One thing I find curious is that way that certain historical figures are mythologized. Is it an attempt to see just the good in people? Is it an attempt to whitewash history? I don’t know. Spend a decent amount of time on Facebook and you’re likely to come across a quote of his. Yet another photo of him comes up with the quote “be the change you wish to see in the world.” I’m not sure the quote is exactly how he phrased himself, but the point is made. It’s advice to be proactive. Of course, there’s no context provided for the kind of change he himself wanted. I consider myself a progressive, and feel that I tend to identify most with more liberal minded people. What surprises me most is how so many liberal minded people embrace Gandhi. They view him as some sort of super spiritual über liberal ultra pacifist. When you point out that he isn’t, that the man’s beliefs, if anything, align with the far right (by today’s standards), boy do liberals get really pissed. I find this an ironic attitude. People on the left constantly belittle people on the right for behaving the exact same way, for denying facts in favor of a myth they merely wish existed. People are people, I guess.
We all know the myth, but what about the man? Was he really as great as a lot of people think he was? The above quote seemed pretty inspired. Perhaps another one? “As a Christian, I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice.” So we have here a quote that seems to say that a Christian, following his or her faith, has a duty to uphold truth and justice. Seems pretty good, right? Gandhi’s contemporary Adolf Hitler said that. This isn’t a Godwin’s law violation, as Hitler will become quite relevant in a moment, but the broader point is that quote mine anyone. Let’s go onto specific areas that Gandhi needs to be examined.
World War II: I recall once my own mother saying that even Gadhi people like Hitler should be fought. I suppose if you do some mental gymnastics that could be twisted into a true statement of sorts, but the literal meaning in which it was meant was wrong. At the time, being a child as I was, I merely took her word for it. I suppose most might even think such a thing to be true. While there is some hypocrisy on his part as concerns violent resistance, which I shall come to later, his advice was of such an ultra pacifist nature that it cannot be deemed anything but grotesquely immoral by any rational thinker. For example, told that British (and presumably this advice goes to all in Hitler’s path) to let the Nazis, “take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself man, woman and child, to be slaughtered .” (Hitchens, 2011). Does this really seem like sound advice to anyone? Civil disobedience of any kind simply doesn’t work against a fascist regime such as Hitler’s. That much should be clear. Consider the further implications of what a failure to resist people like the Nazis means. Think of what a life under such a regime would be like. Is that really the moral alternative? The above advice was not given exclusively to the British, but much the same was given the Jewish people of Europe as well. They were likewise expected to not resist Hitler, but what he said after the fact is particularly disturbing. What would you think of someone in the here and now saying, “The Jews died anyway, didn’t they?” What would your response be to someone on today’s news if they had said, “But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife” (Nandi, 2011). This is not the thinking of a morally correct human being.
Women & Sex: Sex is natural and healthy. I think any normally adjusted adult can agree with that. It’s also quite necessary for our species, for any species, to continue. That much is obvious. Gandhi’s view of sex was not normal to say the least. The man did not think married couples should have sex ever, that they should even sleep in separate beds. Nothing but chastity for everyone at all times. In one instance he said, “It is the duty of every thoughtful Indian not to marry. In case he is helpless in regard to marriage, he should abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife.” (The Independent, 2010) Kind of ridiculous, isn’t it? If anyone now said such a thing, anyone without a mythology built up behind them of being some sort of saint said any such thing…would anyone ever listen to this person on any subject ever again? Maybe a few screwed up folks, but no one with a normally functioning brain. No doubt, many wives really appreciated that bit of advice too. Of course, the rules don’t apply to him. He certainly cut off his own wife from sex, but his attitude towards others were a bit suspect. One thing Gandhi is known for, if not well enough in the mainstream, is that he rather enjoyed his little naked cuddle sessions with teenage girls, including his own niece (Vilensky, 2011). Of course, that was merely to “test” his own chastity, right? Sure. Tell me, if you were to read about that in the news, some old guy having naked cuddle sessions with his niece, just what would you suspect? Even if it was or could ever be a truly sexless thing, it’s still pretty sick.
While his attitudes towards sex were not exactly pro-female, they aren’t the only examples of his misogyny. He viewed menstruation as a “distortion of a woman’s soul”, according to Rita Banerji, because it is a manifestation of her sexuality. Much like the honor killings we read about in the news today, he viewed raped women as being worthless, that their fathers would and should execute them for the sake of societal honor. Women, after all, bear responsibility for their being sexually assaulted, according to him (Connellan, 2010). Monsters who talk like this are (rightfully) subjected to mockery, ridicule, and derision. Why is it that so many liberals hail this man as a hero when the man whose views on sex and women are equal to or to the right of the worst kind of ultra right wing bigots our world has to offer?
Race: While my entry is far from exhaustive, I want to close with a note on racism. No doubt we all know the story of him being kicked off the train in South Africa. He wanted to be in first class, but because he wasn’t white he got kicked off the train for refusing to sit in a lower class seating assignment. That was no doubt a racist act, and anyone reading it should be outraged at the stupidity of such hate. The problem comes in that Gandhi wasn’t made at racism existing, he was mad at it being directed at him. “We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs. We could understand not being classed with whites, but to be placed on the same level as the Natives seemed too much to put up with. Kaffirs are as a rule uncivilized.” (Vilensky, 2011). When he was busy with his protests against the racism inflicted towards Indians by the British in South Africa, he complained about being treated the same as the “Kaffirs” (the word is the equivalent of calling someone a “nigger”). Right, it’s only racism when it’s directed against “civilized” people…those damn savage black people, fuck them. Shesh. I’m sure the British viewed the Indian people as likewise uncivilized, so by Gandhi’s own standards such behavior should be acceptable. Such an attitude is both immoral and hypocritical.
Gandhi the myth was a saint, a damn near perfect example of everything a human should be or at least aspire to. Gandhi the man was a monster, a person of incredible hate, ignorance, and stupidity.
Connellan, M. (2010, January 27). Women suffer from Gandhi’s legacy. Retrieved December 18, 2012 from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/27/mohandas-gandhi-women-india
Hitchens, C. (2011, July/August). The Real Mahatma Gandhi. Retrieved December 18, 2012 from: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/07/the-real-mahatma-gandhi/308550/?single_page=true
Nandi, P. (2011, January). Alex, Thapar discuss Mahatma at festival. Retrieved December 18, 2012 from: http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2011-01-25/jaipur/28362463_1_mahatma-gandhi-karan-thapar-jews
The Independent. (2010, April 07). Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi’s sex life. Retrieved December 18, 2012 from: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/thrill-of-the-chaste-the-truth-about-gandhis-sex-life-1937411.html
Vilensky, M. (2011, March 26). Gandhi: Bi-sexual Self-Promoter? Retrieved December 18, 2012 from: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2011/03/gandhi.html