Monday, 1 July 2013


Paras Nath Singh                   
Throughout his life Gandhian worked not only for the political liberation of India but also for the emancipation of all the suppressed and oppressed section of society. He was firmly of opinion that India's salvation depends on the sacrifice and enlightenment of her women. For him, "Swaraj is not merely a political fact bur social reality also. It is wide and comprehensive term." Therefore, his aim was to free the country from the foreign yoke along with all the kinds of social maladies. That is why, as an important aspect of his programme for the social and political reconstruction of India, Gandhiji wanted to bring-about a reform in the plight condition of women. Gandhiji used to say that; the liberarion of India is as necessary as the emancipation of women. For him, "When women whom we all call abala becomes sabalaa, all those who are helpless will become powerful."1 And for this making of Sabala, Gandhiji encapsulated his ideas on women's emancipation in a very comprehensive manner. The present paper aims at presenting multidimensional aspect of Gandhi's ideas on women's studies.
            Presenting the actual condition of women Gandhiji said, "Women are in position some what of the slave of old who did not know that he could or ever had to be free. And when freedom came, for the moment he felt helpless. Women have been taught to regard themselves as slaves of men. It is upto the Congressmen to see that they enable them to realize their full status and play their part as equal to men."2 To provide them their required status and dignity, Gandhiji directly or indirectly always helped them either through his suggestions via letters, lectures or through his writings wherein he usually said, "I am uncompromising in the matter of women's rights. In my opinion she should labour under no legal disability not suffered by men. I should treat the daughters and sons on a footing of perfect equality."3
Gandhiji thought that customs and meaningless traditions are the maian barrier in the way of women's emancipation. It is not to say that Gandhiji didn't respect traditions. He did respect traditions of the society, but not at the cost of individual dignity. His practical and dynamic advice was, "it is good to swim in the waters of tradition, but to sink in them is suicide."4 Therefore, he always hampered the meaningless deep-rooted stereotype customs which have become main hurdles in the way of development and emancipation of women.
The custom of child marriage, according to Gandhiji, is both a moral as well as physical evil. It undermines our morals and induces physical degeneration. In the same manner The Puradah System, According to him was vicious, brutal and barbarous. Criticising this system of Purdah he said, "Chastity is not a hot-house growth. It cannot be protected by the surrounding wall of the purdah. It must grow from within, and to be worth anything it must be capable of withstanding every unsoughttemptaion."5
Gandhiji thought purdah as one of the evils of the society that impeded the march towards Swaraj. Purdah not only denied the freedom to the women, but also the free gifts of God like light and fresh air. He considered it as an institution of recent origin.6 Removal of purdah was also necessary for a healthy competition with other rations which was impossible, if we allow the better half of ourselves to become paralysed.7
Along with this definition of chastity, he immediately questioned, "And why is there all this morbid anxiety about female purity? Have women any say in the  matter of male purity? We hear nothin of women's anxiety about men's chastity. Why should men arrogate to themselves the right to regulate female purity? It cannot the be superimposed from without. It is a matter of evolution from within and therefore of individual self-effort."8
            He called upon the men to trust their womenfolk in the same way the latter are compelled to trust the former. Therefore, he called the people to "tear down purdah with one mighty effort."9
            In the similar manner Gandhiji called prostitution "moral leprosy" and despises the fact that "the beast in man had made the detestable crime a lucrative profession."10 He appealed to the prostitutes to give-up their unworthy profession and become 'Sanyasinis' of India."
            Further like a true modernist Gandhiji was in favour of freedom to choose their life-partner. Once he encouraged those who were yet to be married to think in terms of choosing their own husbands. Gandhiji suggested, "The marriage of Shiva and Parvati is regarded as an ideal one. One who wants to wed like Parvati should think in terms of man like Shiva who is free from all passions. It was not Parvati alone that was destined to get such a husband. Every women holds that fact in her own hands."12
            At the same time like an intellectual caring mother Gandhiji also instructed these girls that "In choosing a husband, one must not go by the kind of clothes he puts on, or the turban he wears. One must see how educated he is, and how good he is in character...One should not think of marrying anyone who comes along. Parvati had resolved that she would marry one who was free from all passions like Shiva, otherwise she should remain unmarried. Every girl should cherish the ideal of Parvati..."
