Mohandas Gandhi took a celibacy vow, which he famously and publicly held for years, but privately his close associates documented that he conducted regular “celibacy tests,” especially with two teenage grandnieces under his guardianship.
Reports from sources such as his personal secretary, who quit in protest over the issue, tell how he nightly requested his 17-year-old grandniece Abha and his 18-year-old grandniece Manu to sleep with him — simultaneously and naked — nightly. The story is a tragic one of psychological and physical molestation perpetrated against vulnerable young girls with no option for escape. Articles in The Wall Street Journal and The Independent published in 2011 and 2010 respectively, and an article from 2013 by Indian feminist Rita Banerji, detailed Gandhi’s bizarre experiments with sex.
The key point they contain is that the Hindu preacher and religious idol sexually abused his young relatives for years and, additionally, forbade the followers in his ashram to sleep with their wives but required the wives to sleep with him — again, naked.
Roberts, Andrew. “Book Review: Great Soul.” The Wall Street Journal, March 26, 2011.
In an open letter to the legislature of South Africa’s Natal province, Gandhi wrote of how “the Indian is being dragged down to the position of the raw Kaffir,” someone, he later stated, “whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife, and then pass his life in indolence and nakedness.” Of white Afrikaaners and Indians, he wrote: “We believe as much in the purity of races as we think they do.” That was possibly why he refused to allow his son Manilal to marry Fatima Gool, a Muslim, despite publicly promoting Muslim-Hindu unity.
Gandhi’s pejorative reference to nakedness is ironic considering that, as Mr. Lelyveld details, when he was in his 70s and close to leading India to independence, he encouraged his 17-year-old great-niece, Manu, to be naked during her “nightly cuddles” with him. After sacking several long-standing and loyal members of his 100-strong personal entourage who might disapprove of this part of his spiritual quest, Gandhi began sleeping naked with Manu and other young women. He told a woman on one occasion: “Despite my best efforts, the organ remained aroused. It was an altogether strange and shameful experience.”
Yet he could also be vicious to Manu, whom he on one occasion forced to walk through a thick jungle where sexual assaults had occurred in order for her to retrieve a pumice stone that he liked to use on his feet. When she returned in tears, Gandhi “cackled” with laughter at her and said: “If some ruffian had carried you off and you had met your death courageously, my heart would have danced with joy.”
“Thrill of the chaste: The truth about Gandhi’s sex life.” The Independent, April 7, 2010.
At the age of 38, in 1906, he took a vow of brahmacharya, which meant living a spiritual life but is normally referred to as chastity, without which such a life is deemed impossible by Hindus.
Meanwhile, Gandhi was challenging that abstinence in his own way. He set up ashrams in which he began his first “experiments” with sex; boys and girls were to bathe and sleep together, chastely, but were punished for any sexual talk. Men and women were segregated, and Gandhi’s advice was that husbands should not be alone with their wives, and, when they felt passion, should take a cold bath.
The rules did not, however, apply to him. Sushila Nayar, the attractive sister of Gandhi’s secretary, also his personal physician, attended Gandhi from girlhood. She used to sleep and bathe with Gandhi. When challenged, he explained how he ensured decency was not offended. “While she is bathing I keep my eyes tightly shut,” he said, “I do not know … whether she bathes naked or with her underwear on. I can tell from the sound that she uses soap.” The provision of such personal services to Gandhi was a much sought-after sign of his favour and aroused jealousy among the ashram inmates.
As he grew older (and following Kasturba’s death) he was to have more women around him and would oblige women to sleep with him whom – according to his segregated ashram rules – were forbidden to sleep with their own husbands. Gandhi would have women in his bed, engaging in his “experiments” which seem to have been, from a reading of his letters, an exercise in strip-tease or other non-contact sexual activity. Much explicit material has been destroyed but tantalising remarks in Gandhi’s letters remain such as: “Vina’s sleeping with me might be called an accident. All that can be said is that she slept close to me.” One might assume, then, that getting into the spirit of the Gandhian experiment meant something more than just sleeping close to him.
… Meanwhile, it seemed that challenging times required greater efforts of spiritual fortitude, and for that, more attractive women were required: Sushila, who in 1947 was 33, was now due to be supplanted in the bed of the 77-year-old Gandhi by a woman almost half her age. While in Bengal to see what comfort he could offer in times of inter-communal violence in the run-up to independence, Gandhi called for his 18-year-old grandniece Manu to join him – and sleep with him. “We both may be killed by the Muslims,” he told her, “and must put our purity to the ultimate test, so that we know that we are offering the purest of sacrifices, and we should now both start sleeping naked.”
… Gandhi found a way of regarding the objections as a further reason to continue. “If I don’t let Manu sleep with me, though I regard it as essential that she should,” he announced, “wouldn’t that be a sign of weakness in me?”
Eighteen-year-old Abha, the wife of Gandhi’s grandnephew Kanu Gandhi, rejoined Gandhi’s entourage in the run-up to independence in 1947 and by the end of August he was sleeping with both Manu and Abha at the same time.
When he was assassinated in January 1948, it was with Manu and Abha by his side. Despite her having been his constant companion in his last years, family members, tellingly, removed Manu from the scene. Gandhi had written to his son: “I have asked her to write about her sharing the bed with me,” but the protectors of his image were eager to eliminate this element of the great leader’s life. Devdas, Gandhi’s son, accompanied Manu to Delhi station where he took the opportunity of instructing her to keep quiet.
