Introduction to the Series
My Story: From Ghandi to Gandhi
First Blow: Jews in Germany
Second Blow: ‘Untouchables’ in India
A Few Background Notes
The Indian Mahatma
Separate Places for Indians and Africans!
Racially Inferior Africans
The Gandhi I Worshipped|\2. p=. 
[*Mahatma Gandhi *]
[*Calls Blacks *]
[*Lazy, Raw Kaffirs *]
Was He Racist?
Read Original Quotes from Gandhi on Race
Sabine von Herbert |
Copyright: 2016 Author
All rights Reserved|\2. p=. Part one of the Series:
How I Began to Dislike Gandhi
The story of my disillusionment with the truth-god
Also available in full volume.|
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Introduction to the Series
From Ghandi to Gandhi
Like many who live in the Western world I looked towards the East for inspiration and solace. I went a bit above the board unlike many others. I embraced yoga by the end of my teens. At 22 I became a vegetarian. Buddhism captivated me in the mid-twenties. I saved money to travel to India; my adopted, spiritual home. I have also become an ardent disciple of Gandhi, almost during the same time.
Gandhi was the centre of my story. I wrote long letters about Gandhi and India to my pen-friends-turned-real-friends from Latvia and Yugoslavia. Later when emails emerged, my email signatures always had a quote or two from Gandhi.
“My life is my message”.
“The world had enough to meet everybody’s needs but not for everyone’s greed”.
Awesome. Who can stand against these quotes, and the ideas behind them. I was an apostle and a foot soldier for Gandhi. I embraced Gandhi as a beacon of political and spiritual hope. All my criticisms about consumerism, materialism and the spiritual vacuum of my immediate society led to one and the only answer – Gandhi, whose name I misspelled Ghandi for years (I sometimes doubted whether something is fishy with the spelling, but in those pre-internet days, accuracy demanded more perseverance).
I liked Gandhi. He stood for peace and non-violence. Amidst the violence around. He advocated simplicity. In a sea of wasteful luxury. He proved that the less powerful can win. Even if the enemy is an empire where the sun does not set. He invented innovative means for political struggles. Like fasting. He was very easy to like. I adorned my living room with a big photo of Gandhi who sits with a spinning wheel – a picture that depicts the marvellous idea of physical labor for one’s own clothing. Not only that I recycle all reusable stuff till it get really worn out, I have evolved as a conscious and ethical consumer without buying or using anything that is not very necessary. The only luxury I had was some Gandhi and Buddhist memorabilia, like candle stands, cloth bags, and calendars.
Gandhi, as I can see now, was all over my life: both in my body and spirit. I imitated even his wry humour. Once he was asked what he thinks of western civilisation, Gandhi said, “It is a good idea”. I mimicked it ad verbatim for thousands of times. Same with the story of Oxford. Gandhi was once gifted a Ford car. With his apparent disdain for motor vehicles (even railways), he rarely used the car or allowed anyone else to use it. But it served as a potent prey for political satire. On special occasions, he would ask two oxen to be tied in front of the car and make them pull the car around the ashram compounds. He called it “Ox-ford”! Dislike for cars, Western education, modernity and at the same time emphasising the importance of rustic life – all achieved in a single brilliant stroke. Yes, Gandhi overshadowed everything that was me. It was a long-distance love affair that went on for many years without any hitches: a perfect hierarchical devotion to the man and his ideals. I willingly submitted myself to my spiritual master.
[*First Blow: *]
Jews in Germany
However, like many a starry eyed romantic projects, at a point, some tiny, disturbing bits of discomfort began to prick my Gandhi balloon. Here and there, once in a while, I would come across something that would slightly upset my unfettered devotion. One of the first unsettling moments that I had was when I heard about how Gandhi wanted the Jews to act in the wake of Nazi persecution.
On 20th November 1938, Gandhi wrote a detailed article to clarify his views about the Arab-Jew question in Palestine and the persecution of Jews in Germany. In the article titled ‘the Jews’ published on November 26th in the magazine the Harijan he said: “My sympathies are all with the Jews. I have known them intimately in South Africa. Some of them became life-long companions”. He is categorically clear in his view on Palestine: “… But my sympathy does not blind me to the requirements of justice. The cry for the national home for the Jews does not make much appeal to me. Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and inhuman to impose the Jews on the Arabs…The nobler course would be to insist on a just treatment of the Jews wherever they are born and bred.”
