When you have been fed a certain narrative for the better part of your life, be always prepared to hear the other story. Because really, on Earth, it is difficult to find something that is perfect in its entirety. And so it has been the case with the revered Mahatma Gandhi, considered India's greatest leader of all time.
There is a side of Mahatma Gandhi that has not been fully told. The side that was a complete antithesis to the greater cause that he had dedicated his life to. His activism and heroism are the crowning points of his life. It made him endearing to many. And yes, he changed the course of modern history for the better by fighting for the oppressed. But was that all genuine when this is put against the issue that he was racist and very misogynistic?
Now we all appreciate what Gandhi did. But another side of him has to be told to balance the narrative so that people do not blindly admire such people. It is from dissecting history that we learn of the right things to do in when thrust in the future for that is inevitable.
Mahatma Gandhi the Racist
So, most people won't come to terms with the fact that while Mahatma Gandhi was a dedicated fighter of racism, he himself exhibited disturbing racist attitudes. In an article published by the BBC in 2015 some light was shed on the multi-faceted legacy of Gandhi, based on the work of South African academics Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed who spent seven years exploring the complex story of a man who lived in their country for more than two decades - 1893 to 1914 - and campaigned for the rights of Indian people there.
In their book 'The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire' they looked at his attitudes in fighting the oppression that Coloureds, Blacks, Indians were subjected to. Gandhi kept the Indian struggle "separate from that of Africans and coloureds even though the latter were also denied political rights on the basis of colour and could also lay claim to being British subjects".
They revealed that they way he fought some of the unjust laws in South Africa at the time was to achieve the exclusivity of Indians over blacks and Coloureds. When it came to blacks, he simply believed that Indians were above blacks. In 1893, Gandhi wrote to the Natal parliament saying that a "general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are a little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa".
Are you appalled yet? Because this is what it was! When Durban was hit by a plague in 1905, Gandhi wrote that the problem would persist as long as Indians and Africans were being "herded together indiscriminately at the hospital".
His racist attitudes are also evident in his belief of the Aryan brotherhood. Ashwin revealed this when he spoke to the BBC. "Gandhi believed in the Aryan brotherhood. This involved whites and Indians higher up than Africans on the civilised scale. To that extent he was a racist. To the extent that he wrote Africans out of history or was keen to join with whites in their subjugation he was a racist," Ashwin Desai said.
That he was racist is amplified by his most controversial statement in light of the Holocaust. “Hitler killed five million Jews. It is the greatest crime of our time. But the Jews should have offered themselves to the butcher’s knife. They should have thrown themselves in the sea from cliffs… It would have aroused the world and the people of Germany… As it is, they succumbed anyway in their millions.”
Mahatma Gandhi the misogynist
Misogyny simply refers to the intense hatred of women. And well, it seems Gandhi was a misogynist. Now, how can you be passionate with fighting the cause for human rights when you bear a condescending attitude on your own wife? This is what Gandhi was.
The way he viewed his own wife was beyond appalling. He frequently used her as his punching bag; as quoted in 'Gandhi: The True Man Behind Modern India': “I simply cannot bear to look at Ba’s face. 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.”
Much has been done in film and literature to portray the marriage as a rosy one. A biographical film titled 'Gandhi' (1982) tried to put their marriage in a positive light. But new evidence revealed this was not the case as many had believed it to be. In providing the truth on what led to the death of Kasturba Gandhi, it was revealed that Kasturba died due to the fact that Mahatma Gandhi refused to administer treatment for pneumonia to her.
Diagnosed with pneumonia, British doctors recommended penicillin to cure her, but Gandhi refused to inject his wife with the “alien” life-saving medication that he later used on himself to treat his own malaria. This was highlighted in an article published by the Commentary Magazine, written by Richard Greiner. Gandhi once highlighted that Indian women were responsible for their sexual assaults.
Great men are not always great
While he was a great and revered leader for championing the cause of equality and human rights, we have to deal head-on with the inescapable and incontestable fact that great men are always not great. These racist and misogynistic issues have been brushed aside as insignificant and minor flaws, but really, we need to look at these people without any bias.
This teaches us on how to write history. Gandhi was not a perfect man as we have always been told. His story has many dents. His story has many flaws too great to ignore.
No one on Earth is perfect, really.