WITH WOMEN ON HIS CONSCIENCE
He is highly regarded as the selfless hero of India’s struggle for freedom from the British Empire and a worldwide symbol of peaceful resistance. Mahatma Gandhi showed the oppressed peoples of the world a pathway to freedom without the use of violence, and the lawyer and anticolonial activist was an inspiration to subsequent freedom fighters such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Although he was famous in his lifetime, Gandhi became a legend after he was murdered by a Hindu nationalist in 1948. Today he remains an idol worldwide, and his wisdom— in the form of mottos and quotes—is found in books and on postcards and coffee mugs. But Gandhi had another darker side that may be reflected in acts of sexist violence in India today: his attitude toward women. According to Indian gender activist Rita Banerji, Gandhi considered menstruation to be “a distortion of a woman’s soul by her sexuality.” About his own wife he wrote: “Her expression is often like that of a meek cow and gives one the feeling that in her own dumb manner she is saying something.” The Indiabased writer Michael Connellan says Indian women are still suffering from Gandhi’s legacy: “He was a puritan and misogynist who helped ensure that India remains a dreadful place to be born female.” The Indian leader is also said to have despised his own sexual desires as well as sex in any context except for procreation. But despite his fraught relationship with femininity, he had also said: “To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; if by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably superior to man.” Still Gandhi’s wife endured an unfair share of insults and indignities, even though she was his ally in the struggle for civil rights. And Gandhi’s views still shape Indian society today.