Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, more often referred to as Mahatma Gandhi, was the predominant leader of the Indian independence movement. Gandhi is famously known as one of the most honorable and noble leaders of India. His non-violent tactics and movements for independence inspired various famous civil rights fighters, the most famous one being Martin Luther King Junior. Gandhi is still revered throughout the world, but does he deserve to be?
A recent book, The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire, written by two South-African professors illustrates Gandhi’s racism during his stay in Africa from 1893 to 1914. It is known by many that Gandhi was tremendously patriotic, but it is known by few how he used his patriotism to condone racism. During his years in Africa, he expressed severe contempt towards the Africans. He continually attempted to convince the Britishers that the Indians in South Africa were superior to the Africans because they emanated from an Aryan bloodline, which the Africans didn’t.
Along with being a racist, Gandhi was also a misogynist. In order to commit to his celibacy, he forced young women to sleep naked next to him. He would sleep next to them, trying not to touch them, using them as props. It is speculated that one of those young girls was his grand-niece. Once, while in Africa, he was faced with the sexual assault of two of his women followers by a single man. He chopped the women’s hair off himself in order for them not to summon any sexual attention. He believed that men couldn’t control their sexual impulses, and women were responsible for these impulses. Furthermore, he believed that women lost touch with their humanity once they were raped. He also justified fathers killing their daughters for the sake of their family honor. These concepts are still held in high regard in places in India, and it is hard not to wonder if this is because of Gandhi.
Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi, his wife, was often on the receiving end of his misogyny. A prime example was when she was diagnosed with pneumonia. Doctors said that she could be cured with penicillin, however, Gandhi denied her from taking it. He claimed that she shouldn’t have her body take in an alien substance; she finally died in 1944. When Gandhi came down with malaria, he himself took in quinine to treat his illness.
Lastly, he has been characterized as the demolisher of caste division, yet it is not how it seems. On September 20, 1932, Gandhi embarked on a six-day fast to reject the article that the government had granted untouchables separate electorates. Various people believe this fast to have start a new movement to better the lives of the Dalits yet all his fast achieved was the elimination of their right to vote. Dalits still continue to suffer in various towns in India, almost 70 years after India’s independence.
Being brought up, I had been told and taught that Gandhi is father of India, the father of my nation. This allowed me to create a false image of him in my head. Learning all of this about him makes me wonder if he deserves to be revered throughout the world. It makes me wonder if he deserves the title of Mahatma (great soul). He did free India, but the racist, misogynistic, and discriminative India that thrives today is all based upon his beliefs. Is it morally acceptable to honor him while knowing of all the other things he partook in?