Was Gandhi's experiments with celibacy not akin to sexually exploiting women?

https://static.asianetnews.com/images/authors/2ca4935a-ed46-5c02-b517-6d0468cbec63.jpg
First Published 2, Oct 2018, 1:17 PM IST
Mahatma Gandhi sexual experiments Manuben celibacy Brahmacharya sex life unusual
Highlights

Gandhi’s ‘experiments’ were no secret, however, his elevated status as the ‘Father of the Nation’ often excused him from criticism

There is an iconic image of Mahatma Gandhi walking with two young women on either side, his hands resting on their shoulders. The women who replaced his walking stick were his grand-nieces – Abha and Manu. It is not a secret that Gandhi slept naked next to these same nubile women to test his sexual restraint – an experiment in celibacy, as he termed it. 

Gandhi lay naked with women at night and advocated Brahmacharya by day. He often gave instructions to his followers and urged them to maintain celibacy. He advised newlyweds to remain celibate to protect their souls, an advice that Jawaharlal Nehru termed as ‘unnatural and abnormal’.

Gandhi’s ‘experiments’ were no secret, however, his elevated status as the ‘Father of the nation’ often excused him from criticism. “All his life Gandhi was obsessed with sex –while preaching celibacy to others. No one challenged him. He was the nation’s ‘untouchable’ hero, his iconic status eclipsed all his wrongdoings,” said Kusoom Vadgama, author and historian. 

Also read: United States moves to posthumously award Mahatma Gandhi highest civilian honour

“Gandhi never made a secret of sleeping naked with his great-granddaughter and the wife of his great-grandson. It may have been his way of testing his control over his sexual drive, but these women were used as guinea pigs. If he had used other adult women, it would have been nothing more than interesting gossip. But Gandhi chose a teenage blood relation and a great-grand-daughter-in-law for his sexual whims. It is as unforgivable as it is unbelievable,” she said in an interview

However, many in the Congress had protested Gandhi’s unusual actions. When Vallabhbhai Patel wrote to Gandhi expressing his concerns over his experiments, terming it as ‘Adharma’, Gandhi said: “For me, Manu sleeping with me is a matter of dharma (moral duty)”.

Manuben, Gandhi’s close aide and veritable ‘backbone’ during his last years, dedicated her whole life to serve Bapu, whom she called her ‘mother’ in her diaries. In a report on Manuben’s diaries accessed by India Today, it is said that at one part, Manuben writes, “Bapu is my mother, he has been helping my spiritual and moral upliftment by his experiments with 'brahmacharya' and it is a part of his larger project of character building and all insinuations against the morality of his efforts are reprehensible".

The diaries also reveal Pyarelal's attraction towards Manuben, whom he wanted to marry. In a tell-tale documentation of the increasing envy among the other female aides of Gandhiji at Gandhi’s closeness to Manuben, one of her diary entries refer to a letter written by Kishorilal Mashruvala, another of Gandhiji's close female aides in which she called Manuben a 'Maya'(temptation) and advised Gandhiji to stay out of it.

Also read: When Rs 4 became a bone of contention between Mahatma and Kasturba

In an entry dated December 21, 1946, Srirampur, Bihar, she writes, “Tonight, when Bapu, Sushilaben and I were sleeping on the same cot, he embraced me and patted me. He put me to sleep with great love. He embraced me after a very long time. Then Bapu praised me for remaining innocent (of sexual urges) despite sleeping with him. But this isn't the case with the other girls. Veena, Kanchan, and Lilavati (other associates of Gandhi) told me that they won't be able to sleep with him”.

Even though Gandhi’s experiments in Brahmacharya did not involve sexual contact, they would be considered illegal in today’s day and age. It would not be incorrect to say that today he would have been jailed for inappropriate sexual conduct with minor women. A lot of his followers and companions could not comprehend his absurd obsession with sex and his experiments, which led many to leave his ashram. 

Also read: Mahatma Gandhi guiding light to eradicate poverty, says President Kovind

Gandhi’s unusual sexual life was not discussed for a long time after this death. It is only in the recent years that people are talking about it, thanks to access to diaries, memoirs, and accounts of the women. It only remains a topic of debate today if Gandhi did use his power and position to sexually exploit young women.

loader