Mahatma Gandhi

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The emancipation of India from colonial rule is often portrayed as though it involved a connection between religious belief and ethical outcomes. The real story tends to show that something like the opposite is the case.
Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything[1]

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869–1948), more commonly known as Mahatma[note 1] Gandhi, is a Sid Meier's Civilization leader who beat John Lennon to the iconic glasses.Wikipedia He is best known for nuclear annihilation[2] waging a long campaign against British Imperialism in India through primarily non-violent means and a series of mass campaigns that included his famous Salt March.Wikipedia[3]

Gandhi showed how religious beliefs could be used in a positive way, giving an intellectual framework within which to pursue social and political change. In the end, he was assassinated by Hindu Nationalist Nathuram Godse,Wikipedia who felt that Gandhi's promotion of religious tolerance and nonviolence was making Hindus weak, and he was "giving too much" to the Muslims.[4]

Crank views and questionable behavior[edit]

However, Gandhi was also was a little on the odd side, and certainly not a flawless saint, but rather a hardened criminal, a repeat offender, and a habitual jail-bird.[5] A number of his views have deservedly come under fire.

A notable example of fostering this trend was the 2005 Penn & Teller: Bullshit! episode Holier Than Thou,[6] which explored a select number of his views — some of which are examined in greater detail below.

Extreme celibacy[edit]

Though Gandhi took a vow of celibacy at age 38, close associates of his reported that he didn't take it as seriously as he often claimed. Gandhi reportedly experimented with all manner of strategies until his death to "repress" his sexual urges. This led to him issuing some highly questionable directions to his followers and even more questionable practices by him.

The most infamous example is found in Gandhi trying to test his ability to resist the so-called temptations of the material world by sleeping beside his two grandnieces… naked.

This was a policy Gandhi first began when he ran an ashram where wives would not be permitted to sleep beside their husbands (but were required to sleep in the same bed as Gandhi).[7]

Gandhi himself and the women involved in these experiments, despite this eyebrow-raising behavior, said no sex was involved.


Speaking of women, Gandhi supporting some empowerment for them and he held women did deserve more freedoms. Some of such quotes include:-

There is no occasion for women to consider themselves subordinate or inferior to men.
If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man's superior.[8]

He still urged them to relegate themselves to remaining childbearing housewives.[9] He also held even more disturbing views than that, most especially regarding sexual freedom, due to his militant dislike of birth control which stemmed from his militant anti-abortion stance, viewing sex as exclusive for married couples only and only to serve for reproduction.

This led to Gandhi infamously stating (in an essay published in 1939 by Liberty Magazine) that women, as well their male partners, who used methods to avoid pregnancy commit a "criminal folly" against God and humanity. Such a blasphemy warranted the punishment of having the offending people "be dispossessed of what they have been given" for refusing to reproduce.[10] Overall, he advocated sexual abstinence for both women and men.[11]

This view didn't go unchallenged. Margaret Sanger famously took Gandhi to task on this issue for years after the two first met in India in December 1935.[12] Incidentally, one of her most famous responses to him was published the same year and in the same magazine as Gandhi's aforementioned essay.[13]

The worst view Gandhi held in regards to women can be found in chapter 56 of his book My Non-Violence in which he is asked how to defend women from rape. This was his answer.

She [the woman] is not really helpless when she is really pure. Her purity makes her conscious of her strength. I HAVE always held that it is physically impossible to violate a woman against her will. The outrage takes place only when she gives way to fear or does not realize her moral strength. If she cannot meet the assailant’s physical might, her purity will give her the strength to die before he succeeds in violating her.

In a nutshell: if women get raped, it's not only their fault but also their fault for not doing a better job at fighting back against their attackers. So they might want to think about dying quickly before their attackers get done with them.[14]

Again, as with his infamous celibacy tests, Gandhi's negative views regarding women has been cited specifically by The Guardian as playing a major role in why women's rights still remain very underdeveloped in India.[15]

Race and politics[edit]

Gandhi displayed bigotry toward the native black population in South Africa during his early life, though he reversed these views in the early 1900s after encountering African bravery in war and reading Jean Finot's Race Prejudice.[16] During his first decade in the region, Gandhi wasn't at all ashamed to admit his dislike of having to co-exist with the local South African population. He was vocal in saying that they were to be treated with less civility than Indians like himself.

This is evidenced by the numerous articles and correspondence he wrote during the early portion of the period he spent in the region from from 1893 to 1914. These writings confirm that Gandhi spent a great deal of time and effort in actively supporting the racial separation of Indians from the region's native black South Africans. His reasoning for this in a nutshell: Indians should not be "dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir".

The use of the word "Kaffir" is a dead giveaway to Gandhi's bigotry, as the word itself is the South African equivalent of the term nigger. Gandhi used the term approximately half-a-dozen times in his pre-1907 writings when describing the local native black population. Gandhi explained his reasoning in a letter of grievance dated August 14, 1896.

I may further illustrate the proposition that the Indian is put on the same level with the native in many other ways also. Lavatories are marked "natives and Asiatics" at the railway stations. In the Durban Post and Telegraph Offices, there were separate entrances for natives and Asiatics and Europeans. We felt the indignity too much and many respectable Indians were insulted and called all sorts of names by the clerks at the counter. We petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.

However, Gandhi transformed these views later in life, abandoning belief in racial hierarchy during the period of 1907-1909 and adopting a position of solidarity with all races downtrodden under imperialism.

