10 Curious Controversies About Mahatma Gandhi

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi—hero of India’s independence through his nonviolence movement and one of the most revered figures in the nation’s history—led a glorious life, one which seekers of peace and wisdom have emulated for decades. He is known as “Mahatma,” or “great soul,” a title reserved only for the most righteous and most venerated of men.

Then again, it’s also worth noting that he was human, and to be human is to err. Over the years, historians and critics have found certain controversial quirks in the man’s life

His Sex Life

“Was Gandhi gay?” questioned various newspapers across the globe, as private correspondence between him and a former associate, Hermann Kallenbach, surfaced in 2013. Gandhi and Kallenbach had lived together from 1907–1909 in South Africa. Gandhi’s letters to Kallenbach contained such statements as “My dear Lower House,” addressing Kallenbach, and were signed “Sinly yours, Upper House.”

Critics, of course, noted that previous stories regarding Gandhi’s sexual antics figured almost scandalously in historical and political circles. The man was notorious for sleeping with other women. In many cases, these women were either married, extremely young, or both. Girls like Manuben, his 18-year-old grandniece, and Abha, the 16-year-old wife of his grandnephew, slept naked beside him. On some nights, he would have both of them fully nude in his bed. In a way, this let Gandhi practice self-control. Yet some have gone as far to suggest that Gandhi forbade other men to sleep with their wives while doing so himself.

Opinions vary as to how to view these acts. Were they acceptable, or were they simply perversions of a dirty old man? Did Gandhi use his position to sexually exploit young women?

A Very Odd Husband

As mentioned, Gandhi’s sexual perversions were, according to him, a means to resist carnal temptation. However, he also practiced celibacy in his marriage. Kasturba, his wife of over two decades, was denied sex for years after bearing his children. Critics have also pointed out how Gandhi had mistreated his wife. In some cases, he had forbidden Kasturba from keeping gifts that were meant for her. Earlier in their married life, Gandhi was said to have compared his wife to a cow. Gandhi said he could not bear to look at Kasturba’s face, because it gave the impression of a “meek cow” trying to say something.

In 1943, when Kasturba had contracted an illness and was hemorrhaging badly, Gandhi allegedly wrote to her: “My struggle is not merely political. It is religious and therefore quite pure. It does not matter much whether one dies in it or lives. I hope and expect that you will also think likewise and not be unhappy.” Gandhi also forbade doctors from giving his wife penicillin, arguing that it was a foreign medicine and stating that: “If God wills it, he will pull her through.” God did not—his wife died on February 22, 1944, after months of suffering.

However, when Gandhi contracted malaria, he did resist the idea of taking quinine as a medicine, if only for a time. As a last resort, however, he had to allow doctors to administer a cure just to survive. One of his great-grandsons, Tushar Gandhi, explains that critics might have taken some of the events out of context and that Gandhi simply did not wish to have penicillin administered to his wife as she was a strict vegetarian. READ MORE

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