Mahatma Gandhi opposed Interfaith Marriages

 Even after 12 years of friendship Manilal could not marry Fatima  The Father of the Nation was opposed to Inter-caste marriages too

Dr. Hari Desai Monday 20th November 2017 08:16 EST

As such Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Nation, as he was addressed as by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in his 1944 broadcast from Singapore, was known for his controversial views on marriages but his views on inter-religious marriages were much more controversial. R. K. Prabhu and U. R. Rao record Mahtma’s views in “The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi”, which is considered Bible on the thoughts of Gandhiji: “Marriage is a natural thing in life, and to consider it derogatory in any sense is wholly wrong…Marriage for the satisfaction of sexual appetite is no marriage. It is vyabhichara-concupiscence.” Gandhi’s views on population control and sterilization were equally controversial. He thought sex was required to have children only. Even his close disciples like Sardar Patel and Kishorlal Mashruwala did not approve of his
experiments of Brahmacharya and called them Adharma- unrighteousness, leading to stalling the experiments in Ashrama for some time. In fact Gandhiji was all for teaching the true science of sex and advocated teaching of the science of sex-control to the children like the teaching astronomy.

Like marriage and sex-education, the Mahatma always stressed on Inter-faith harmony. Right from his South Africa days, he hardly made any difference between the followers of various religions. While grooming his own children, he had always taught them of Hindu-Muslim harmony but when it came to marriages, the Mahatma took a different stand which not only shattered his own son, Manilal, but even his grand children could not digest his views. At least two of his grand and great grand children respectively, Rajmohan Gandhi(“Mohandas : True Story of a Man, His People”) and Uma Dhupelia- Mesthrie( “Gandhi’s Prisoner? : The life of Gandhi’s son Manilal”), preferred to present the contradictions in Gandhi’s approach of inter-religious marriages. Even Nicola Christine Jolly of University of Birmingham deals with Mahatma Gandhi’s Religious Pluralism through Inter-Religious Marriages in her Ph.D. thesis.

Uma, a senior faculty of History at University of the Western Cape in South Africa, describes love affair of her grandfather, Manilal, with Fatima Gool. She is daughter of Sitaben and granddaughter of Manilal and Sushila. Prof. Uma records: “After a number of years of friendship( since 1914), Manilal was convinced in 1926 that he wanted to marry Timmie (Fatima Gool). But there were several obstacles in his way.” “Manilal might have expected opposition from Kasturba since she held orthodox views on religion and caste…She would not have borne the idea of a Muslim daughter-in –law easily. But Gandhi had taught Manilal that all religions were equal and from his childhood he had mixed freely with all.” In 1926 Manilal, sending a message(to his father) through Ramdas, his brother, sprang a surprise : he wished, he said, to marry Fatima or Timmie Gool. Fatima was a daughter of a close associate of Gandhi, Yosuf Gool from Surat and his Malay wife, Wahieda. Fatima’s siblings, brother Dr. A. H. Gool and sisters Beida and Jane, were also in close contact with Gandhi family in South Africa. 

A letter from Mohandas addressed to his son, Manilal, was rather a bombshell for him when the Mahatma wrote to him “as a friend” initiating the communication calling Manilal’s wish as “what you desire is contrary to Dharma”! What he wrote further was rather more shocking for the obedient son. His dream was shattered. The senior Gandhi writes: “If you stick to Hinduism and Fatima to Islam, it would be like putting two swords in one sheath; or you may lose your faith. And then what should be your children’s faith? Whose influence are they to grow under? It is not Dharma, but only adharma, if Fatima agrees to conversion just for marrying you. Faith is not a thing like a garment which can be changed to suit our convenience. For the sake of Dharma a person shall forgo matrimony, forsake his home, why, even lay down his life; but for nothing may faith be given up. May not Fatima have meat at her father’s? If she does not, she has as good as changed her religion.”

The Mahatma was worried about the Hindu-Muslim question in India. He writes further: “Nor is it in the interests of our society to form this relationship. Your marriage will have a powerful impact on the Hindu-Muslim question. Inter-communal marriages are no solution to this problem. You cannot forget nor will forget that you are my son. If you enter into this relationship, you may not be able to render any service. I fear you may no more be the right person to run Indian Opinion. It will be impossible for you, I think, after this to come and settle in India. I cannot ask for Ba’s permission. She will not give it. Her life will be embittered forever.” Gandhi shocks us further when he writes to Manilal: “In proposing this marriage, you have thought only of momentary pleasure. You have not at all considered your ultimate happiness.” It is interesting to note that the eldest son, Harilal, was to get converted to Islam and adopt the name Abdullah after a decade, in 1936, of the happenings which led Manilal to desist from marrying Fatima! Gandhi consulted associates like Jamanalal Bajaj and Manilal’s parents settled on a nineteen-year- old Gujarati girl, living in Akola in Maharashtra : Sushila, a Bania like the Gandhis though not a Kathiawari, and a niece of Kishorlal Mashruwala, Gandhi’s Young India and Navjivan colleague. The marriage took place in Akola in March 1927. Sushil’s father was well off, but at Gandhi’s instance, the wedding was kept utterly simple. The Mahatma advised his son to make it clear to Sushila that he had an affair and had forgotten about it!

Surprisingly, the Mahatma never adopted same approach about the Hindu-Muslim marriages with others. He rather changed his views when he blessed at least two inter-faith marriages. One was Humayun Kabir, a Muslim, marrying a Hindu Bengali girl. Another was the case of B.K. Nehru, Jawahar’s cousin, marrying a Hungarian Jewess, points out Sankar Ghose in “Mahatma Gandhi”. Even Gandhi did not approve of inter-caste marriages, but when it came to the marriage of his son, Devdas, with Laxmi, the daughter of Rajgopalachari, a Tamil Brahmin, the Mahatma never raised objection on inter-caste marriage. In a most surprising revelation one comes across that so far hardly any member from the Mahatma’s family has married a Muslim though there may be some marriages with the Christians, Zoroastrian and even one with Dalit. In Sanskrit, there is a verse “परोपदेशे पांडित्यम् सर्वेषाम् सुकुरम् नृणाम्” meaning it is always easy to preach others than implementing it for self. 

Next Column : The Indian Maharajas in Love Traps
( The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail : [email protected] )

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