Mahatma Gandhi, not many words can describe his notable achievements for India. With non-violence and satyagraha, the dhoti clad world renowned leader, received accolades for his bold, progressive firsts. But in this article today, on his 148th birthday, let us consider his achievements to improve the conditions of women and untouchables.
He fought against the practices of sati, child marriage, oppression of widows, ‘pardah’, and fueled emancipation of women. Several women were employed in the salt march and even given the wheel to spin hand made clothing during popular movements of boycotting western clothing.
He was pivotal for the improvement of uplifting rural women’ subordination in society. And became a symbol of peace within times of extreme discrimination.
Women were often dominated and considered the weaker sex during the time of the British raj. Gandhi played a key role in the upliftment of women, to an extent from the evils of society. His efforts to improve the condition of women were clear from the very beginning of his life and work, and intended to remove social evils such as, sati, ill-treatment of widows, denial of property right to women were all drawn to his attention.
He did not believe that a women should serve the way a man did, but still believed in the honor of a woman and wanted to rid the ill-treatment of all women.
Gandhi ji’s aim, was to ensure that women were treated as equally as men in the private as well as public sector of society.
“Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of women ” Gandhi had said.
From the position of today’s modern woman, Gandhi ji’s views on women were far more traditional, as he claimed that women were essentially home bound, and characteristically designed to be great mothers and house keepers.
From the position of today’s modern woman, Gandhi ji’s views on women were far more traditional
Where we may disagree with him, is while he perceived women are equal he believed they had different roles assigned to them. For example, he did not believe that a women should serve the way a man did, but still believed in the honour of a woman and wanted to rid the ill-treatment of all women.
“Men and women are of equal rank, but they are not identical. They are a peerless peer, being supplementary to one another; each helps the other so that without the one, the essence of the other cannot be conceived…. Man is the supreme in the outward activities of a married pair and therefore, it is in the fitness of things that he should have a greater knowledge therefore. On the other hand, home life is entirely in the sphere of women, and, therefore, in domestic affairs, in the upbringing and education of children, women ought to have more knowledge.”
He always considered women to be the more enlightened sex, and often regretted not having a woman in his movement, or seeing shortcomings due to the lack of female participation. He would urge all women to participate in his political movements and push the equality of participation in voting and running for elections later when the constitution was drafted.
He carefully studied the roles of women, and believed that the relationship between the husband and wife should be of friends not master and slave.
He was against the idea of child marrige, and saw it as a crime to have a young bride. “The custom of child marriages indicated physical and moral degeneration, a recession from God as well as from Swaraj.”
He would request the rich to set examples for the poor and not spend any more than ten rupees on a marriage and was entirely against dowry. Gandhi ji was in favour of inter communal marriages, where he’d support the marriages between Hindus and untouchables, and showed his concern for the problems faced by widows in the twentieth century. He wanted them to be re-married also saying that ‘voluntary widowhood’ should be the choice of the woman, and did not regard widow remarriage to be a sin, as it was considered by the conservatives.
All of this helped women realize that they were not mere objects, confined to the limits which they were in, rather equals to the opposite sex.