            Gandhiji generally believed in the form and purpose of marriage as envisaged in the Hindu religion. He said, "I have no theory of marriage that is inconsistent with a belief in transmigration, rebirth or mukti".13
            The aims of the Hindu marriage are said to be three: Dharma, Praja (progeny) and Rati (pleasure). Of these rati is given the least significance and the Hindu thinkers never advised marriage solely for rati or sex pleasure.14
            Gandhiji also assigned first place to spirituality and last to love.15 In the Vedic Age, marriage was universal since it was believed that a son one could not get (salvition). But Gandhiji said, "it was an excellent thing for girls to remain unmarried for the sake of service".16 However, he knew that only one in million was worthy of remaining unmarried. He considered marriage a natural thin, but declared that marriage is a Vaybhichar-concupiscence-which was performed for the satisfactory of sexual appetite.  He wanted all those to remain unmarried who did not want a child.17 Similarly he called upon the girls to remain spinsters if the failed to get a suitable match.18 Gandhiji made no distinction between a son and a daughter-either of them should be welcomed alike.19
                Gandhiji's ideal of husband anad wife were Rama and Sita.20 He was sad at his heart that in India there were husbands who regarded their wives as their property like cattle or household furniture.
            Gandhiji considered family a God-ordained insiturion and held the marriage-tie in high esteem. "I hold that", he said, "Husband and wife merge in each other. They are one in two or two in one"21 to a married couple he plessed thus: "You are being united in marriage as friends and equals. If the husband is called Swamin, the wife is Swamini-each master of the other, each helpmete of the other, each cooperating with the other in the performance of life's tasks and duties."22
Gandhiji defined the status of wife vis-a-vis husband thus : "The wife is not the slave of the husband but his comrade, otherwise known as better half, his colleague and friend. She is a co-share with him of equal rights and of equal duties. Their obligations towards each other and towards the world must, therefore, be the same and reciproca."23
            Though opposed to the custom of sati or immolation, Gandhiji placed a high value on marital fidelity. However, he wanted husband also to be loyal to his, wife. He said : "If the wife has to prove her loyalty and undivided devotion to her husband, so has the husband to prove his allegiance and devotion to his wife. You cannot have one set of weights and measures for the one and different one for the other."24
            Gandhiji was opposed to compulsions in the choice of compainons for life. he advised the people to take consent of the girls in this regard and allowed the girls to resist such a marriage against their will in every legitimate manner.25
            Gandhiji was also against the stereotype thinking that women should be delicate and timid. He encouraged even women to join in partolling the campus at night. In this context he said, "I wish you to falsify the epithets weak, timid and so on that are specially used about women. They do not apply to all women of course. Who would say the women of Raniparaj (a tribal community) are timid? How can you call them weak? The women of the West, of course, take part these days in every thing. I do not mean to say that they should be imitated; but at least they have been falsifying many of the assumptions of men. The Negro women of Africa are not at all 'timid'. Perhaps there is no such epithet in their language to be applied to them. In Burma it is the men who appear timid and as it were the weaker sex...26
            But Gandhiji's expectations from women did not stop here. He also expressed the hope that some day these women would acquire the capacity to win over these thieves by love. Actually Gandhi had tremendous faith in women's inherent capacity for non-violence. To him bravery lay in dying, and not in killing.27 He defined bravery in highest sense of suffering; and real sacrifice is dying for a noble cause. And for the courage of self-sacrifice, woman is superior to man as the man is to woman for the courage of brute.28 By the limitations imposed by nature on them women cannot participate in a violent war in a big way. But in a non-violent war, against injustice anywhere, men and women could be co-sharers. In a way, in a non-violent war women could make a greater contribution than men because non-violence call for suffering, and who could suffer more purely and nobly than women? To call women a "weaker sex is a libel",29 Gandhiji declared. It is a gross injustice to women. If by strength is meant brute strength, then indeed woman is less bruter than man.30 But if by strength is meant moral power then woman is immeasurably superior to man.31 Non-violence means infinite love, which means infinite capacity for suffering. And who but woman, the mother of man, shows this capacityin the largest measure? Woman has been endowed with tremendous strength sacrifice and suffering. Gandhiji wrote, "woman is sacrifice personified. When she does a thing in the right spirit, she moves mountain."32
                About the economic independence of women Gandhiji thought that the sphere of work for women and men were different. Actually, Gandhiji was very much clear about the fact that "Equality of sexes does not mean equality of occupations. there may be no legal bar against a women hunting or wielding a lance. But she instinctively recoils from a function that belongs to man. Nature has created sexes as complement of each other. Their functions are defined as are their forms."33 By this saying of difference of occupations Gandhiji probably meant to say that women's physique is more suited to the household work. In this context Gandhi speaks with conviction and clarity that,
"The [essential] function of women be the queens of the household... running a home efficiently, caring for and educating children properly, steadily seeking to conceive and transmit new, proper and higher ideals before they come under the influence of others of the opposite sex... all these things represent work of the highest, most important and most difficult kind that can be performed in this world."34
                Actually, Gandhiji visualized the role of women as well as men in the social biological context as an agent responsible for the community of the human race. For him, they were fundamentally equal yet had specialized roles set by nature. In a very clear terms Gandhiji said that.
