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article imageOp-Ed: A Look at the Many Flaws of Mohandas Gandhi

By Joseph Power     Mar 28, 2012 in Politics
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on October 2 1869, is one of the most revered figures in history. However, some of his darker sides are rarely explored in revisionist Gandhi history.
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, born on October 2 1869, is one of the most revered figures in history. Called (among some other things) an incarnation of Jesus Christ, the father of India, Mahatma (great soul), and Bapu, the hindu for father. He is regarded as the foremost champion for Indian independence from British colonial rule, and as the great pacifist and leader of the ‘passive resistance’ movement. He is a hero of the ‘left’ and stands alongside figures such as Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King as ‘untouchable’. George Orwell reflected on Gandhi in his 1949 essay, stating "saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent". So, we begin.
This same gentleman has been accused of a great number of crimes and oddities, for which he is rarely held accountable: sleeping naked with young teenage girls to test his chastity, racism against the blacks of South Africa, a believer in the discriminative Caste system, a Hindu nationalist, referring to Adolf Hitler as a ‘friend’ and allowing his own wife to die from bronchial pneumonia.
Gandhi was a misogynist, for instance – he believed that a woman who has been raped lost her value as a human being. He labelled women who used contraception as ‘whores’, justified the honour killing of daughters over sexual assault – to preserve a family’s honour. Rita Banjeri, author of Sex and Power asserted that "he believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality".
Gandhi had some rather warped and obsessed views regarding sex. He hated his own sexual desires, and preached that sexual intercourse was bad for the health and led to bodily complaints, such as constipation. He is quoted as saying that sexual freedom would be the downfall of India’s people. As mentioned before: it is widely known that he slept naked alongside the young girls of his entourage, some as young as seventeen (and one of which was his own niece), to ‘test’ his chastity and vow of celibacy.
This sexual oddity continued, in a piece written by Michael Connellan in the UK newspaper The Guardian (which also references some of the above accusations), he recalled this disturbing story from Gandhi’s South African days:
“During Gandhi's time as a dissident in South Africa, he discovered a male youth had been harassing two of his female followers. Gandhi responded by personally cutting the girls' hair off, to ensure the "sinner's eye" was "sterilised". Gandhi boasted of the incident in his writings, pushing the message to all Indians that women should carry responsibility for sexual attacks upon them. Such a legacy still lingers. In the summer of 2009, colleges in north India reacted to a spate of sexual harassment cases by banning women from wearing jeans, as western-style dress was too "provocative" for the males on campus.”
In a debate at Intelligence Squared in 2009: Stephen Fry made the (quite justified) claim that the Catholic Church is obsessed with sex, and that this unhealthy obsession with other people’s normal display of human nature is what leads to a great number of their crimes. I’d argue the same could be said for Mohandas Gandhi and the above.
To continue on his South African days, one thing that the Gandhi historical account seems to have left out is his horrendous racism regarding the blacks of South Africa. But please, don’t take my word for it. Here’s an excerpt from one of his letters (in which he referred to the native South Africans as ‘Kaffirs’, an equivalent to the slur ‘nigger’:
“Ours is one continued struggle against degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the European, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir, whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” (Sept. 26 1896 (CW II p. 74))
Did Gandhi also voice his support for the Apartheid regime? In which native South Africans were degraded to a form of ‘sub-citizen’? He most certainly did, here’s an excerpt from a letter written to one Dr. Porter, the medical officer of health in Johannesburg:
“Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian location should be chosen for dumping down all kaffirs of the town, passes my comprehension.
Of course, under my suggestion, the Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population, and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen. “ (9 April 1904)
Now, to elaborate on a previous point, is the controversy surrounding the death of Gandhi’s wife Kasturba. In August 1942, Gandhi and several of his followers (including Kasturba) were imprisoned by the British in the Aga Khan Palace, near Poona.
Kasturba was struck with several heart attacks, and suffered from poor circulation. After this ordeal, she contracted bronchial pneumonia. One of her four sons, a man named Devadas, implored Gandhi to allow her to take penicillin. Gandhi openly refused: “If God wills it, He will pull her through.”. He allowed her to the treatment of ‘natural’ medicine, such as water from the Ganges and prayer, but despite Devadas’ pleas, ignored this viable alternative. Of course, like most people devoid of health care and breakthroughs in modern medicine, Kasturba died.
