Tag Archives: Delhi Rape

Gandhi and Rape

5 Jan

This is a translation of a blog post from noted Tamil writer Jeyamohan’s blog.

Translation from: http://www.jeyamohan.in/?p=33454

Translated by: Gokul


Reading Gandhi, I felt he was again and again speaking about freedom of movement for women . Almost everyone knows his famous quote ‘the day a woman can walk freely at midnight on the roads, that day we can say that India achieved independence.’

One can easily make Gandhi look foolish by asking the orthodox question – ‘Why should a woman want to walk around at midnight?’. It is even possible to argue that Gandhi merely spoke for law and order and considers this as a metric. But Gandhi proposes this again and again as a measure. He estimates all other countries using the same metric.

One can understand this if one can closely observe the entirety of Gandhi’s writings and the socio-political movement which were its background (which he created). It can even be said that there was no other leader among his contemporaries who stood for gender equality like Gandhi did. Even in world history, those who spoke empty nothings on stage with nobody to follow Gandhi – I don’t consider them. I speak only of those who actually did something. In Gandhi’s ‘Ramrajya’ there was no distinction between male and female subjects.

Hence Gandhi says women should stand equal to man in three platforms – one is education, another is trade and the third is public service.

Gandhian education is not something that speaks of primary education for women, it speaks of complete education for a woman. In India, even before Gandhi, efforts for the education of women had started at the highest levels. But it was his movement named ‘National Education’ which went to the grassroots and brought women to education.

Secondly, trade. It is surprising to see what Gandhi has spoken on this subject. In Gandhi’s view, a human life should have learnt a handicraft to survive without another’s help. If this is not the case, it is not complete. Hence he keeps insisting that women should learn handicrafts. He emphasises Khadar and village industries on that basis alone. Whenever he walks into any organization, he asks ‘Do all the women here learn any handicraft?’ without fail.

Gandhi, while insisting on handicrafts for women also insists that women should reduce their house work including cooking from the same point of view. The means he suggests to achieve these are possible only to him. Maybe it is not so feasible today to reduce the amount of cooked food in one’s diet and to try communal cooking. But we can only understand his statement that women should come out of the kitchens like this only.

Today, Gandhi’s village development program’s most important outcomes is that it was the first Indian movement that created financial independence for women. What we see in the words of Sarvodaya followers like Kovai Ayyamuthu is that 70% of the Khadar we see is manufactured by women. It lead to direct income accrued to the women who made them. The change it created in society then is beyond imagination.

Thirdly, Gandhi speaks of the particiation of women in public life. He was the first leader in Indian politics to speak of women’s public life. More than speaking about it, he brought it to reality and achieved great success in it. For him, politics was about service. He says so actually. But the nature of service is to eventually be rewarded with social authority. Hence he speaks about women sharing this authority through political participation.

Wherever he goes, Gandhi speaks of women entering politics. To each of his volunteers, he asks ‘Why didn’t you bring your wife along?’. He orders all the women who come to meet him to enter politics. More than anything, he brings his wife and his daughters-in-law to agitational politics and makes this an example. The Dharasana Salt Agitation was one agitation in Indian Independence movement which face the most direct form of violence. In it, he made his elderly wife Kasturiba lead an almost suicidal force of volunteers. These instances went a long way in creating role models.

Gandhian movement was the one which brought most women to politics. If we compare the other political movements which happened around the world at that time, we can see that none of them had any significant participation by women. Be it the famous Russian Revolution, the political uprising by Sun-Yat Sen in China or the European political movements, none of these featured women.

None of the movements in India after Gandhi had any significant contribution by women. Leftist movements, Dravidian movements, Hindutva movements – all of these were primarily by men. Congress too was comprised of men. However, there was a person who was omni-potent in it whom women trusted and became Congress workers – Gandhi. Many women who accepted Gandhi as their leader have mentioned that they felt him as their mother – not as a father.

We can see this among the Gandhian-era political leaders who survive today. They all would have participated in agitations along with their wives; and gone to jail. In their entire village, in their caste – his wife would have been the first woman to have come out of the house. Even today, this is completely mind-boggling. I had thought that the enormous image of Gandhi and the identity it had of an ascetic was the reason behind this change. However, a Tyagi (freedom fighter, a renouncer) said to me once – his wife was called a ‘prostitute’ by everyone in his caste for the sole reason that she went to jail for the freedom movement. 

