ahatma Gandhi brought a new dimension into our lives. When he spoke of nonviolence, he meant not merely the avoidance of violent action but cleansing our hearts of hatred and bittereness. He unveiled the spiritual political power of illiterate and humble have-nots and pointed out that the only programmes worth preaching were those which could be translated into action. He said that every decision and programme should be judged from the viewpoint of the poorest and the weakest.
                                                                                                                   Indira Gandhi

The reader might well rebel at this paper's title. Gandhi is seen as a 'male chauvinist'. However, there are aspects to Gandhi's life and thought that can be related to feminism. This paper discusses three aspects of Gandhi - Gandhi and Patriarchy, Gandhi and Women, Gandhi and the Bomb, all of which are related to each other. It will not be academic but instead, to a large extent, in Gandhi's own manner, an experiment with truth.

Gandhi and Patriarchy

y best avenue to this topic is to discuss the relationship of a father, a daughter and Gandhi. My father was an Englishman in India and a friend of Gandhi. My father and Gandhi were both journalists, so once they both wrote up interviews of each other, my father's serious one on Gandhi in The Times of India, Gandhi's joking one in Young India about blue-eyed, fair-haired Glorney Bolton. My father was with Gandhi on the Salt March to Dandi in March 1930. There was a British Broadcasting Corporation recording of many voices, 'Talking of Gandhiji', my father's voice being one of these, now lost. Though the book made from it exists. This is what my father said on that broadcast of the event where Gandhi illegally and very simply gathered salt from the sea:

And there was Gandhi, walking along, with his friends round him, it was a sort of terrific anticlimax. There was no cheering, no great shouts of delight, and no sort of stately procession at all, it was all . . . in a sense rather farcical. However this great march had begun . . . here he was, quite happy, with people round him, on the whole very quiet, but now and again you heard Gandhi . . . break out with that wonderful boyish laughter of his. He didn't know how the march was going to end, but nonetheless, there I was, seeing history happen in a strange sort of . . . way; something completely un-European and yet very, very moving.
That act was to end Britain's dominion of India. Such a simple act - yet far more powerful than any act of violent terrorism, than any use of any bomb. But it needs an explanation. Britain imposed a monopoly upon salt in India. She did so because Rome had likewise imposed such a monopoly upon all the lands that lay under the yoke of her vast Empire. From it comes the word 'salary' that we use today. Salt was made into a currency, the state controlling a substance essential to life. However, such a monopoly was not the practice in Britain. Its imposition upon India was an unjust, patriarchal, imperial act and Gandhi, who had studied law in England, knew this. Our American version of this simple gathering of salt from the sea was Rosa Parks, because of her tired feet, refusing her seat to a white man on an Alabama bus - an act which changed us from a racist nation to one with a dream of equality partly realized, though we have further to go.

I grew up with the knowledge of Gandhi all about me as a girl in England, knowing my father was his friend and had written his biography, The Tragedy of Gandhi, published in 1934 when it seemed that Gandhi had failed. I remember listening with great intensity to the Declaration of India's Independence by Earl Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru on the radio when I was ten years old. But now, when I read my father's biography of Gandhi, two things make me rebel against that Englishman's perspective. My father wrote that he despised Gandhi's 'feminine masochism' (partly alluding to his use of 'anorexia') and he also criticized Gandhi's espousal of poverty. My father was a widow's son, had known comparative poverty, and had struggled against it to acquire an education at Oxford, failing to obtain his degree. He desperately wanted to succeed in journalism and politics. However, Gandhi really did succeed - but by insisting on getting rid of status and rank and caste - knowing that there was only so much to go round and that it must be shared, that one man's wealth causes another's poverty. Willy Brandt in the report North/South, likewise voices this in connection with war.

While hunger rules, peace cannot prevail. He who wants to ban war must also ban poverty. It makes no difference whether a human being is killed in war or starves to death because of the indifference of others.
My father was then ambitious for wealth and fame and therefore Gandhi's ideas clashed with his own. But many years later he was to write a biography of Pope John XXIII, Living Peter, a biography which praises rather than blames a similar man. Gandhi, it can be seen, successfully educated his adversaries.

A colonial power must lie to itself. Gandhi stripped those lies away, using justice to unveil injustice, using law to demonstrate the lawlessness of British dominion. And to do so he turned to women.

