Gandhi in The Handmaid’s Tale

Published on Chowk.com on October 4th 2005

He is known to the world as a leader of the independence movement of India. He’s known as a frail man who led thousands to fight the British using the original method of non-violence. He’s a great story, but out of all his unpalatable myths I

Gandhi’s Anti-Feminist opinions“My idea is to get these women to spin yarn.” MKGandhi

I’m glad that no woman leader, at least not of international stature, has awarded their inspiration to M.K Gandhi known to the devout as The Mahatma, for it is because of these saintly Ayatollahs that women are not at the top of world affairs.

Saintly men are the most irresponsible of talkers, the most skilled illusionists. Even years after his death, Gandhi looms on San Francisco’s pier 42 as a statue of truth, sponsored by Pepsi Co. He is known to the world as a leader of the independence movement of India. He’s known as a frail man who led thousands to fight the British using the original method of non-violence. He’s a great story, but out of all his unpalatable myths I find the one about his “emancipator of women” most offensive.

Gandhi was the embodiment of traditionalism, religion and patriarchy all rolled into one. I say if you want to confine a woman, give her the role of cooking, label it sacred and her indispensable from the skill of its preparation and Viola! – There you have a society where men can reign supreme. This is of course my personal opinion but I am sure no non-chef woman will appreciate that Gandhi describes cooking as an obligation that allwomen must fulfill. Describing Hindu festivities he says, “The ladies are making preparations for the approaching grand day, by cooking and baking sweets, cakes, etc., for, in India, women of the highest class would not mind cooking. In fact, it is an accomplishment which every lady is supposed to possess.” (1)

Excuse my pettiness. I personally detest cooking as a women-only job. But I also find men referring to their likes and dislikes using women as a standard of honor, in extreme bad taste. An impartial reading of The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhihas references of women being compared to methods of taxation, to market forces and to political systems.

So ingrained in his mind was the concept of the “fallen woman” as a woman who uses her sexuality by choice, that he talked of the concept with international correspondents during interviews. He says, “The condition of England at present is pitiable. I pray toGod that India may never be in that plight. That which you consider to be the Mother of Parliaments is like a sterile woman and a prostitute. Both these are harsh terms, but exactly fit the case.” (2)

Margret Atwood novel, The Handmaids’s Tale, talks of a dystopia in a world withoutfeminism. In it she outlines the most distinguishing feature of a totalitarian patriarchy to be an obsession with a woman’s ovaries to be viable. These societies want babies for the purpose of indoctrination and control. It is perhaps for this reason that Gandhi got a respectable member ousted from the London Vegetarian society, because he was advocating for birth control.

Gandhi continued about the British system of the time: “That Parliament has not yet, of its own accord, done a single good thing. Hence I have compared it to a sterile woman. The natural condition of that Parliament is such that, without outside pressure, it can do nothing. It is like a prostitute because it is under the control of ministers who change from time to time. Today it is under Mr. Asquith, tomorrow it may be under Mr. Balfour.” (3)

The second most defining characteristic from Atwood’s novel was the concept of anarchy resulting from a woman’s choice to select a partner for sex, because it puts pressure on men to compete for women, by bring to par their standards for women, rather than the other way round. Using Islamic Feminist, Fatima Mernessi’s argument- how chauvinists chose to deal with the fear was to debase a prostitute and define her in the most sinful state that the divine’s wrath is on.

Gandhi’s general opinion about women was very low. Not only did he objectify womenby using statements that call to “cling to the old Indian civilization even as a child clings to the mother’s breast,” he shed all egalitarianism and insisted that “the care ofchildren and the upkeep of the house is quiet enough to fully engage her energy.” (4)

When speaking of women Gandhi was often patronizing and authoritarian. To Gandhithe “good Indian woman” was epitomized by Sita, Draupadi, and Damyanti.

He’s often quoted saying that women made “too much noise,” that they didn’t observe “purdah,” nor did they know how to assemble near him with propriety. It is “difficult to “interest them in everyday topics,” because of their “extravagant and hypocritical” nature. They always, “gossip and are too found of their jewelry to part with it.” Women, he said don’t have organizational skills and must be “guided” by men. (5)

Another defining symbolism that the people in Atwood’s novel took to was “veiling” and propriety. Talking was prohibited, and possession of personal assets was treated a crime as bad as sedition. Of course in Gilerd, Atwood’s fictional account of the state, men were in charge of women.

