O P Sharma
Kasturba Gandhi was a pious and virtuous woman who deserves high ranking in the society in her own right and not only being the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Father of the Nation). It may be mentioned that in 1882 her marriage with Ganddhiji took place when she was merely 13 years and illiterate as well. But later she learnt from Gandhiji to read and write. And, gradually she carved out a pride place in the minds of millions of people and is still fondly remembered by all though she passed away on February 22, 1944.
Born on April 11, 1869, Kasturba was daughter of a prosperous businessman, Gokuldas of Porbandar in Gujarat. She was quite simple, sublime and a devout wife. When Gandhiji left for London in 1888, she did not accompany him.
Gandhiji was himself a man of his words with strict discipline and having high moral values which he constantly practised during his long political public life. He was involved in his experiments with truth and strictly adhered to the gospel of non-violence and truth during the freedom movement. He often got jail terms or remained engrossed in political work resulting in lesser attention to his own domestic household or family matters.
Under towering personality of Mahatma Gandhi, Kasturbaji, it seems, willingly merged herself in his personality. Admittedly, she was “sole moving spirit” behind the tallest of Indian freedom movement leader Mahatma Gandhi.
Partner in Struggle
There is enough evidence to prove that Kasturba worked alongside her husband from the days of agitation in South Africa to improve working conditions for the Indians there and also in the long period of India’s freedom struggle. In fact, she eventually joined the struggle to better the lot of millions of Indians. In September, 1913, Kasturba was arrested and sentenced to three months’ imprisonment.
Subsequently, on numerous occasions, she took Gandhiji’s place when he was in prison and was always closely associated with the freedom movement providing a source of encouragement especially to women volunteers.
Kasturba would have developed into a very considerable figure in her own right but sadly she rarely received the attention she deserved.
She showed an independence of spirit and Gandhi’s autobiography records an incident when he was almost tempted, in a moment of acute anger, to throw her out of the home. He had asked that she should contribute, as did everyone else at their Ashram, to menial tasks which she readily agreed but flatly refused to clean the toilets. There were also disagreements between them on the care of their sons, whom Kasturba (like some others as well) believed had been neglected by their father. Gandhi, on the other hand, took the view that as his sons, they were not entitled to special privileges. Harilal, in particular, caused his mother great sorrow and when he once arrived at her bedside during her last illness, she burst into tears.
“Gandhiji once told Kasturba that “her father imposed on her a companion whose weight would have killed any other woman. I treasure her love; she must remain courageous to the end”. Kasturba remained courageous to the very end.
Once Gandhiji, while reacting to being a “cruel husband” told his friend G.A. Natesan in Madras: “I have more than once implored her to live away from me and save herself from the discomfort and live happily with her children. But she would not. She, like the faithful Hindu wife, insists on following me wherever I go.”
Pillar of Strength
Mohandas Gandhi and Kasturba remained married for long sixty-two years, but it is one of the marriages about which we know very little, though Gandhi’s own life has been recorded in very minute details. We do not really know, for example, how she felt about the presence of other women who were to become Gandhi’s followers and devotees.
Though volumes have been written about the life, contribution and ideals of the Father of the Nation and his proud legacy but pretty little has been chronicled on his better half. Perhaps, the women had yet to have their really rightful status. ln our times, however, the education, empowerment and enlightenment have brought females to the forefront with promise of equality and gender justice enshrined in our Constitution. There were sacred bonds of affectionate relationship between Gandhi and Kasturba based on mutual respect and confidence as husband-wife in Indian cultural system. During the ‘Quit India’ movement, Kasturba joined her husband in detention at the Aga Khan’s Palace in Poona (now Pune) and it was there that she passed away at 7.35 pm on February 22, 1944 while Gandhiji was at her bedside.
After her death, Gandhiji was never the same and later observed “We were a couple outside the ordinary. It was ( in 1906 that by mutual consent and after, unconscious trials, we definitely adopted self-restraint as a rule of life. To my great joy this knit us together as never before. We ceased to be two different entities without my wishing it; she chose to lose herself in me. The result was she became truly my better half. She was woman always of very strong will which in our early days I used to mistake for obstinacy. But that strong will enabled her to become, quite unwittingly, my teacher in the art and practice of non-violent non-coperation.
Kasturba really was a symbol of inspiration, source of strength and also a true life partner to the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi. Kasturba was affectionately known as “Ba” who still lives in the hearts of millions of people.
O P Sharma