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The truth about Gandhi: a Racist Who Forced Young Girls to Sleep in Bed with Him PDF Stampa E-mail
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Martedì 31 Gennaio 2017 09:13

Tags: Fancy Talks | Viola Manuela Ceccarini | Viola ViVi

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There is no denying that to a large extent, history is written by victors. To quote Julian Barnes, “History is that certainty produced at the point where the imperfections of memory meet the inadequacies of documentation.”


Wo doesn't like Gandhi? We've come to know him as this frail, nobly malnourished old man with a purely moral, pious soul. He's a guy who ushered in a new grammar of nonviolent resistance to India, a country he helped escape the constraints of British imperial rule. He soldiered through some valiant hunger strikes until a Hindu nationalist shot, killed, and effectively martyred him.
The people that shape history are often painted black or white, depending upon how the world then perceives their deeds. This narrative becomes the dominant one and enters mainstream consciousness as the truth.
It almost seems like common sense, though, that the world is not divided into black and white, and the shades of gray in human character are very real, even if they're overlooked by society at large. However, Gandhi's image in independent India has been purged of everything that portrays him in a bad light. But many dark truths about him have been chronicled, even though they're not widely accepted in the mainstream.
A book called The South African Gandhi has spoken about his racism, illustrated by his belief that black South Africans were barely human, and his desire for Indians in South Africa to be classified as white.
Gandhi's misogyny is another issue that is overlooked by history. Gandhi viewed menstruation as the "manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality." He also forced two of his female followers to cut their hair short after they were sexually harassed, so that they didn't invite any sexual invitation.
His views on rape were very similar to those of rape apologists today. He believed that men could not control their sexual impulses, which women were responsible for. Michael Connellan wrote in The Guardian that Gandhi felt that women surrendered their humanity the minute men raped them.

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In the decades since his assassination in 1948, the image of Gandhi has been constructed so carefully, scrubbed clean of its grimy details, that it's easy to forget that he predicated his rhetoric on anti-blackness, a vehement allergy to female sexuality, and a general unwillingness to help liberate the Dalit, or "untouchable," caste.
Gandhi lived in South Africa for over two decades, from 1893 to 1914, working as a lawyer and fighting for the rights of Indians—and only Indians. To him, as he expressed quite plainly, black South Africans were barely human. He referred to them using the derogatory South African slur kaffir. He lamented that Indians were considered "little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa." In 1903, he declared that the "white race in South Africa should be the predominating race." After getting thrown in jail in 1908, he scoffed at the fact that Indians were classed with black, not white, prisoners. Some South African activists have thrust these parts of Gandhi's thinking back into the spotlight, as did a book published this past September by two South African academics, but they've barely made a dent on the American cultural consciousness beyond the concentric circles of Tumblr.

Around this same time, Gandhi began cultivating the misogyny he'd carry with him for the rest of his life. During his years in South Africa, he once responded to a young man's sexual harassment of two of Gandhi's female followers by forcibly cutting the girls' hair short to make sure they didn't invite any sexual attention. (Michael Connellan, writing in the Guardian, carefully explained that Gandhi felt women surrendered their humanity the minute men raped them.) He operated under the assumption that men couldn't control their basic predatory impulses while simultaneously asserting that women were responsible for—and completely at the mercy of—these impulses. His views on female sexuality were similarly deplorable; according to Rita Banerji, writing in Sex and Power, Gandhi viewed menstruation as the "manifestation of the distortion of a woman's soul by her sexuality." He also believed the use of contraceptives was the sign of whoredom.

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He confronted this inability to control male libido head-on when he vowed celibacy (without discussing it with his wife) back in India, and using women—including some underage girls, like his grand-niece—to test his sexual patience. He'd sleep naked next to them in bed without touching them, making sure he didn't get aroused; these women were props to coax him into celibacy.
It's easy to forget Gandhi predicated his rhetoric on anti-blackness, a vehement allergy to female sexuality, and a general unwillingness to help liberate the "untouchable" caste.
Kasturba, Gandhi's wife, was perhaps his most frequent punching bag. "I simply cannot bear to look at Ba's face," he once gushed about her, because she was caring for him while he was sick. "The expression is often like that on the face of a meek cow and gives one the feeling as a cow occasionally does, that in her own dumb manner she is saying something." An apologist's response to this, of course, would claim that cows are sacred beings in Hinduism—and so Gandhi's likening of his wife to a cow was really a veiled compliment. Or, perhaps, we could chalk it up to mere marital annoyance. When Kasturba came down with pneumonia, Gandhi denied her penicillin, even though doctors said it would cure her; he insisted the new medicine was an alien substance her body should not take in. She succumbed to the sickness and died in 1944. Just years later, perhaps realizing the grave mistake he'd made, he willfully took quinine to treat his own malaria. He survived.

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There's a Western impulse to view Gandhi as the quiet annihilator of caste, a characterization that's categorically false. He viewed the emancipation of Dalits as an untenable goal, and felt that they weren't worth a separate electorate. He insisted, instead, that Dalits remain complacent, waiting for a turn that history never gave them. Dalits continue to suffer from the direct results of prejudices sewn into the cultural fabric of India.
But how do you live up to a ridiculous sobriquet like "the greatest Indian"? This is a colossal burden to place upon anyone—to dub him the greatest person to hail from a country that's home to billions of people. Creating a false idol involves a great deal of forgetting. It's easy to slobber over a man who didn't really exist.
Gandhi is said to have had a lasting impact on India. Is that why racism and misogyny are so rampant in the country today? Do we need a more balanced narrative of the man, instead of just declaring him a Mahatma?

An article by Viola Manuela Ceccarini

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