He continues: “But the German persecution of the Jews seems to have no parallel in history. The tyrants of old never went so mad as Hitler seems to have gone”. However, there is no room for violence, Hitler had to be dealt peacefully. After affirming that he would not go for a war or violence to avenge even this heinous crime, Gandhi says: “[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 may, 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 suffering voluntarily undergone will bring them _][Jews][ an inner strength and joy which no number of resolutions of sympathy passed in the world outside Germany can”._]
“Indeed, even if Britain, France and America were to declare hostilities against Germany, they can bring no inner joy, no inner strength. 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. It is a joyful sleep to be followed by a waking that would be all the more refreshing for the long sleep”.
He continued further: “I am convinced that if someone with courage and vision can arise among them to lead them in non-violent action, the winter of their despair can in the twinkling of an eye be turned into the summer of hope. And what has today become a degrading man-hunt can be turned into a calm and determined stand offered by unarmed men and women possessing the strength of suffering given to them by Jehovah”.
This shocked for me tremendously. Gandhi was advocating for voluntary sufferings by Jews in front of the inhuman cruelty of the Nazis! This is unacceptable. It was far more cruel than something one could embrace. After all, most people who have been killed in Nazi Germany were not resisting in any case: they were hapless victims who walked to death like sacrificial lambs. I think, Gandhi’s was a very wrong political lesson. Furthermore, this radical non-violence by inflicting violence to oneself is something I am not convinced about even as a personal value.
For someone from the present Germany, from a society that collectively repent on the Nazi persecutions of the Jews, where many rightwing symbols are legally banned by public mandate, what Gandhi proposes is an extremely unacceptable position. I belong to a generation of Germans who even overwhelmingly support the extremist state of Israel just because we are blinded by the collective historical debt we owe to a community that was persecuted in a land where we were born later. I know Gandhi might not have had the historical advantage we all have in knowing the intolerable suffering the Jews had to undergo in Adolf Hitler’s Germany. Still I find Gandhi’s position highly objectionable because it is deplorable in its content and pitiable as a strategy. I got skeptical about this radical nonviolence, or the extreme violence inflicted on oneself in the practice of nonviolence.
[*Second Blow: *]
‘Untouchables’ in India
The second major issue that made me look closer to Gandhi’s writings was another startling realisation I made a few years back. It was about Dr. B. R. Ambedkar – one of the most well-regarded contemporaries of Gandhi, a leader who belonged to the ‘untouchable’, lower-most caste. A lawyer and scholar who studied at Columbia University and the London School of Economics, who was the Chairman of India’s Constitution Drafting Committee and the first law minister of independent India, Ambedkar was a firm opponent of Gandhi. It was astonishing, and made me curious to find what exactly happened between two towering men who could have been fighting their battles together, shoulder-to-shoulder. The person who first told me about their rift had almost convinced me that the problem between Gandhi and Ambedkar were not about their personal whims. However, when I found out that most of the lowest caste organisations in India even at present are staunch critics of Gandhi, it began to be unsettling further. How come someone whom I consider as the beacon of liberation is totally unacceptable to the most marginalised section of his own compatriots? Are there some fundamental problems in the way I understand Gandhi that make me oblivious of his shortcomings? Whether the physical, geographical proximity to Gandhi enabled the erstwhile ‘untouchable’ communities of India to see him in a closer light than I could? Numerous questions began to pop up in my mind.
It further intensified when I came across an archived BBC radio interview of Dr. Ambedkar from December 31, 1955 (available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNAdYLbGLKY). He said Gandhi’s writings in English were very liberal and benign. That they are meant to be read by the educated and sophisticated liberal Westerners. Whereas his writings in Gujarati – his mother tongue – reek of conservatism and orthodoxy that are meant to appeal to the most feudal and traditional home constituency of his. Ambedkar said he refused to call Gandhi ‘Mahatma’ – the great soul – a popular name of Gandhi: “He doesn’t deserve that title. Not even from the point of his morality” (BBC Interview 31.12.1955).