"My own opinion is that, just as fundamentally man and woman are one, their problem must be one in essence. The two live the same life have the same feelings. Each is a complement of the other. The one cannot live without the other's active help. Nevertheless there is no doubt that at some point there is bifurcation. Whilst both are fundamentally one, it is also equally true that in the form there is a vital difference between the two. Hence the vocation of the two also must be different. The duty of motherhood, which the vast majority of women will always undertake, requires qualities which man need not possess. She is passive, he is active. She is essentially mistress of the house. He is the breadwinner; she is the keeper and distributor of the bread. She is the caretaker in every sense of the term. The are of bringing up the infants of the race is her special and sole prerogative. Without her care the race would become extinct".35
                When Gandhiji said that women's body is more suited for household work or took them as house-makers he never meant that women must be submissive before man. He often made clarion call to women. "Refuse to be the slaves of your own whims and fancies, and the slaves of men. Refuse to decorate yourselves, don't go in for scents and lavender waters; if you want to give out the proper scent it must come out of your heart and then you will captivate not man, but humanity. It is your birthright. Man is born of a woman; he is flesh of her flesh and bone of her bone. Come to your own and deliver your message again."36
            Gandhiji became familiar with the greatness of womanhood and he visualized the role of women in the social biological context as agents responsible for the continuity of the human race and its continued spiritual and cultural evolutions. Gandhiji has hugged the hope that women will be the unquestioned leader of Indian nation. "I have hugged the hope that in this woman will be the unquestioned leader and, having them found her place in human evolution, will shed her inferiority complex."37
                Further Gandhiji had tremendous faith in Women’s inherent capacity for non-violence. H said,”.......that women is the incarnation of ahimsa. Ahimsa means infinite love, which again means infinite capacity for suffering. Who but women, the mother of man, shows this capacity in the largest measure? She shows it as she carries the infant and feeds it during nine months and derives joy in the suffering involved. What can beat the suffering caused by the pangs of labour? But forget them in the joy of creation. Who again suffers daily so that her baby may way day to day? Let her transfer that love to the whole of humanity, let her forget that she ever was or can be the object of man’s lust. And she will occupy her proud position by the side of man his mother, maker and silent leader.”38
                The above observation proved that Gandhiji in the context of women’s emancipation looked like radical reformist. When he admitted the necessity and desirability of reform, of discarding the old, wherever necessary and building a new system of ethics and morals suited to the present age, then he never bothered either to seek permission or convince others. In the real sense of terms, he was a reformer who could not afford to wait till others were converted. He used to say that a true reformer must always look tlecled and ventured forth alone ever in the teeth of universal oppositions.
            Thus, in Gandhi’s philosophy, which was the unique blending of tradition and modernity women, found a new density. His words and deeds have inspired thousands of women, and will continue to do so in their struggle against injustice and inequality. Let us conclude with words of Mrs. Polak, “Most women love man for such attributes as are usually considered masculine, yet Mahatama Gandhi has been given the love of many women because of his womanliness for all those qualities that are associated with women.39
1.                   Message to All India Women’s conference, sent before December 23 1936.
2.                   Constructive Programme, pp. 17-18
3.                   Young India, 17-10-1929.
4.                   Navijivan, 28-06-1925
5.                   Young India, 03-02-1927
6.                   Young India, 24-03-1927
7.                   Young India,28-08-1928
8.                   Young India, 25-11-1926
9.                   Young India, 03-02-1927
10.                Young India, 18-08-1927
11.                Navijivan, 11-09-1921
12.                The Collected works of Mahatama Gandhi, vol. 32,p.494.
13.                Young India, 07-10-1927
14.                K.M.Kapadia, marriage and Family in India, Bombay, 1966 p. 1967
15.                The Harijan, 05-06-1937
16.                The Harijan,22-03-1942
17.                The Harijan, 24-04-1937
18.                The Harijan, 23-05-1936
19.                M.K. Gandhi to the Women, p.97.
20.                Young India, 21-10-1926
21.                The Harijan, 09-03-1940
22.                The Harijan,24-04-1947
23.                Young India, 21-05-1935
24.                Young India, 21-05-1937
25.                Young India, 18-08-1927
26.                The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 44, pp. 91-92.
27.                M.K. Gandhi, for Pacifists, 1949. P.9.
28.                M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War, Vol-I, 1948, p.157
29.                Young India, 10-04-1930
30.                M.K. Gandhi, Non-Violence in Peace and War, Vol-I, 1948, p.164
31.                Ibid, p.164.
32.                Young India, 22-12-1921.
33.                Harijan, 02-12-1939.
34.                Pushpa Joshi, Gandhi On Women, published jointly by the Center for Women’s Development Studies, New Delhi and javijivan Trust, Alhedabad 1988, p. 195.
35.                The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 71, pp. 208-9
36.                The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 71, pp. 208-9
37.                The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 71, pp. 208-9
38.                The Collected works of Mahatma Gandhi, 71, pp. 208-9
39.                Pyarelal, The Last Phase, Vol,-I, Part-2
Paras Nath Singh

M.phil. Political Science