I think that Gandhi would have reached the need for freedom of movement for women simply as a practical necessity for women for whom he envisaged the basics of Education-Trade-and-Public service. It was only after 1923 that women started entering politics in India in large numbers. Women had to go from village to village doing public service just like any other Congress worker. They had to take part in processions, agitations and satyagrahas. More than anything else, they had to go to jail. For all of these to happen, it was necessary that women had the freedom to move freely.

Any obstacle to the freedom of movement of women would simply be an obstacle for women in education, trade and in public participation. Those who wish to subjugate women in these fields first attack a woman’s right to move freely. A woman who doesn’t have full freedom for education, for trade and for public participation would be a slave in her family too. Her personality cannot flower fully without freedom. Hence she cannot be complete in her spiritual life too.

It is on this basis that we should approach the underlying basis of the outbursts in the wake of news of rapes in India. A rape which happens in the open is more significant that a rape which happens at home. When it happens in an unavoidable bus journey at 9.30 at night, it becomes even more significant. When it happens in the seat of political power in Delhi, in the midst of barricades set by the police, it is a very significant symbol.

In reality, it is not a rape. It is an announcement ‘Don’t come out of the house!’. We should understand it as the voice of the insensitive political power which says this to the Indian woman who was brought out of the house by Gandhi. This protest movement is against that statement. It is a basic question whether this government and this society guarantees the freedom of movement.

Instead of this, those who provide statements like ‘Women should be cautious’, ‘When a leaf falls on a thorn, it is the leaf which will get damaged’, ‘Why should a woman go out at night?’, ‘They are fighting for their freedom to go to clubs’ – these people live in a time before Gandhi.

Among the concepts that Gandhi propounded for women’s rights, an important one is about the sexual identity of women. When one observes his writings keenly, one wonders ‘What is this? Does this old man want women to leave their sexual identities and desires completely?’

But we can see that Gandhi suggested sacrificing sexuality for men too. According to Gandhi, youth is a rare stage when one moves towards great ideals. Sexuality is an obstacle towards that goal. Winning it over is the foremost way to move towards one’s ideals. Hence Gandhi emphasizes this. [For those who shake their head when Gandhi says this – it is pertinent to note that most revolutionaries in the world have also said the same thing]

More importantly, Gandhi believes that the sexual identity is a burden for a woman. He also feels that for a woman who comes out of her home to participate in politics and other fields, it will be an opposing force. Hence he says that women should dress modestly and should not decorate themselves. They should be identified only through their intelligence and their service, he says.

Gandhi didn’t accept widow remarriage at first. When lakhs of women in India were unmarried, he felt that widow remarriage was unnecessary. When Dr. Sivaram Karanth speaks of widows’ remarriage to Gandhi, he rejects it.

But Gandhi didn’t say that widows should live without marriage and stay with their families. He says that they should come forward for political and social work. Actually, he says that they should work for the nation by walking the streets. To him, it signifies that they have broken free from the shackles of family. In his later days, Gandhi supports the remarriage of widows – if the couple were to engage in social work afterward.

An important occasion when Gandhi legitimizes violence in his own words is when he speaks of sexual violence. He says that the woman who is being raped should kill that man with her teeth and nails. He argues that whatever the woman does is just under the circumstances.

But Gandhi doesn’t consider it as ‘loss of virginity’. Because he says that a woman subject to such sexual violence has in reality lost nothing. He says that such women should be accepted by society as normal. Accepting Gandhi’s stance, people like Mridula Sarabhai worked hard for the remarriages of women subjected to sexual violence during the Indian Partition.

If so, then why did Gandhi consider sexual violence as something which deserved the death sentence? Because it sends the woman from her public place back to the darkness of a kitchen. Because it snatches everything that she has regained in the twentieth century.

Sexual violence is not just rape. Starting rumors about women, insulting them with sexual abuses, teasing them in public – all of these are sexual violence. The basis of all of the above is the hatred and fear of women being in public places. A male mind will invent a thousand reasons to do so. It will justify it in several thousand ways. All of them mean the same: உள்ள போடி’[‘Get inside, woman’] – this is what his innermost mind says.

Gandhi who asked them to come out has also described the ways to do so. According to him, freedom is a necessary condition in one’s path towards Truth and completeness. Hence all life has a right to freedom. Hence, to attain it, it also has a responsibility to face losses, patiently strive without compromise and to move forward.