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The truth about Gandhi's experiments with Brahmacharya

Ragini Nayak
Ragini NayakOct 01, 2016 | 19:53

The truth about Gandhi's experiments with Brahmacharya

It would not be an exaggeration to say that in his death as much in his life, Gandhi has confounded both his followers and detractors. Despite the monumental record of his life, almost every aspect of it has attracted global attention and hence, been under scrutiny. However, Gandhi's experiments with "Brahmacharya" remain an exception because during his life as much after his death there have been constant attempts to brush them under the carpet, believing that they might damage his otherwise unquestionable reputation.

This very hush-hush attitude of the opponents gave Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Ashutosh leverage when he recently tried to virtue out his colleague and Delhi's then women and child development minister Sandeep Kumar's sexual vice, by drawing a parallel with Gandhi's experiments with celibacy.

On Gandhi Jayanti, when we ceremonially shower him with accolades and sentimental gestures, let us also remember that being the man whose life was his message, Gandhi never shielded himself from either scrutiny or criticism, rather he willingly bared himself to the public glare.

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AAP leader Ashutosh recently tried to virtue out his colleague Sandeep Kumar's sexual vice, by drawing a parallel with Gandhi's experiments with celibacy.

The biggest dishonour for the Mahatma would be to reject or accept his principles without delving deep in to the rationale that forms the foundational premise of those very principles.

Gandhi's statement that his experiments should be regarded as illustrations, in the light of which everyone may carry on their own experiments according to their own capacity, has undoubtedly been extended to absurd extremities by political parties like AAP.

From the distortion of the concept of Gandhian fast - which was supposed to be the last weapon of a "Satyagrahi", coming in obedience to the call of truth for doing penance for personal faults as well as misdeeds of others, undertaken by Gandhi for public causes and never with an intention to turn it into a political weapon - to misusing the symbol of Gandhi cap, the philosophy of Swaraj, the imagery of tears of repentance at Raj Ghat, AAP, all through their political journey have been systematically distorting and twisting different tenets of Gandhian philosophy not just to project themselves as crusaders of common man, but to drown high decibel controversies, to suppressformidable internal strife and to divert attention from the governance deficit in Delhi.

That is why the recent attempt of Ashutosh to sanitise the aforementioned sex-tape controversy by attacking Mahatma Gandhi, who took the vow of celibacy at the age of 37 and remained a celibate for the greater part of his life, doesn't come as a surprise.

Apparently, Ashutosh was so scandalized by Gandhi's relationship with SarlaDevi Chaudharani, daughter of Rabindranath Tagore's elder sister (specially because Gandhi called her his "spiritual wife") that in his blog, he could not help presenting it as an illicit love affair on par with Sandeep Kumar's illegitimate sexual act recorded for the purpose of exploitation. If only Ashutosh had cared to sift through the pages of history without any malafide intent and inherent bias, he would have come across Gandhi's letter to his friend Hermann Kallenbach dated August 10, 1920, in which Gandhi explains that he calls Sarla Devi his "Spiritual wife" as theirs' was a "wedding based on knowledge".

Ashutosh would have also found the letter dated December 1920, in which Gandhi wrote to Sarla Chaudharani, "…I have reached a definition of a spiritual marriage. It is the partnership between two people of the opposite sex where the physical is wholly absent. It is therefore possible between brother and sister, father and daughter. It is possible only between two brahmacharis in thought, word and deed." But, Ashutosh, with his malevolent agenda ignored the word "Spiritual" and focused on the word "wife" to malign Gandhi's unimpeachable private life.

Going by his puerile logic, it should be believed that Gandhi, the "Father of the Nation" who called all Indians his "Soul children" should be looked upon as the biological father of all Indians. Way to go Ashutosh!

Mimicking the overenthusiastic critics of Gandhi who pounce upon the idea of him harbouring sexual fantacies during his ripe years, Ashutosh decided to compare the act of making a sex tape for blackmailing, to Gandhi's experiments with "Brahmacharya" and called it living with "desires beyond social boundaries". Historical facts, however, dismantle every strand of Ashutosh's argument.

While working as a volunteer in the Boer war and Zulu Uprisings in Southern Africa when he was still in his 30s, Gandhi developed his censorious outlook towards carnal desires as he came to the conclusion that one cannot selflessly serve humanity without accepting poverty and chastity.

Henceforth, in some form or the other Gandhi's plea for chastity became an inherent part of his philosophy. During his twilight years, in order to strengthen his belief that one's sexuality can be mastered and controlled, Gandhi worked out a series of complex rules which he called his experiments with "Brahmacharya".

In his article "What is Brahmacharya" published in Young India on June 5, 1924, Gandhi described "Brahmacharya" as the search for "Brahma" (truth), for which "control in thought, word and action, of all the senses at all times and in all places" was inevitable.

For Gandhi, "Brahmacharya", the control over sexual urges and the elimination of all desires formed an integral component of a Satyagrahi's character. Gandhi was of the opinion that this purity of body and spirit, this conquest of lust, this control over sexuality was to be the true armor of a perfect Satyagrahi. His personal secretary Pyarelal writes in Mahatma Gandhi: The Last Phase that Gandhi believed, "Without Brahmacharya the Satyagrahi will have no lustre, no inner strength to stand armed against the whole world... His strength will fail him at the right moment..."

One must also be mindful of the fact that these were the years of raging communal violence, terrible division and great difficulty for India. With the aim of achieving full mastery over his passion and attaining the moral courage for being an ideal Satyagrahi to face those hard times, Gandhi started a new set of sexual experiments when he was in his seventies (as he never demanded of others what he did not first demand of himself).

Many women, including his grand nieces Manu and Abha and his personal physician, Sushila Nayar were a part of these. Before drawing any conclusion, it is important to analyse what the participating women had to say about these experiments.

In an entry of her personal diary, dated December 28, 1946, Manu wrote, "Bapu is a mother to me. He is initiating me to a higher human plane through the Brahmacharya experiments, part of his Mahayagna of character-building. Any loose talk about the experiment is most condemnable". Sushila Nayar stated that during these experiments on "Brahmacharya", rather than experiencing any sexual stirrings, she felt as though she was in bed with her mother.

None of the women ever suggested that Gandhi made improper advances, or that the encounter was in any manner sexual. Isn't it laughable that in order to defend his sexual pervert of a former colleague, Ashutosh assaulted Gandhi's experiment with celibacy for the sex that never actually took place.

In repudiating sex as a weakening force, in saying that, "physical union for the sake of carnal satisfaction is reversion to animality", Gandhi can be criticised as a hopeless idealist and an insufferable puritan.

Because of his single-minded obsession to attain pious chastity, Gandhi can even be criticised for inadvertently yielding bad psychological influence on the women involved in those experiments.

But, no sane person can deny the fact that his experiment with "Brahmacharya", far from being entrenched in sexual desires and fantasies was aimed at bringing spiritual strength in individual life and ethics in political life.

The very fact that Gandhi never shied away from disclosing and discussing his controversial experiments proves the point that he was a true seeker of truth who had nothing to hide.

Did Ashutosh imply the same for Sandeep Kumar who was allegedly making a pornographic video of his sexual act with a vulnerable woman through a hidden camera? Alas, for people like Ashutosh who wear fake honesty badges and whose political moralisation is but a ruse, maligning the Mahatma by stooping down to new levels through rhetorical insinuations is a fair game.

Last updated: October 03, 2016 | 11:43
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