10 Curious Controversies About Mahatma Gandhi


Treatment Of His Own Son

Gandhi had a bitter quarrel with his eldest son Harilal. The young man wished to have a life of his own, which the great Mahatma could not comprehend. He wanted his children to follow in his footsteps against their own wishes. To Gandhi, his eldest son reflected his own lack of discipline and direction in life when he had been younger. To Harilal, his father’s ideology was a “delusion,” a “miscalled enlightenment.” Harilal had even written to the aforementioned Hermann Kallenbach, telling him of how his father had simply forgotten that he had a family.

Harilal would later convert to Islam and denounce his father in public; meanwhile, Gandhi saw fit to disown Harilal, even instructing other family members not to share anything with his son. When a younger son gave his elder brother some money, Gandhi practically banished him. Despite the pleas of family members for the two to mend their relationship, it was not to be. After his father’s assassination, an unkempt Harilal joined the funeral procession. It was said that he was in such a bad state that, at first, none of his family recognized him. As grim as it sounds, Harilal followed in his father’s footsteps—to the grave—dying a drunkard on June 18, 1948, just months after his father.

More stories of the strained relationship between father and son have persisted. One such story involved Gandhi accusing Harilal of raping his own daughter in 1935 and subsequently saying that he would rather see his son die than drink alcohol. Of course, this happened decades after Harilal had already severed his ties with his family and the relationship had reached a boiling point. The aforementioned Tushar Gandhi claims that, again, the media and critics have taken everything out of context. Harilal did not rape his daughter but rather his sister-in-law. It’s hard to see how that excuses Harilal’s actions, so that one is a point in Gandhi’s favor. As for wishing death upon Harilal, Gandhi was merely saying that he would rather see his son embrace death than use alcohol as a rather dubious form of treatment.

Views On Education And Progress


The gravest disagreement Gandhi had with his son Harilal was on the subject of education. Harilal wanted to be a barrister, just like his father. Gandhi’s concept of “following in his footsteps” was less about his old profession and more about his outlook later in life. Indeed, Gandhi had denied education to his children because of his political opinions.

Gandhi could have sent his children to exclusive schools that would have readily accepted them due to Gandhi’s social standing. He could have also enrolled them in schools run by Christian missionaries. Instead, he simply rejected those ideas, because he believed that “young children should not be separated from their parents.” He also did not want his sons admitted to schools that had previously rejected other Indian children. Similarly, he viewed such educational institutions as being biased toward the West and therefore detrimental to his pro-independence stance.

Gandhi also espoused a concept of “unlearning,” stating in 1909 that “India’s salvation consists of unlearning what she has learnt during the past fifty years. The railways, telegraphs, hospitals, lawyers, doctors, and such like have all to go.” Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India’s first Prime Minister in 1947, vehemently disagreed, as he disliked Gandhi’s “praise of poverty and suffering.” Gandhi’s socialist leanings were, in a sense, rooted in cultural heritage and tradition, but this too might have been an extreme.

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