These two specific incidents – first, my chance encounter with Gandhi’s view on how the Jews would have dealt with the Nazis, and the second, Ambedkar’s observations about Gandhi – prompted me to read Gandhi’s own writings in detail. Furthermore, in the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (in 98 volumes of around 500 pages each, and two volumes of index!) published by the Government of India, his Hindi and Gujarati writings are also translated into English. This encouraged me to check the points which Ambedkar talked about in his BBC interview. This reading which started out of curiosity, has altered the way I perceived Gandhi and in turn changed the way I live!
[*A Few *]
If not for the incidents in my life involving two people, you probably would not have been reading this account. The first one is my sister: a motherly, elderly sister who marched in the streets of Paris in 1968 where she was a visiting student then. She was my childhood heroine, my political model who walked me through the first steps of feminist politics. She also introduced me to Gandhi. At first it was my sibling loyalty that made me follow Gandhi. But it did not take me long to embrace him.
The second person who I am very grateful to is an Indian academic whom I met in a conference in 2006. He sow the first seeds of doubt in me. I cannot imagine my serious quest for reading Gandhi without that long late-summer evening in Vienna.
Some of my friends who have read this book found this very polemic. Yes, it is polemic. It is polemic because I am at odds with my own social environment – including the curricula and the media – that made me unaware of a bunch of simple facts about Gandhi. The sheer facts that are obvious in the very moment when one reads Gandhi’s own writings. The mediators for this world (or the other) have historically done more harm than good. Gandhi’s case is not an exception. The Gandhi I consumed was a Gandhi of some hazy, romantic apostles who have seen the burning bush unconsumed by flames from distant galaxies. Now I want to say that forcefully, so that those who want to follow Gandhi should be doing so after encountering some not-so-widespread facts about the person. And that is the purpose of the book. This is not a tirade against Gandhi. This book aims to open you up to Gandhi’s writings so that you make an informed decision about his politics and your choices. This was the book I should have read many years before.
By being polemic or argumentative does not mean that the book has anything new. No, there is nothing new in this book. This is not the result of any research, to warn my academic friends. There is not even a thorough academic analysis in this book, about Gandhi’s life or his ideology. Furthermore, this is neither a general introduction nor an overall evaluation of Gandhi’s thoughts or deeds. This is only a reading of Gandhi, of some issues he dealt with, which were pertinent in my life for many years. This is a personal account of disillusionments and my survival of it. Of certain fundamental issues that form the basis of my everyday life – like what I eat, how I interact with others, how I share my body, what I consume. In that sense, this is a political autobiography of a commoner.
There is no factual evidence drawn in this book that is not written by Gandhi. Whatever I am quoting or referring to are all from Gandhi’s collected works published in English (‘The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi’ (Electronic Book), New Delhi, Publications Division Government of India, 1999). Why should we, after all, believe in mediators, especially when truth is laying bare and open in front of our eyes.
Now, about the format and style. As I hinted before, I avoid any high-brow academic debates here. Some of us may be interested in the philosophy of Gandhi; of truth, ethics, politics, love, violence etc. No, there is none of that kind in this book. This is plain and simple experience. About how I experienced Gandhi before and after reading his works. This is partial, and necessarily biased (as a matter of fact, I do not find anything that is not partial and biased). For the ease of reading, I avoid academic style referencing so that it does not distract the general reader. Instead, I insert the date and details of the quotes in the main text. Whenever it is not done, you find the volume and page number of the Collected Works in the brackets following a quote.
This short book forms the part one of the series ‘How I Began to Dislike Gandhi – The story of my disillusionment with the truth-god’. The Gandhi I knew was someone who stood for universal peace, equality and non-violence. His high moral, personal principles attracted me to him. He stood against injustice of all forms and carved out an alternative world that is devoid of exploitation. Starting from this, it was difficult to read his own writing that suggested differently on the issue of race. His views on Africans were extremely racist. He believed in the racial superiority of the Aryans. Yes, we should grant him the benefit of times. I am not passing any judgement here. Make up your mind after reading what he has written.