By 1910, Gandhi in his newspaper Indian Opinion remarked that:

Africans are "alone are the original inhabitants of the land. … The whites, on the other hand, have occupied the land forcibly and appropriated it to themselves.[17]

By 1911, Gandhi had begun regular correspondence with revolutionary Black figures such as W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, John Dube, and S.S. Tema and began to associate his own quest of freedom for Indian peoples with freedom for all races.

It may be that the English temperament is not responsive to a status of perfect equality with the black and the brown races. Then the English must be made to retire from India. But I am not prepared to reject the possibility of an honourable equality. The connection must end on the clearest possible proof that the English have hopelessly failed to realize the first principle of religion, namely, brotherhood of man.[18]

Speaking of the Black races who “are ground down under exploitation,” he proclaimed, “Our deliverance must mean their deliverance. But, if that cannot come about, I should have no interest in a partnership with Britain, even if it were of benefit to India.”[19] and declaring that if Indian rights conflicted with African “vital interests”, he would “advise the forgoing of those rights.”[20] This shift away from his racist past and move towards solidarity with African and African-American interests helped lead to Gandhi becoming a role model for Black freedom fighters, most famously Martin Luther King, Jr. but also Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, and others.[21]

Gandhi also discussed communism and socialism and said that they are not the same as asserted by Europeans and Americans.[22] Gandhi was also inspired by Leo TolstoyWikipedia; suggesting some anarchist influences on his ideology, specifically religious anarchism, the form Tolstoy practiced.[23]

Gandhi was also a bit of a Hitler apologist during his rise. He is documented specifically as being supportive of Hitler and his regime, as evidenced in a letter addressed in May 1940 to Rajkumari Amrit KaurWikipedia (later the Health Minister in the Indian Cabinet):[24][25]

The war is taking an ugly turn. Let us see what happens. Somehow or other I do not feel the same way as you do. I do not want to see the Allies defeated. But I do not consider Hitler to be as bad as he is depicted. He is showing an ability that is amazing and he seems to be gaining his victories without much bloodshed.

His views on this matter did change after observing that Hitler had a violent dislike of people different from him. Even then he's recorded as having made weird comments about the Holocaust,[26] showing that pacifism, just like any other ideology, can be taken to an extreme.

He also opposed Imperial Japan in a timely fashion and discouraged Indians from joining them.

I want India to oppose Japan to a man.[27]

Anti-vaccination crankery[edit]

Gandhi also engaged in smallpox vaccine denialism. His most notable condemnation of vaccines can still be found in chapter 6 of the second part of his book A Guide to Health, which he dedicates entirely to pseudoscientific criticisms of the smallpox vaccine and pushing Ayurveda woo in its place (continuing the practice from chapter 5).[28]

It also violated his religious instincts, his vegetarianism, and his notion of purity. Many medical remedies contained alcohol or animal substances, and in one of the articles published in 1913, he was very clear about his views, where he promoted religious fear-mongering against the science of vaccination.[29]

Vaccination seems to be a savage custom. It is one of the poisonous superstitions of our times the equal of which is not to be found even among so-called primitive societies […] Vaccination is a filthy remedy. Vaccine from an infected cow is introduced into our bodies; more, even vaccine from an infected human being is used […] I personally feel that in taking this vaccine we are guilty of a sacrilege.

In the same book and in the same chapter, Gandhi also espouses germ theory denialism, stating:[30]

We are all terribly afraid of the small-pox, and have very crude notions about it. We in India even worship it as a deity. In fact, it is caused, just like other diseases, by the blood getting impure owing to some disorder of the bowels; and the poison that accumulates in the system is expelled in the form of small-pox. If this view is correct, then there is absolutely no need to be afraid of small-pox. If it were really a contagious disease, everyone should catch it by merely touching the patient; but this is not always the case.

External links[edit]


  1. "great soul" in Sanskrit


  1. Christopher Hitchens, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, pages 181-182.
  2. Nuclear Gandhi | Know Your Meme
  3. Kurlansky, Mark, Salt: A World History, Walker Publishing Company, Ny, NY, 2002, p. 343-53
  4. See the Wikipedia article on Assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.
  5. Maḥmūd, Jafar (2004). "20: Jail-bird". Mahatma Gandhi: A Multifaceted Person. New Delhi: APH Publishing. p. 75. ISBN 9788176486545. Retrieved 2017-02-23. "Gandhi preached rebellion, launched mass civil disobedience and was repeatedly jailed. […] He was jailed eleven times. Once he was arrested thrice within four days. If he had a complete[sic] all his jail terms, he would have spent 11 years and 19 days in jail. Occasionally, his punishment was reduced and altogether he spent 6 years and 10 months in prison. At the age of 39, he first entered a jail. He came out of the prison gates for the last time when he was 75." 
  6. See our article detailing the episode.
  11. "Gandhi and Beyond: Nonviolence for a New Political Age", David Cortright, Routledge
  18. Gandhi, Mohandas, Letter dated November 23, 1920, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol 19, p. 14
  19. Gandhi, Mohandas, Young India, November 19, 1931 Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol 48, p. 261
  20. Gandhi, Mohandas, Harijan, July 1, 1939, Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi Vol 69, p. 377
  21. Anil Nauriya, Freedom, Race and Francophonie : Gandhi and the Construction of Peoplehood
  29. See citation 38