Monday, November 15, 2010

Love lust and the Mahatma


Love lust and the Mahatma

• Posted by GandhiServe Foundation on November 14, 2010 at 9:07pm in Mahatma Gandhi News Digest


Love lust and the Mahatma



India Today


By Thomas Weber


In 1924 a birth control league was established in Bombay and the secretary wrote to [Mahatma] Gandhi, seemingly to ask for his blessings as it would help the Indian population problem. Gandhi responded: "I am totally opposed to artificial means of controlling the birth rate, and it is not possible for me to congratulate you or your co-workers on having brought into being a League whose activities, if successful, can only do great moral injury to the people." Margaret Sanger entered the ensuing debate writing to Gandhi in protest.


Gandhi replied that he was open to further education on the subject and Sanger started planning a visit to India. … She came following an invitation to speak at the All-India Women's Conference, which the previous year had passed a resolution favouring birth control and now wanted to draw up a practical programme of action. How could she refuse? It seems that India was ready for her; by the time she completed her stay, she had travelled 10,000 miles, presided over more than 40 public meetings and had established some 50 birth control information centres. And she was more than ready to take her crusade to the subcontinent and to its perceived moral leader. Although originally expected to arrive on November 26, 1935, it was not until a week later that, after a bullock cart ride from Wardha railway station, Sanger arrived at Gandhi's headquarters on December 2, a Monday, Gandhi's day of silence. … The next day, after having accompanied Gandhi on his accustomed early morning walk, she was granted an interview at 11 and it continued till 3 o'clock.


Margaret Sanger's diary notes that the arguments in the formal interview "were along the same lines as in the morning", and she felt that "his personal experience at the time of his father's death was so shocking and self-blamed that he can never accept sex as anything good, clean or wholesome." During the interview … Gandhi counselled celibacy: "I have felt that during the years still left to me if I can drive home to women's minds the truth that they are free, we will have no birth control problem in India. If they will only learn to say 'no' to their husbands when they approach them carnally! … The real problem is that many do not want to resist them."


Not unexpectedly, Sanger raised the phantasmagoria of "irritations, disputes, and thwarted longings that Gandhiji's advice would bring into the home", citing cases of "great nervous and mental breakdowns as a result of the practice of self-control."


Gandhi countered that this would only be the case with "imbeciles", not with "healthyminded people". When Sanger insisted that his advice was not practical, that it would "mean a revolution in the home" and lead to divorce because "the average marriage contract assumes that intercourse and the married relationship shall be harmonious", Gandhi tried to draw a distinction between love and lust: "When both want to satisfy animal passion without having to suffer the consequences of their act it is not love, it is lust."


Sanger did not accept the analogy, explaining that "sex expression is a spiritual need" and that the quality of the expression is "more important than the result". She tried to get Gandhi to admit that he was against "sex lust" rather than "sex love"; however when she asked him whether he thought "it possible for two people who are in love, who are happy together, to regulate their sex act only once in two years, so that relationship would only take place when theywanted a child?", Gandhi answered that "I had the honour of doing that very thing". Sanger saw it as "illogical to contend that sex union for the purpose of having children would be love and union for the satisfaction of the sexual appetite was lust, for the same act was involved in both." Gandhi explained that he knew that all sexual unions partook of the nature of lust from his own personal experience because "as long as I looked upon my wife carnally, we had no real understanding. Our love did not reach a high plane."


Sanger responded by asking if that meant that "the sexual union takes place only three or four times in an entire lifetime?" In response to the woman who, like Olive Schreiner 30 years before her, had been a lover of Havelock Ellis, the pioneer of sexology and author of the seven- volume Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Gandhi responded: Why should people not be taught that it is immoral to have more than three or four children and that after they have had that number they should sleep separately? … If husband and wife have four children, they would have had sufficient animal enjoyment."


Not long before his discussion with Margaret Sanger, Gandhi received a letter from a councillor of the Municipal Corporation of Bombay asking him to support the opening of a birth control clinic … and issuing posters advising people to take advantage of it. Gandhi replied: "Everybody would welcome sex gratification without having to have children. Therefore the means of ensuring this are spreading like intoxicants. If there is any cause for regret, it is only that what is morally bad is being regarded as morally desirable."


In her autobiography Sanger notes that even though Gandhi appeared to be going along with her in their discussions, as soon as she stopped he continued "as though he had not heard you", putting up a "stone wall of religion or emotion or experience" which she could not "dynamite him over".


However, he had heard her, and tried hard to counter her arguments, and perhaps Sanger had slightly more impact on him than she imagined or he admitted to. At the end of the session of interviews, Gandhi conceded that he thought highly of Sanger's purpose, otherwise he "would not have given time to this subject". As a conclusion to the section of his article that contains the interview with Margaret Sanger, Desai wrote:


"And yet as Mrs Sanger was so dreadfully in earnest Gandhiji did mention a remedy which could conceivably appeal to him. That method was the avoidance of sexual union during unsafe periods confining it to the 'safe' period of about ten days during the month. That had at least an element of self-control which had to [be] exercised during the unsafe period."


What had induced this change? Later a close friend and member of his secretariat, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur [independent India's first health minister], was to recall how the talks with Sanger "grew tense and strangely exciting, as if longburied trains of thought were emerging".


Gandhi biographer Martin Green claims that the encounter left [the Mahatma] exhausted, resulting in his hospitalisation and a breakdown in his health that "was very painful to him because it involved an episode of involuntary sexual excitement." Green appears to be making a causal link between Gandhi's seminal discharge and the resurfacing of buried emotions, particularly those that had led to the platonic yet sexually charged love affair (or spiritual marriage) with Sarala Devi Chaudhurani [pioneering women's rights activist, Rabi- ndranath Tagore's niece and wife of Punjab Congress leader Rambhuj Dutt Chaudhary] that had fleetingly threatened his own marriage in 1920.


This is not an outrageous interpretation.


In her interviews, Sanger had put to Gandhi that, "If we have a choice in our mates [as he did not] there is a natural sex attraction between two people. You then have a different experience and in the experience an expression of love which makes you a finer human being ... and contributes to a finer understanding and a greater spiritual harmony."


GANDHI'S response was illuminating: "I had a woman with whom I almost fell. It is so personal that I did not put it in my autobiography. We have considered if there can be this spiritual companionship. The marriage relationship is a matter of contract. Your parents arrange it in your childhood and you have nothing to do with it. I came in contact with an illiterate woman. Then I met a woman with a broad, cultural education. Could we not develop a close contact, I said to myself? This was a plausible argument, and I nearly slipped. But I was saved."


In an article on birth control that appeared in his paper only a few months later, Gandhi reiterated that he would agree to at least consider the rhythm method of birth control, even though he did it reluctantly. Although she had no luck in convincing Gandhi of her position, her lecture tour of India led to the opening of several birth control clinics in the country. When, in 1959, Prime Minister Nehru declared that a large sum of money would go to family planning in India, Margaret Sanger was standing at his side.




- Extracted with permission from Going Native: Gandhi's Relationship with Western Women (Roli Books Lotus Collection; Rs 295). Weber, who teaches at Melbourne's La Trobe University, has been researching and writing on Gandhi's life for over 20 years.


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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs


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