Posts Tagged ‘gandhi india’
Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the deified father of modern India, was quick to remind his followers that he was seduced by the same desires as they were. “I am of the earth, earthy. … I am prone to as many weaknesses as you are,” Gandhi is thought to have once quipped.
Yet some Indians are still unwilling to acknowledge the earthiness of their “Mahatma” (Great Soul). A fresh book on Gandhi, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India” (2011) by former New York Times executive editor Joseph Lelyveld, has been slapped with bans in Indian states for alleging that he was a bisexual and racist. Gujarat, Gandhi’s birthplace, has censured the book even before its release in India, and others are mulling it over. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), India’s main opposition party, has even proposed a nationwide ban.
As with many a literary controversy, the brouhaha seems to be more about a book review than the book itself. Andrew Roberts, a British historian, penned a scathing Wall Street Journal piece dismissing Gandhi as “a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist.” The book itself paints a generally admiring portrait of Gandhi but does take him to task for racism against South African “kaffirs” and quotes effusive letters from him to German−Jewish architect Hermann Kallenbach, with whom Gandhi lived in South Africa before World War I.
Much of the discussion since has focused on the specifics of the allegations and what it says about Gandhi. How could Mahatma, someone known for his austerity and celibacy, write passionately of how cotton wool and Vaseline constantly reminded him of another man? Is this the act of a disturbed man who never forgave himself for making love to his wife when his ailing father passed away? Or was this just another one of Gandhi’s tests to not succumb to corporeal desires (in the same way his experiments sleeping next to naked women and “nightly cuddles” with his 17−year−old great−niece were)?
Yet all this psychoanalytical drivel is irrelevant. More important is what this will mean for India as the world’s largest democracy. In the coming weeks, Indians may be eager to defend their leader from blasphemous attacks, and the BJP and Congress Party may look to score political points by playing to fierce nationalist fervor. There may even be a temptation to enact a nationwide ban, since the Indian constitution does allow for “reasonable restrictions” on offensive speech and Indian officials have often censored movies, books and art.
But while a ban might be legal, it is not the wisest course. The best way to pay tribute to Gandhi’s legacy is to preserve the freedom that he fought for — which includes the freedom of expression. Freedom, Gandhi once said, was never dear at any price, for it was the breath of life. Indians may have to contend with others digging up parts of their leaders’ pasts that they would prefer to bury, but they ought not to pour cold water over their ideals just because they cannot acknowledge the earthiness of their founders. Freedom of speech ought to apply not only to topics that Indians feel comfortable talking about but also to stigmatized ones like homosexuality.
Tushar, Gandhi’s great−grandson, has made it clear that “draconian, anti−democratic measures” on the pretext of protecting his honor “must be condemned and opposed.” One only hopes the rest of India sees the wisdom in his remarks and follows suit.
This article was originally published in the Tufts Daily here.