Gandhi and Women

Margaret Bourke-White who photographed this immediately before Gandhi was assassinated

India had once been a great textile-producing nation. Our America calico cloth's name means that it once was produced at Calicut, in Madras, in India, and then exported to England and her colonies. But the English in the nineteenth century, to protect their own textile industries, forbade India to continue hers. Indians who had once exported textiles now had to import them from Lancashire. Gandhi saw one way of breaking British dominion over India as becoming self-sufficient in textile production. So he turned to village and cottage crafts, his womenfolk and he himself spinning and weaving khaddar cloth, homespun cloth. Santha Rama Rau, in her autobiography, Home to India, discussed the boycott and women's central participation in it. It is difficult for western, male culture to realize the full political importance of cloth. We are more involved with text than with textile. Yet to look at classical literature is to find that weaving by women was as important as tale-telling, history writing, by men, the two becoming interwoven in each other. In Guatemala today, the women express the tale of their oppression through embroidered pictures, which cannot be censored in the same way as can the written word.

It seems that every liberation movement needs the feminine as well as the masculine, the women far more clearly symbolizing the transition from bondage to freedom than does the man. Gandhi wilfully took on that woman's role, using that symbolism. His revolution against the mother country was not with male weapons of destruction but with female tools of production. His male sword was a female spinning wheel, the charka, the wheel of life, the emblem today upon the flag of India - and upon that of the Rom.

I find the spinning wheel admirable, not despicable. Here I and my father would part ways.

Gandhi and the Bomb

argaret Bourke-White, the American Time/Life photographer who was with Gandhi just before he was shot, disagreed with his feminine principles. Paradoxically she wanted masculine solutions. As did my father, she saw the answer to India's poverty in westernization, industrialization, and high technology. Gandhi countered her by quietly spinning cloth as she photographed him. In her autobiography, Portrait of Myself, she reported Gandhi's final conversation. It was about the nuclear bomb.

As we sat there in the thin winter sunlight, he spinning and I jotting down his words, neither of us could know that this was to be perhaps his very last message to the world . . . Gandhi began to probe at the dreadful problem which has overwhelmed us all. I asked Gandhi how he would meet the atom bomb. Would he meet it with nonviolence? 'Ah', he said. 'How should I answer that? I would meet it by prayerful action.' I asked what form that action would take. 'I will not go underground. I will not go into shelters. I will go out and face the pilot so he will see I have not the face of evil against him.' He turned back to his spinning . . . I rose to leave, and folded my hands together in the gesture of farewell which Hindus use. But Gandhiji held out his hand to me and shook hands cordially in Western fashion.
That gesture, incidentally, shows that one does not hold a sword. Gandhi then went to prayer and was shot. The man had given the woman's response, to spin, to provide clothing for future generations. The woman has been led to the ultimate technological development, the masculine weapon that could annihilate the future.

I do not know why this conversation was left out of the film, Gandhi, except to say that three years ago it was still not fashionable to fear the bomb. It was taboo, something deeply repressed. Today we are openly, consciously examining that issue. Gandhi can help us toward a solution. He would have us disarm. He would feminize the world. There are more tons of explosive power per child, woman and man in the world than there is food. Gandhi would say that preparation for war in order to prevent war is folly. Einstein did say that. It is time for a revolution for peace. Gandhi taught us how to have a revolution with tools that build a future, rather than with weapons that annihilate the past, the present and the future. To learn how to use these tools, Gandhi himself was willing to be taught by women. Weapons exist to enforce the power of one nation, race, sex, creed or caste over another's. Theirs is only a negative, destructive power. But in a world where the primary concerns are shelter, food, and clothing for all, regardless of these superficial distinctions, weapons become unnecessary. Gandhi, in turning to the untouchables and the women, turned Hinduism upside-down and he turned the world the right way round.

Originally given as a paper, then published, in 1984, was awarded the 'Art of Peace' prize. The BBC broadcast is now lost, but the book published from it survives.

Gandhi's possessions at his death, his glasses, his sandals, etc.

rega, rifletti e poi fai:

questa regola (di Gandhi) ottenne l'independenza dell'India/

Pray, reflect, and then act:

This rule (from Gandhi) won India's indepedence

Fioretta Mazzei


Gandhi's sandals he made himself

Why I make my own clothes myself


See also Family and Convent Albums:

Mother Agnes

Mosaic; Gandhi; BBC recording of many voices 'Talking of Gandhiji', my father's voice being one of these; Death Valley Incident; Family Album; Halbert Harold Holloway, The Woman, the Sun, the Flowers and the Courage; Sir James Roberts; My England (in progress); Morris Dances of England; Nigel Foxell, Amberley Village; The Joy of the Bicycle; Richard Ben Holloway, Together Let Us Sweetly Live; Jonathan Luke Holloway, Home Birth Can Be An Option; Holmhurst St Mary; Mother Agnes Mason, C.H.F.; Rose Lloyds, Rose's Story; Deaf/Death; David and Solomon; How to Make Cradles and Libraries; Hazel Oddy, Martha's Supplication; Tangled Tale; Oliveleaf Chronicle; Vita


Blessed Olive Branch, Kenyan olive-
wood bowl, William Morris Print

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