[*South Africa *]
[*Mahatma Gandhi *]
Encountered the “Raw Blacks”
Much before he became ‘Mahatma’ or the great soul, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi went to London to study law. In 1888. At first he tried to become an ‘English gentleman’ but soon gave up that idea. Instead he became an active member of the London Vegetarian Society. After completing the Bar finals in 1891, he returned to India. In 1893, he went to South Africa to practice law, initially to work as a legal representative to Indian traders based in Pretoria. A place where he would spend the next 21 years, South Africa was the political breeding ground for Gandhi.
Like any other coloured person in South Africa at that time, he underwent personal harassments – like being thrown out of the first class compartment of a train, and a court ordering him to remove his turban. That made him actively plunge into politics. Soon he was established as a political activist fighting the discriminations against Indians. In 1906, he became the spokesperson of the Indians in Natal and Transvaal, and visited London to speak on behalf of the Indian community. That is right. Most of Mahatma Gandhi’s political activism in South Africa was about organising Indians. It is during these activities he developed his political strategies of non-violence, non-cooperation and mass organising.
[*The Indian Mahatma Gandhi *]
[*Encounters Black Kaffirs *]
One of the characteristic features of his political activities in South Africa was his consistent and laborious attempt to show that Indians are different from Africans. In fact it was not about difference. It was about a deep contempt towards Africans. He called them ‘Kaffirs’ – an insulting and contemptuous term which in Arabic meant ‘disbeliever’ but had a wide derogatory currency in the colonial context. He constantly attempted to distinguish Indians from the ‘Kaffirs’. So what were Blacks for Gandhi?
For Gandhi, Blacks are lazy, naked and lowly
Let us find what he says. On a public meeting in Bombay (present Mumbai) on September 26, 1896, that was organised to propagate the political struggle of the Indians in South Africa, he says: “Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, 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. The aim of the Christian Governments, so we read, is to raise people whom they come in contact with or whom they control. It is otherwise in South Africa. There, the deliberately expressed object is not to allow the Indian to rise higher in the scale of civilization but to lower him to the position of the Kaffir”.
Blacks Work Only If They Are Compelled
If they are lazy, they will not work by themselves, right? In the same year, on October 26th in Madras (present-day Chennai), he spoke: “There is a by-law in Durban which requires registration of coloured servants. This rule may be, and perhaps is, necessary for the Kaffirs who would not work, but absolutely useless with regard to the Indians. But the policy is to class the Indian with the Kaffir whenever possible”.
Similarly, in a letter that he circulated among members of the legislative assembly and council in Durban on 19th December 1894, Gandhi detailed how Indians were denigrated to the level of Africans: “A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir”.
The argument Gandhi forms is that the Africans are raw, uncivilised and unintelligent. They are lazy – they pass their life in indolence and nakedness – and need control to behave properly, which civilised people do not require. Often, he states that Africans are worthy of the treatment they are meted. And he points out that the Indians cannot be equated with them. In the ‘Short Statement Regarding the Indian Position in the New Colonies’ brought out in a publication called India on 17th of March 1903, Gandhi writes: “The by-law has its origin in the alleged or real, impudent and, in some cases, indecent behaviour of the Kaffirs. But, whatever the charges are against the British Indians, no one has ever whispered that the Indians behave otherwise than as decent men. But, as it is the wont in this part of the world, they have been dragged down with the Kaffir without the slightest justification”.
Even when there were issues of discrimination both against the Indians and the Africans, Gandhi made it a point to differentiate Indians from them. In response to a 7-year old law that required a registration fee of £3 from every coloured person settled in Transvaal, he wrote: “The £3 tax is merely a penalty for wearing the brown skin and it would appear that, whereas Kaffirs are taxed because they do not work at all or sufficiently, we are to be taxed evidently because we work too much, the only thing in common between the two being the absence of the white skin”.
Gandhi conveyed these strong views not only within the Indian community or in official representations. In a letter to [The Times _]published on 25th October 1906[, ]Gandhi wrote: “The British Indians of the Transvaal respectfully but firmly oppose the Ordinance because it imposes wanton, uncalled for and unjust degradation upon them. It reduces them to a level lower than the Kaffirs. It sets up a system of passes and identification applicable only to criminals”[._]
[*Separate Places *]
for Indians and Africans!