However, Gandhi was a clever man, for every crude comment against women, he had 10 that supported women to go out and campaign, suggesting empowerment.

Gandhi prompted women to “defy” their husbands if they have to and step outside the house in the greater national movement, because women had natural “traits” and a “traditional role” which they could use in the great “battle to gain access in the temples of the untouchables whose numbers were needed. (6)

To get to the bottom of it, Gandhi’s double standard in the case of his wife’s politicalactivism against the Marriage Act of 1913 in South Africa is telling.

After calling women to disobey for the cause, Gandhi was later apprehensive. When Kasturba, his wife led women against the Act, he said he “lacked confidence” in her abilities. He clarified, “If at the last moment they flinched, their prominence might seriously damage the cause they sought to advance. (7)

It was finally decided to let the “ladies” proceed with their plan but under no circumstance were they to divulge their names until they were “safely” in jail. Thus their men could be “saved from embarrassment if the women failed.” (8)

After they returned from jail, Gandhi urged them to be the same “patient and dutifulwomen that India has produced for centuries.” (9)

The Handmaid’s Tale, the centeral character, Offerd, was expected to be “patient and dutiful” moreover, she was forbidden to work/slave outside her household, though it may have been perfectly ok for her to do so inside. Similarly, Gandhi’s ideal society was unlike the European society, which he called an irreligious society:

“This civilization is irreligion, and it has taken such a hold on the people in Europe who are in it appear to be half mad. They lack real physical strength or courage. They keep up their energy by intoxication. They can hardly be happy in solitude. Women, who should be the queens of households, wander in the streets or they slave away in factories. For the sake of a pittance, half a million women in England alone are labouring under in factories or similar institutions. This awful fact is one of the causes of the daily growing suffragette movement.”

This statement also shows a clear lack of comprehension of the processes that a society must follow to develop and allocate resources equitably.

Some may argue that Gandhi’s personal character should be reviewed rather than his flawed statements. Fair enough: Shall we move on to how he treated his wife?

First of all, he didn’t think he needed her input on his vow of celibacy or the decision to have no more children. Certainly, even women from that era would not settle for an agreement so skewed in power. “It became my conviction that procreation and the consequent care of children were inconsistent with public service.” (10)

He had a lifelong conviction that most religious clergy have. That women were sexual beings, that they tempted, that men lusted when they saw them and that they were an indulging temptation that were diametrically opposed to a God that demanded suffering and extreme self-control.

“To be fair to my wife, I must say that she was never the temptress. It was therefore the easiest thing for me to take the vow of brahmacharya , if only I willed it.” (11)

It surprises me to no end, that MK. Gandhi is praised for spirituality but he never understood its basic fact that, the soul is developed only though interaction with the material, and not in isolation of it.

“The other thing which is equally harmful is sexual vice. Both are poison. A snake-bite is a lesser poison than these two, because the former merely destroys the body but the latter destroy body, mind and soul.” (12)

Gandhi was a carnal being, who instead of committing to self-improvement, decided to Band Aid his jealous boyfriend issues though religion, and also gaining some international fame as a result. He’s probably the only global figure who commands awe and respect dispite doing his own plumbing and not having sex for ages.

“I had absolutely no reason to suspect my wife’s fidelity, but jealousy does not wait for reasons. I must needs be for ever on the look-out regarding her movements, and therefore she could not go anywhere without my permission. I wanted to make my wife an ideal wife. My ambition was to make her live a pure life.” (13)

The idea of women’s independence was not acceptable to Gandhi, says also Anup Taneja who researched the topic, unlike my opinion piece here. The question to ask is if the world can afford to accept an icon who rejected half of humanity’s values, and was willing to lock them up in the four walls of “evil traditions.”

Works Cited: 1. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Some_Indian_Festivals_I II_%2825-4-1891%29 2. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Hind_Sw araj 3. Ibid. 4. (Joshi 1988: 292) 5. (Joshi 1988: 149) 6. (Joshi 1988: 371) 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. ht

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s