what he was doing, which was to “test, or further test, his conquest of sexual desire.” It’s written that he didn’t care what people thought about it. One author said, “When a close disciple heard of Gandhi’s ‘experiments with celibacy’, he had threatened to leave the ashram, unless Gandhi rectified his predatory behavior. His choices were clearly never acceptable.” These experiments not only involved his grandniece but other young women and girls at the ashram. He never did have intercourse with them, but let’s just say he really tested himself. As for how his wife felt about all of this, Gandhi never seemed to show her much love. He once said he couldn’t bear to look at her face and is famously known for denying her life-saving drugs. He certainly took a lot of criticism for the two-week celibacy experiments, and he still does now, just as he does for many of his more conservative beliefs regarding sex and gender. To give you an idea about those beliefs, his answer to two women being attacked by men in the street was for them to shave off their hair so they were no longer attractive to men. Yep, he blamed the women for a male problem. He even once went as far as to say that a women’s menstruation cycle was actually a “manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality.” For many people, Gandhi was a racist with a predilection for sexually-focused predatory behavior. Others say, leave him alone. The man did good on the whole and can be said to have done something not many people can attest to in actually changing the world. Today we’ve just played devil’s advocate and will let you decide what to make of Gandhi. The blacker parts of his life don’t figure much when it comes to his legacy, but hey, mythologies are rarely interested in nuance.

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About the Creator

Ena

Deciphering the classics by day, brewing up new stories by night. Shakespearean sonnets to sci-fi sagas, I love it all! English Lit student exploring different worlds through literature on Vocal Media.

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