Not surprisingly he was firmly in favour of physically segregating Africans from Indians. In a letter to the Johannesburg’s ‘Medical Officer of Health’, Dr. C. Porter on 15th February 1904, Gandhi applauds the sanitary efforts done by the Public Health Committee but adds: “Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the Kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension… 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”.
Even in prison, a closer interaction with the Africans was unacceptable for Gandhi. On 7th March 1908, Gandhi elaborately described his first experience in the prison and clearly pointed out the need for the physical separation from the ‘Kaffirs’: “It was, however, as well that we were classed with the Natives. It was a welcome opportunity to study the treatment meted out to Natives, their conditions [of life in gaol] and their habits. Looked at from another point of view, it did not seem right to feel bad about being bracketed with them. At the same time, it is indubitably right that Indians should have separate cells. The cells for Kaffirs were adjacent to ours. They used to make a frightful din in their cells as also in the adjoining yard. We were given a separate ward because we were sentenced to simple imprisonment; otherwise we would have been in the same ward [with the Kaffirs]. Indians sentenced to hard labour are in fact kept with the Kaffirs”[_. _]
He stated further: “Apart from whether or not this implies degradation, I must say it is rather dangerous. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilised – the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, very dirty and live almost like animals. Each ward contains nearly 50 to 60 of them. They often started rows and fought among themselves. The reader can easily imagine the plight of the poor Indian thrown into such company!”.
Towards the end of another elaborate description on his ‘Second Experience in Gaol’, on 16th January 1909 Gandhi wrote in Indian Opinion: “[I have, though, resolved in my mind on an agitation to ensure that Indian prisoners are not lodged with Kaffirs or others. When I arrived at the place, there were about 15 Indian prisoners. Except for three, all of them were satyagrahis ][non-violent protestors under the influence of Gandhi, ‘truth-seekers’ in literal translation][. The three were charged with other offences. These prisoners were generally lodged with Kaffirs. When I reached there, the chief warder issued an order that all of us should be lodged in a separate room. I observed with regret that some Indians were happy to sleep in the same room as the Kaffirs, the reason being that they hoped there for a secret supply of tobacco, etc. This is a matter of shame to us. We may entertain no aversion to Kaffirs, but we cannot ignore the fact that there is no common ground between them and us in the daily affairs of life. Moreover, those who wish to sleep in the same room with them have ulterior motives for doing so. Obviously, we ought to abandon such notions if we want to make progress”].
He was constantly pained by the fact that prison authorities treated Indians like the ‘Kaffirs’. He was perturbed by the mixing up of ‘Kaffirs’ and Indians by the authorities: “The poor Indians – nobody bothers about them! They cannot get the food they want. If they are given European diet, the whites will feel insulted. In any case, why should the gaol authorities bother to find out the normal Indian fare? There is nothing for it but to let ourselves be classed with the Kaffirs and starve”.
More startling is the fact that Gandhi said all this not because that he was very naive and myopic. He is aware of the rights of the ‘Kaffirs’. Which in turn makes him more culpable of being sectarian. In the wake of Cape Parliament elections, on 27th July 1907, he writes in Indian Opinion: “The first thing to remember is that it is not absolutely necessary that the votes of the Kaffirs and the Asiatics should always be cast on the same side. The rights they have to secure are different. Their struggles are of different types. For example, the Cape Immigration Act is a hardship to the Indian community; it has little effect on the Kaffirs. Again, the Licences Act affects only the Indians. Moreover, as South Africa is their mother-country, they have a better right here than we have. But the Indians can demand their rights with greater force on the strength of the Proclamation of 1858 and in view of their being an ancient nation. Each has thus some advantages over the other”.
