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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Shades of a Revered Leader: Unknown Facts about Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhi was one of the first figures in history to actively engage the principle of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence to the world which resulted in the United States General Assembly observing his birthday as the International Day of Non-Violence

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INDIA: One of the most renowned leaders of modern history, emerged from the humble origins of a young barrister, fumbling for his footing in a London court, to unify a diverse country of many castes and religions, against a common European enemy.

His name is Mahatma Gandhi, endearingly called ‘Bapu’ by his followers. He was either born courageous or an explicitly, outspoken leader, but made it to the list of Time Magazine’s 100 Most influential; figures of the 20th century.

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Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, given the prestigious title of ‘Father of the Nation’, was revered for his work during the Indian independence movement against British colonialism.

Gandhi was one of the first figures in history to actively engage the principle of ‘ahimsa’ or non-violence to the world which resulted in the United States General Assembly observing his birthday as the International Day of Non-Violence.

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Better-known facts about the leader have significantly shaped the narrative of a virtuous and dutiful leader, who stood his ground with a simple walking stick, against European colonisers with advanced weaponry.

However, despite the conventional facts known about the leader, modern intellectuals, psychoanalysts and even those in his family, have suggested that there might have been some elusive and dark shades to this iconic figure- with rumours of racism, sexual promiscuity and problematic perspectives.

Mahatma Gandhi and Sarojini Naidu; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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To commemorate the birth anniversary of Gandhi, here are some better-known as well as controversial facts about the leader.

Fact #1: When Gandhiji was boarding a train, one of his shoes slipped and fell on the track. He removed the other one too and threw it near the first. His message and intention are very clear- the person who found the shoes has a better need for them than he does.

Fact #2: In 1931, Bapu made his first radio broadcasting for the USA. His first words elicited quite a laugh, “Do I have to speak into this thing?”

Fact #3: Incidentally, Mahatma Gandhi is the only Indian figure till date to achieve the ‘Person of the Year’ title for his successful movements like the Salt Satyagraha or Dandi March in 1930, where he led a mass of people from Sabarmati Ashram till Dandi, a coastal village in Gujarat, to protest against the British salt tax by producing salt from seawater.

Fact #4: During his participation in the Bambatha Uprising (the Zulu revolt against British rule in South Africa in 1906), he commanded 21 Indian volunteers as stretcher bearers to treat wounded British forces.

Fact #5: In 1948, Gandhi was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Due to his assassination, before the nominations closed, the Nobel committee decided not to award the prize for that year, stating that “there was no suitable living candidate.”

Fact #6: Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, is an avid follower of the Mahatma in the USA. He was fond of spinning the wheel of Bapu-inspired ‘charkha’ (spinning wheel) which was sent to him by the Mahatma himself through a journalist emissary.

Fact #7: When Gandhi visited Shantiniketan, he wished Rabindranath Tagore ‘Namaste Gurudev’. Following this phrase, Tagore became humbled and said, “If I am Gurudev, you are Mahatma”, which later became the prefix of Gandhi.

Fact #8: The iconic figure picked up his simple fashion choices from a tour in Madurai in 1921, when he witnessed many people wearing a single dhoti.

His seemingly dull state of clothing and bare-chested appearance elicited a strong reaction from the then British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who once slandered him as the ‘half-naked fakir’.

Fact #9: Subhash Chandra Bose called Gandhi as ‘Desapitha’ (Father of the Nation) on Singapore Radio in 1944, which prompted Sarojini Naidu to take up the baton and continue the prefix in a 1947 conference. The title became immensely popular across the country, but the Indian government never officially conferred any such title upon Bapu.

Fact #10: Many familiar with Indian currency are greeted by the smiling face of the Mahatma, which is predominantly assumed as drawn or painted. However, the real fact is, the original photo was taken by an anonymous photographer in 1946 at the former Viceroy House which is now home to the President of India, Rashtrapathi Bhavan.

Now that the popular facts have been discussed, here are some of the lesser-known controversial details about the leader, critically analysed and debated by intellectuals across the world.

Fact #11: Growing up as a little boy in a religious household where he witnessed his mother fasting and performing regular religious rituals, Gandhi was hugely influenced by the tenets of Vaishnavism (the worship of the Hindu god Vishnu), especially the principles of Satya (truth) and Ahimsa (Non-violence), which he would later integrate into his independence campaign.

Fact #12: During his time as a practising lawyer in South Africa, he is rumoured to have used racial slurs to slander South Africans and believed Indians were “infinitely superior” to the general populace. He also believed that British and Indian supremacy was integral to the South African administration.

Mahatma Gandhi with Abdul Gaffar Khan; Photo Credit: WikiImages

Fact #13: Many hold the view that Gandhi and Hitler were friends since Bapu addressed him as a ‘friend’ in one of his letters to the dictator. However, Gandhi was simply attempting to pacify the leader and convince him against starting a war in Europe.

Fact #14: At the age of 38, Gandhi took a vow of celibacy after his pre-pubescent marriage to Kasturba Bai produced four children. He noted that he needed to test his strength against his sexual desires and so, would frequently surround himself with young women, even of his own immediate family, to test his lust.

Fact #15: Gandhi preached that education was the cornerstone of progressive and independent culture, headed toward excellence. He believed in the education of women, and their equal participation in the workforce of society.

However, he championed for women a special place in the domestic front, where women would be the reigning monarchs. While the idea of the domesticated woman is problematic in this century, the idea was quite revolutionary during his time.

Mahatma Gandhi in the Peace movement; Photo Credit: Pixabay

Fact #16: Despite Gandhi’s popularity in India, in recent years, the Mahatma has faced intense backlash for his racism towards South Africans, his ideas about women and sex and so on.

The University of Ghana was hounded by its students and lecturers alike to remove a statue of the figure because he was a ‘racist’. Gandhi’s grandson and biographer once slammed his racist views, stating in 2015 that, “times [he was] ignorant and prejudiced about South Africa’s blacks.”

Despite the Mahatma’s many elusive shades, which have elicited critical research by intellectuals in modern times, the legendary figure remains the proponent of one of the most harrowing independence movements in human history.

Also Read: Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru Inspired Others About Democracy: Kathy Hochul

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