Joseph Lelyveld’s book titled, “Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India” has brought great discourse on Gandhi not only in India but outside India also, after the book got reviewed by Andrew Robinson for the Wall Street Journal.
Andrew Robinson in his book review argues that the book makes claim that Gandhi was bi-sexual and racist. This write up is in response to this ongoing debate.
If the Economic and Political Weekly is to be relied upon, it has argued in its editorial, dated April 2, 2011, that those who are writing commentary on the book, do no claim to have gone through the book. How surprising is it that! People comment on things which they don’t know about themselves. How can one expect a balanced and fair argument from anyone who has not himself gone through the book before commenting on it?
We should not desist or resist the book; there is need for discourse on the book. If there is any misinterpretation of the book or things have been presented out of context, then we should bring it to public attention, otherwise how will we come to know what the book says about Gandhi. If we will resist the book and advocate for its ban it may create a different image of Gandhi, which he was not. If the book brings forth anything true about Gandhi, which may be indigestible, we should accept it open heartedly because Gandhi was not a supernatural being.
The writer has very scholarly punctured the argument of Andrew Robinson that Gandhi was a racist, because had Gandhi been so, he would not have fought for the blacks back in South Africa who were victims of apartheid.
As far as the book review by Andrew Robinson is concerned, he labeled Gandhi as racist on the grounds that he did not allow his son Manilal to marry a Muslim woman named Fatima Gool.
To explain Gandhi’s prohibition to his son for marrying a Muslim woman there can be multiple reasons. A very simple question needs to be answered: why don’t some Muslims marry outside their caste; for instance, Sayyids mostly marry within Sayyid families. Are these Muslims racist?
Gandhi always explicitly claimed himself to be a true Hindu who firmly advocated for Ram raj. So calling Gandhi a racist on this ground is illogical, unscientific and unscholarly.
One can argue that Gandhi missed a great opportunity to set an example of Hindu–Muslim unity by allowing his son to marry a Muslim woman. But who knows why Gandhi did not allow his son to do so. Hypothetically speaking, Gandhi could have resisted their union to keep Hindu-Muslim unity intact, as it is strictly prohibited in Islam to marry a non-Muslim person, particularly the union of Muslim women with a non-Muslim man and it might have generated a rift between the two communities.
On the question of Gandhi being bi-sexual, Robinson has charged a false criticism on Gandhi that he left his wife due to Hermann Kallenbach
Criticism leveled against Gandhi shows ignorance and shortsightedness of Robinson because Gandhi publicly advocated celibacy.
Robinson seems ignorant about the fact that Moksha in Hinduism is an important stage in one’s life. This is the period when a person abstains from this worldly activity. “Moksha consists in the realization of the identity of the soul with the Brahma or total reality,” in the words of Ram Ahuja.
We should not in any case or under any circumstances seek a ban on the book. We should read the book open-mindedly and locate the misinterpretation of the book and accept the shortcomings of Gandhi, if there were any at all.
[Fayaz Bhat is a PhD scholar in the department of sociology. He can be reached via email at: fayaznk[at]gmail.com]