How did Gandhi make these sectarian claims? How did he justify them? It is exactly here that we come across him as someone who believed in racial supremacy. He claimed the difference between Africans and Indians, or Indians’ parity with the English, on the basis of their racial origin. He argued that Indians had the same rights as the English – and not the Africans – because Indians and Europeans belonged to the same race! In a petition given to Sir John Robinson, Secretary of Natal Colony on June 29, 1894 Gandhi talked on the issue of better treatment of Indians. After describing the objectives and the context of the letter, it reads as follows: “With greatest respect to Your Honour, we beg to point out that both the Anglo-Saxon and the Indian races belong to the same stock. We read Your Honour’s eloquent speech at the time of the second reading of the Bill with rapt attention and took great pains to ascertain if any writer of authority gave countenance to the view expressed by Your Honour about the difference of the stocks from which both the races have sprung up. Max Muller, Morris, Greene and a host of other writers with one voice seem to show very clearly that both the races have sprung from the same Aryan stock, or rather the Indo-European as many call it. We have no wish whatever to thrust ourselves as members of a brother nation on a nation that would be unwilling to receive us as such, but we may be pardoned if we state the real facts, the alleged absence of which has been put forward as an argument to pronounce us as unfit for the exercise of the franchise”.
In a very elaborate and widely circulated document in December 1895 about the denial of voting rights to Indians, Gandhi rigorously argues this point again. Quoting a number of European scholars he claims that both the British and the Indians belong to the same race: “History says that the Aryans’ home was not India but they came from Central Asia, and one family migrated to India and colonized it, the others to Europe. The government of that day was, so history says, a civilized government in the truest sense of the term. The whole Aryan literature grew up then. The India of Alexander’s time was India on the decline. When other nations were hardly formed, India was at its zenith, and the Indians of this age are descendants of that race. To say, therefore, that the Indians have been ever under servitude is hardly correct. India certainly has not proved unconquerable. If that be reason for disfranchisement, I have nothing to say except this, that every nation will, unfortunately, be found wanting in this respect”.
In a legal note prepared in April1898, Gandhi points out the same point: “… the Indians in South Africa belong to the Indo-Germanic stock or, more properly speaking, the Aryan stock. I do not know that there is any authority that has opposed this view. Works by Morris and Max Müller, easily obtainable in Pretoria, also support this view”.
In addition to referring to different scholars who support the shared racial origin of Indians and the British on the basis of historical research, Gandhi substantiates the claim by stating that the Indian languages belong to the [*“same Aryan family as most of the European languages” *](3:122).
These points were not restricted to claim the equal rights at par with the British. His writing clearly demonstrates that these points were also about self-image. A self-image that is extremely sectarian and exclusive for the Aryan race. The Star reported the lecture Gandhi delivered on “Hinduism” at the Masonic Temple, Johannesburg organised by the Theosophical Society on 10th March 1905 as follows: “Continuing, the lecturer described what was meant by the title “Hindu”, referring it to the branch of the Aryan people that had migrated to the trans-Indus districts of India, and had colonised that vast country. As a matter of fact, Aryanism would have been a better descriptive word than Hinduism, is explanation of the faith accepted by so many millions of his countrymen”[_. _]
Aryan race, its purity and supremacy was a consistent undercurrent of Gandhi’s writings during the early phase of his public activism. He wrote in the visitors’ book at the Hindu Theological High School in Madras on October 26, 1896: “I had the honour to visit this excellent institution. I was highly delighted with it. Being a Gujarati Hindu myself, I feel proud to know that this institution was started by Gujarati gentlemen. I wish the institution a brilliant future which I am sure it deserves. I only wish that such institutions will crop up all over India and be the means of preserving the Aryan religion in its purity”.
I am aware that we have to consider the fact that the times Gandhi spent in South Africa were his formative years. His views about race might be the sins of his youth. He might have been responding to his immediate condition, to the feeling of a community he felt so much close to. As someone who was born and brought up in a privileged background, he fairly well knew what he was missing in the life as an underdog. So, his reaction might have been very ordinary. But as I mentioned earlier, it is surprising to see how a very sensitive man was completely sectarian amidst the obvious discriminations that were surrounding him. Furthermore, his sectarian views are not restricted to race. See his extremely sectarian views on caste in the second part of the series. Similarly, he held very parochial views about women, as elaborated in the part six of this series.
