eliot & drew bike through india for 3 months, trying to inconspicuously do some good in the world.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Gandhi Anniversary & Posthumous Criticism

This Saturday will be the anniversary of the death of Mohandas Gandhi, the well-respected liberator of India from the British occupation and the endorser of a method of non-violent protest. The man is a legend in India, with most major cities featuring a statue of Gandhi. However, like most human beings, he held views that contradicted his overall ethos of equality and peace.

In this Guardian OP/Ed article by Michael Connellan, Gandhi is criticized for his rather archaic views towards women's rights and gender relations, some of which are faulted for setting India back significantly in regards to gender equality and social progress. Here's an excerpt from the article:

"Mohandas Gandhi, whose death anniversary falls on Saturday, was an amazing human being. He led his country to freedom and helped destroy the British Empire. Little wonder India worshipped him, and still worships him, as the Mahatma – "Great Soul". In the west he is viewed as a near-perfect combination of compassion, bravery and wisdom.
But Gandhi was also a puritan and a misogynist who helped ensure that India remains one of the most sexually repressed nations on earth – and, by and large, a dreadful place to be born female. George Orwell, in his 1949 essay Reflections on Gandhi, said that "saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent". If only.
Gandhi despised his own sexual desires, and despised sex in any context except for procreation. He preached that the failure to control carnal urges led to complaints including constipation. He believed that sex was bad for the health of an individual, and that sexual freedom would lead Indians to failure as a people. He sought to consign his nation to what Martin Luther called "the hell of celibacy". He took his own celibacy vow unilaterally, without consulting his wife.
Both Gandhi and his hagiographers claimed he viewed women as equal to men, pointing to his inclusion of women in India's independence struggle. He celebrated non-violent protest as a "feminine" principle, neutralising the masculine brutality of British rule. But his sexual hang-ups caused him to carry monstrously sexist views. His view of the female body was warped. As accounted by Rita Banerji, in her book Sex and Power, "he believed menstruation was a manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality".
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."

At the end of the day, you question how much someone is a product of their environment/upbringing, and how in turn they come to form their points of view as an adult. Gandhi was clearly a complicated human being, with his own set of hypocrisies and self-contradictions, and you can't separate his great social triumphs from the legacy of gender oppression his memory has impressed on Indian society up to this day.
But then, perhaps it is the responsibility of every Indian to cull the good from the bad, hence the annual celebration of his good works. I dunno - nobody's perfect, I guess, and I imagine you just need to regard everyone as a human being, with faults and flaws,despite the tendency to treat respected figures as saints or saviors. Not sanctioning his views, but perhaps respectfully celebrating the good while not forgetting the bad.

OK, just got a little too heavy for this blog - MASHED POTATOES!

No comments:

Post a Comment