Now, one could argue that this idea of rejecting modern medicine, albeit selfish and conceited, was Gandhi’s choice and his alone. I wouldn’t endorse him refusing others this treatment, but if he wished to deny himself these treatments, who can fault him? He told one of Kasturba’s doctors that allowing her penicillin would have meant the bankruptcy of his own faith.
Funnily enough, these same principles didn’t exactly repeat themselves a mere six weeks after Kasturba had passed. Gandhi was flattened by malaria, and resorted to his all-liquid diet. His doctors implored him to take quinine, and did Gandhi refuse? After a further three weeks of detoriation, he relented and quickly recovered. Such sanctimonious views weren’t so sacred when his own fate hung in the balance.
On to Gandhi’s letters to one Adolf Hitler – psychopathic tyrant: responsible for the National Socialist regime of Germany, who instigated World War II and who made quite a successful attempt to ethnically cleanse Europe of Jews, among other heinous crimes. In 1939, Gandhi wrote to Hitler, and the result was quite horrifying.
“Dear friend,
Friends have been urging me to write to you for the sake of humanity. But I have resisted their request, because of the feeling that any letter from me would be an impertinence. Something tells me that I must not calculate and that I must make my appeal for whatever it may be worth.
It is quite clear that you are today the one person in the world who can prevent a war which may reduce humanity to a savage state. Must you pay that price for an object however worthy it may appear to you to be? Will you listen to the appeal of one who has deliberately shunned the method of war not without considerable success? Any way I anticipate your forgiveness, if I have erred in writing to you.
I remain,
Your sincere friend
M. K. Gandhi”
There’s a decent amount there to be quite shocked over. The first is his referral to Hitler as a ‘friend’, a sincere one at that. The second is his unmistakeable reference for one of the most brutal dictators in human history. “If I have erred in writing to you”, “any letter from me would be an impertinence”. Now, to be fair to Gandhi, if Hitler would of heeded Gandhi’s words, all of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis would have been halted. A fair assumption? That letter only really highlights Gandhi’s lack of realism.
But, it was a letter written to the Jewish people of Germany, which I cannot stomach:
“If I were a Jew and were born in Germany and earned my livelihood there, I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest Gentile German might, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment. And for doing this I should not wait for the fellow Jews to join me in civil resistance, but would have confidence that in the end the rest were bound to follow my example. If one Jew or all the Jews were to accept the prescription here offered, he or they cannot be worse off than now. And suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them an inner strength and joy…the calculated violence of Hitler may even result in a general massacre of the Jews by way of his first answer to the declaration of such hostilities. But if the Jewish mind could be prepared for voluntary suffering, even the massacre I have imagined could be turned into a day of thanksgiving and joy that Jehovah had wrought deliverance of the race even at the hands of the tyrant. For to the God-fearing, death has no terror.”
This is so breathtakingly absurd that I actually had to read it twice. Is Gandhi actually advocating his own philosophies of civil disobedience and pacifism for an entire race of people? I cannot possibly justify Gandhi’s view on this, he makes a prediction for the systematic extermination of an entire race, and implores them to take it on the chin. This is an obscene insult to any thinking person, an insult to the brave Jewish people who fought against this oppression.
Gandhi was also a believer in the ‘caste system’, in which India lives and suffers. To give a rather summary explanation to the unknowing: the caste system is an equivalent to a class system of society. India was subject to four castes, in order – Brahmins, Kshatiryas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. There was a fifth caste, referred to as ‘the untouchables’, who were a sub-human level of Indian (if somebody of a high caste so much as touched someone belonging to this sect, they undertook cleansing rituals). These systems were dictated by birth: the son of a grave-digger would be a grave-digger, or something of equal worth. The son of a trader (a member of the Vaishya caste) would have a similar occupation.
Gandhi referred to members of the lower castes as ‘children of God’, and believed them dutifully fulfilling their duties would convince members of the higher castes to treat them better. He gradually hardened his views over time, but the damage was done.
Ernest Hemmingway once referred to the word ‘saint’ as ‘shit-detector’. I heartily agree, Gandhi’s contribution to the independence of India is debatable, but his pacifism and peaceful resistance were influential in the civil rights movement of black Americans in obtaining their civil liberties in the time of Martin Luther King (whom no doubt would have been horrified, if he’d seen Gandhi’s disgust for the ‘kaffirs’ of South Africa). Gandhi did many great things for our world, but the actual purpose in constructing this criticism of the man is not a ‘dig’, but rather to demonstrate that no person is infallible. Treat ‘experts’, ‘saints’ and ‘idols’ as mammals, much truth, flaw and honesty shines through that way.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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