I also know that we should be kind to him in a historical sense. What we see clearly today with regard to race, or any of the issues I discuss in the forthcoming chapters, might not have been as clear to Gandhi one century before. But if some of his ideas have transcended the time, it is important that we also see the other ideas of which they were part of.
In any case, I think it is important that we speak about and analyse rather than keeping them under the carpet.
[*An Afterword: *]
The Gandhi I Worshipped
Geography makes people opaque. It is actually so easy and adorable to see the wonderful Gandhi from a distance. Like most things in life, however, when one gets closer one sees more blemish on the surface.
Worshipping a celluloid icon is probably something that they do, in some parts of India. I was always a bit amused when I heard about people building temples for actors, or when gods emerged straight out of B-grade movies. People even elect actors to political power (which, as we know, is not restricted to India, by the way). But to know that I was worshipping a movie character was an utter shock to me. It is said that in 1962 when Richard Attenborough approached Jawaharlal Nehru to seek permission to make a film on Gandhi, Nehru the then Prime Minister, after giving the permission, pleaded to Attenborough that he should not make Gandhi a saint. Yes, I do realise that the Gandhi I fell in love with was Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi. The Saint Gandhi meant for western consumption, as fictional as the Terminator. Would I ever worship at the temple of the Terminator, gosh!
Life is not about erasing some episodes from the past. Every experience teaches you something. Often they change you permanently. Knowingly or unknowingly. I haven’t gotten rid of everything that I learned from and through Gandhi. I remain a person who stands for peace and nonviolence. I am one of those people who throng to the streets of Germany to march against nuclear power. I am one of those who chant ‘refugees are welcome here’. I am amongst those who are deeply disturbed by the increasing right-wing influence in different parts of the world especially in Europe. I do not lie. I remain a vegetarian. I still do yoga. I make sure that I bike as much as possible or go by train, instead of using cars or flights. But the major difference is that I began to be convinced about all these positions by myself. I do not need a saviour to make me a politically sensible human being. I have shown the way out to my patron saint and become my own.
Amidst these different pictures I draw from his writings, who was Gandhi? I think I do not have a singular answer. What I know is that he continues to intervene in our lives through his charisma and views. Now by reading his writings, that call is yours. Find your Gandhi. I do hope this series help you to engage with him realistically.
Finally, why should I write this in a pseudonym? Firstly, because the author is irrelevant here. The ideas discussed here should stand by themselves, and need not be mediated through the author and her personality. More than the author, let the content converse with the reader.
Secondly, Gandhi was very much the part of my life for many years. Getting out of any relationship is a very painful and arduous exercise. I have discussed the points that I raise here at numerous dinner parties, in saunas, during hikes and long walks, for the last few years. I want to keep this piece as a rite of passage, a document of my forlorn passion of my youth, a sad reminder of the immature political decisions and life choices we all make as individuals; but not something that I revisit everyday. I do not want to keep this part of my political view as an obsession day in and day out. I am moving on, after gaining immensely valuable lessons from these experiences. You must “trust the tale” D.H. Lawrence would say: “The proper function of a critic is to save the tale from the artist who created it”. So, please be good critics of this book. Debate. Introspect.
Thirdly, I want to keep my privacy professionally. As an academic who specialises in another area and a non-specialist in Gandhi Studies, I foresee how this book may alter my daily interactions in my specialisation. Let us not breach boundaries unnecessarily. As my story tells, there are so many boundaries we have in ourselves to overcome and state openly. Let me remain Sabine for this book. I hope this wish is respected.