Rita Banerji, a feminist activist in India, blames Gandhi’s personal example for a modern wave of sex crimes by religious figures. Indeed, she reveals that Indian women are the greatest victims of Gandhi’s experiments with truth. Their bruised consciences plead with humanity for the real truth to be told, which is that Gandhi was a predator who molested his grandnieces and abused his position of power by taking advantage of many other powerless young women. In her September 4, 2013 article, “Gandhi to Asaram: Who Empowers the Sex Crimes of ‘Gurus?’,” she writes:
“It’s uncanny how similar he is to Gandhi. I’m talking about Asaram, the Indian spiritual leader who was recently arrested for sexually assaulting the 15-year-old daughter of one of his devotees.
“Both Gandhi and Asaram commanded followers in the millions, who regarded them as saints, spiritual ‘guides’ and called them “Bapu” or Father.
“Both Gandhi and Asaram regarded sex as and sexual desire as “sins,” and any expression of sexuality as ‘dirty’ imports from the west that needed to be shunned because they ruin India’s youth and culture. Both preached abstinence to their followers and the control of sexual desire as a form of self-‘purification.’
“And both Gandhi and Asaram in hypocritical violations of their own preaching, indulged in sexual gratification of one kind or another, even when it resulted in the sexual abuse of girls and women in their flock.
“Details that continue to emerge about Asaram’s past indicate that he not only sexually abused and raped other women, but that he regarded the women in his ashram as his sexual ‘toys.’ Gandhi on the other hand would have among the younger of his female followers, some in their late teens, sleep naked with him, in his bed, at night. He claimed that was his way of testing his ‘power’ of abstinence. More shockingly, this was open knowledge not just among his followers, but among everyone who came in contact with him—his large fan following of politicians, activists, philosophers, and journalists—both from India and abroad. While having the girls and women sleep naked with him was in and of itself a form of sexual abuse – a privilege Gandhi exercised because of his position and stature, what actually took place in his bed remains hidden, because the women were sworn to secrecy. Nonetheless, studying the behavior and responses of the women around him, and examining excerpts from some of their diaries, there are clear indications of sexual manipulation and exploitation….
“Asaram’s followers went on the violent defensive attacking media vans and journalists to shield him. But Gandhi’s worshippers do the same, even today! Articles I’ve written on Gandhi with regards to his attitude to sex, sexuality and women, or even an article in a UK newspaper that cited me, have had public comments, not just from India but from western countries too, that were verbally hostile and defensive. Interestingly, the critics didn’t want to engage with what was written, but emphasized aspects of him they saw as redeeming. In other words, because they think Gandhi preached non-violence or led India to freedom, this was a little something in him that they’d happily ignore! And they wish the rest of us would too. Some others insisted that sexual abuse etc. is an issue of our times, and that it didn’t mean the same at that time! I wonder, what these people think the parents of the teenage girls in Gandhi’s entourage felt in the 1940s? Are they suggesting those parents felt honored to have Gandhi use their daughters for his perverse experiments with sex?”
In her book Sex and Power, Banjerji exposes Gandhi’s “celibacy tests,” which led to him abusing his grandnieces Manu and Abha:
“[Celibacy was one] of Gandhi’s favoured ideologies…propounded with much zeal as an integral aspect of his social and political preaching…[He] regarded sex as an ‘impure’ practice for all people, including married couples. Sexual curiosity among [the unmarried youth in his ashram] would displease Gandhi. He was known to ask women [among his followers] to take on a lifelong vow of celibacy as a guru-dakshina [a teacher’s fee] to him. He [even] advised married couples [in his ashram to]…avoid sharing not just a bed but also a room, unless they intended to have a child…Despite his denouncement of the [caste based] practice of ‘untouchability’…he rarely placed Adivasis or tribals in responsible positions in his ashram..because he disapproved of their sexually liberal traditions…His vision for celibacy was that some day it would be embraced by ‘the whole world.’
“Gandhi’s wrangling with his libido played out in a lifelong ordeal as he obsessively experimented with all sorts of strategies to subdue [what he called] ‘the insidious enemy.’ He admitted to being a person of intense ‘sexual passion’…and spoke of needing constant ‘courage’ and ‘vigilance’ in his ‘war’ against this ‘enemy.’ He tried to achieve control through food, exhaustively categorizing food into those that fed the libido and those that killed it.
“[The kind of sexual repression Gandhi exhibited] according to [Swiss psychologist] Jung [is] often expressed either in sexually perverse behavior or in Puritanism, both of which Gandhi exhibited amply. [For ironically,] as fixated as he was on eliminating [sexual] sesory stimulation through food, he did not apply this theory to [his proximity with women.]
“He was constantly surrounded by young women who tended to his [bodily] needs…including full body naked massages [and baths]. He used women as [body] props for support..and walked, draping his arms around their shoulders, when a walking cane, or a couple of young men would have served just as well. [His so-called ‘experiments with Truth’ involved] sleeping with naked young women to test the resolve of his celibacy —one of these girls being his own great-niece.
“It is difficult to imagine the psychological state [of these young women, many of who were teenagers]. It was well know that women in his entourage constantly vied for physical proximity to him…competing for [his] touch…and women who shared his bed…were known to get ‘hysterical’ exhibiting [jealousy and] rejection anxiety if he turned them away…The upheaval in the minds [and lives] of some of these women is revealed in [what is recorded as a ‘dream’ narrative in the personal diary] of Prema Kantak. [She writes that] she was a small girl in Gandhi’s lap, drinking milk that spurted from his breast into her mouth. She recalls the intense alarm she felt in the dream when the milk did not stop streaming out, even when she was satiated and her clothes and her body was drenched, while Gandhi kept coaxing her to drink more. Even though Gandhi brightly assured her that it meant she felt safe with him, the symbolism of semen as milk, and the pent-up sexual content [and implications of sexual abuse in this] relationship are unmistakable elements of Prema’s [subconscious narrative].”