Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more commonly known as ‘Mahatma’ (meaning ‘Great Soul’) was born in Porbandar, Gujarat, in North West India, on 2nd October 1869, into a Hindu Modh family.
His father was the Chief Minister of Porbandar, and his mother’s religious devotion meant that his upbringing was infused with the Jain pacifist teachings of mutual tolerance, non-injury to living beings and vegetarianism.
Over the years, historians and critics have found certain controversial quirks in the man’s life. Then again, it’s also worth noting that he was human, and to be human is to err.
His Sex Life
Dr Vadgama told The Times:
“Gandhi was obsessed with sex and it has all been hush-hushed for all these years. He had a habit of sleeping naked with women, including his great niece and other married women, to see if he could control himself. I find it absolutely disgusting that he used women for his own experiments.”
At the age of 38, in 1906, Gandhi took a vow of brahmacharya: living a spiritual life which included a vow of chastity. He encouraged his followers to abstain from sex, even in marriage.
To prove his self-control he often slept and bathed naked with other women – including a grandniece and the wife of his grandnephew, who were both 18 when they started sleeping in the same bed as Gandhi, who was 77 years old at the time.
Gandhi’s behaviour was widely discussed and criticised by family members and leading politicians.
As A Husband
As mentioned, Gandhi’s sexual perversions were, according to him, a means to resist carnal temptation. However, he also practiced celibacy in his marriage. Kasturba, his wife of over two decades, was denied sex for years after bearing his children. Critics have also pointed out how Gandhi had mistreated his wife. In some cases, he had forbidden Kasturba from keeping gifts that were meant for her. Earlier in their married life, Gandhi was said to have compared his wife to a cow. Gandhi said he could not bear to look at Kasturba’s face, because it gave the impression of a “meek cow” trying to say something.
In 1943, when Kasturba had contracted an illness and was hemorrhaging badly, Gandhi allegedly wrote to her: “My struggle is not merely political. It is religious and therefore quite pure. It does not matter much whether one dies in it or lives. I hope and expect that you will also think likewise and not be unhappy.” Gandhi also forbade doctors from giving his wife penicillin, arguing that it was a foreign medicine and stating that: “If God wills it, he will pull her through.” God did not—his wife died on February 22, 1944, after months of suffering.
However, when Gandhi contracted malaria, he did resist the idea of taking quinine as a medicine, if only for a time. As a last resort, however, he had to allow doctors to administer a cure just to survive. One of his great-grandsons, Tushar Gandhi, explains that critics might have taken some of the events out of context and that Gandhi simply did not wish to have penicillin administered to his wife as she was a strict vegetarian.
Gandhi was passionately prejudiced towards black Africans, as clearly displayed by his own writings over his 21-year stint in Gandhi’s writings during his 20 years in South Africa. He promoted racial hatred, in theory, and campaigned for racial segregation, in practice. In his newspaper, The Indian Opinion, he frequently wrote diatribes against the black community. Of particular concern to him was any contact between Indians and Africans.
Dec. 2, 1910: “Some Indians do have contacts with Kaffir women. I think such contacts are fraught with grave danger. Indians would do well to avoid them altogether.” — Vol. 10, p. 414
The term “Kaffir” is a pejorative South African term for black people which is equivalent to the ‘n’ word. Use of this term has been a criminal offense in South Africa since 1975. Despite always using it to describe black Africans, Gandhi was fully aware of the offensive nature of the word. This is demonstrated by Gandhi’s comment during a religious conflict in India, when he said: “If ‘Kaffir’ is a term of opprobrium, how much more so is Chandal?” [CWMG, Vol. 28, p. 62] “Chandal” is a racist term for low-caste Hindus.
Mass Suicide Of Jews
How do we draw the line between honorable nonviolence movement and willful and senseless death?
In his letters to Adolf Hitler, Gandhi beseeched the madman to avoid going to war. Gandhi addressed the Fuhrer as “Dear Friend,” using kindness and compassion to let Hitler know the error of his ways. He was optimistic, but as some critics have pointed out, it bordered on utter foolishness. It was also the most extreme form of nonviolence that Gandhi had wanted the Jews of Europe to practice. He believed that civil disobedience against Hitler would have strengthened their cause; it would have “aroused the world.”
How far should it have gone?
A biographer asked Gandhi whether the Jews should have committed mass suicide. Gandhi said, “Yes, that would have been heroism.” Despite knowledge of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust, Gandhi responded by saying that “the Jews should have willingly offered themselves to the butcher’s knife; they should have thrown themselves into the sea from cliffs.” As to why such a horrible deed was necessary, Gandhi replied that, if the Jews had followed his advice, their deaths would have been more significant.