Now a word about the series. This short book forms the first part of the series: How I Began to Dislike Gandhi – The Story of My Disillusionment With The Truth-God. As you have read in this part, Gandhi’s views on most social and political aspects of life are clouded in some myth-making projects and are often grossly misrepresented. By compiling his writing on some of the thematic issues which I think are significant – for e.g. race, caste, gender, poverty, and consumption[_ _]– the aim of this series is to make sense of Gandhi through his own writings. If you find that this volume has been useful to you to understand Gandhi better, please read other volumes too. They are thematically organised as follows: the volume two deals with Gandhi’s view on Indian Caste System. Why I included a volume about caste is because knowing caste is important to understand Gandhi and India. The volume three is on Gandhi’s ideal of Hinduism. When India is in the golden days of rightwing Hindu politics currently, it is very interesting to see how Gandhi affirmed his Hindu identity a century ago. The fourth volume of the series is about a very less known facet of Gandhi – his firm conviction about capitalism and his innovative program to deal with the challenges capitalism faced during his times. The following volume is the most sympathetic one in this series – we see that one need not be a leftist progressive to be a vegetarian. The final volume is on Gandhi’s very patriarchal gender views and his controversial sex experiments. It is mind boggling to think that someone like Gandhi who is revered as a ‘great soul’ undertook sex/celibacy experiments even during his 70s with young women (including his grand niece)! One thing which we have to appreciate Gandhi, however, is that he wrote about all these, most often publicly. I wish the myth-making machines were as open as he was!
So, that was about the focus of different volumes. If you would like to read all volumes, you could buy the combined all series edition instead of buying the volumes one by one. As I mentioned earlier, the volumes are deliberately short so that you do not need to read tons of materials to make sense Gandhi’s views. In the absence of a book like this, I had to go through more than 49000 pages of his writings. So when I say I know how excruciating to read long tracts of writing from a different time and place, I know what I mean! Furthermore, this is written in a manner in which you do not need to know a lot about Gandhi or India. Many readers have already pointed towards the ease with which they could read this series. Someone wrote to me that reading this book was easier for her than watching Richard Attenborough’s epic biographic film, Gandhi (1982)!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this book. Some readers told me that they loved this, whereas a few others told that that the book let them down (more so because of getting to know the darker side of their hero). The book does seem to invoke some emotion or judgement in most readers. Whatever your take on it, I’d greatly appreciate if you could leave a honest review at your favourite retailer. A few minutes you spend on posting a review will tremendously help the discussion to continue. It would also be a great help if you share your views on this book with your friends and social networks.
If you have liked reading this book, please buy and read the full volume titled: [*How I Began to Dislike Gandhi: The story of my disillusionment with the truth-god *]at your favourite bookseller. Thank you very much for your support. Remember, again to leave a honest review.
This is the first volume of the series: "How I Began to Dislike Gandhi". Mahatma Gandhi (Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi) is one of the most influential political figures of the twentieth century. Like many others in the West, Gandhi's ideas have captivated a young, bright, politically active girl from a western German city during the mid-1980s. More than anyone else Gandhi influenced her on her ideas on democracy, peace, non-violence, decentralization, equality, environmentalism, and justice. For two decades she followed Gandhi wholeheartedly. But when she began to read Gandhi's own writings, to her shock, she realized that her idol was not necessarily the same as she thought him to be. This book is a personal account of what she has found out-Gandhi to be a conservative, authoritarian, patriarchal, Victorian reactionary. In seven short chapters, this book polemically puts Gandhi in a new light, mostly by quoting from his own colossal writings that altogether comprise of around 49,000 pages. While this is not a biography of Gandhi in a conventional sense, this could be a thematic biography written in an autobiographical style. “How I Began to Dislike Gandhi” differs from other books on Gandhi on a few grounds. First of all, there are less interpretations in this book. Readers can reach to their own conclusions by reading what Gandhi said or wrote. At best this book is a systematic or thematic ordering of Gandhi's writings on those subjects that were crucial for the author when she embraced and later distanced from Gandhi. Secondly, this is different from most writings on Gandhi-they either want the reader to be a sympathizer or a hater of Gandhi. Here, despite the provocative title and overall theme of the book, it presupposes a balanced reader, not a fanatic follower or a rabid hater. The author wishes and hopes that the conclusion she reaches after reading Gandhi's writings would make sense to many fellow travelers. Thirdly, this book is written lucidly. It does not demand a significant understanding of Gandhi or India. It does not enter to any philosophical or ethical arguments. If at all there are some observations most of it is commonsensical. “This is only a reading of Gandhi, of some issues he dealt with, which were pertinent in my life for many years. This is a personal account of disillusionment and my survival of it. Of certain fundamental issues that form the basis of my everyday life-like what I eat, how I interact with others, how I share my body, and what I consume. This is a political autobiography of a commoner” - Sabine von Herbert