Gandhi Comes Alive

Gandhiji And Women

-Rameshwari Nehru

MY acquaintance with Gandhiji goes back to the year 1927. I heard and read about him ever since he returned to India from South Africa, and was a regular student of Young India. His sayings and teachings affected me deeply, and I felt irresistibly drawn towards him. But I had never met mm. He was much too high a personage out of the reach of an' insignificant individual like myself. So I felt.

In the years 1927 and 1928 I served as a member of . the Age of Consent Committee appointed by the Government of India, and went to Ahmedabad in the course of my travels. He was then living in the Sabarmati Ashram, near Ahmedabad. I felt an urge to see him and sought an interview with him, wanting to ask his opinion on the '5ubjects of early marriage and the age of consent which were under the investigation of my Committee.

An appointment was made, and I was given a few minutes interview. It was sometime in the forenoon, and he was busy with the inmates of the Ashram all about him. I do not know what happened to me, but I was overwhelmed with emotion. Uncontrolled tears began to flow. I felt ashamed and became tongue-tied, not being able to say anything. Another appointment was made, and I came again to the Sabarmati Ashram; this time to spend the night so as to be able to attend the morning prayers. I was put in charge of the late. Mahadevbhai who looked after my needs and before retiring had a preliminary talk with me. Next morning at dawn prayer's were held on the sandy bank of the Sabarmati river. Thereafter I had my first walk with, Gandhiji. I explained to him, what we were doing in the Committee. He heard every,t4ing kindly and graciously. But I could feel a touch of, uncongeniality about the atmosphere. Without discouraging me, however, or without expressing his, disapproval of what I did, he made it clear that, although early marriage was bad and had to be stopped, his way of doing it was not through the agency of a foreign Government which he considered to be vicious and with which he thought it necessary to non-cooperate. He told me that, to achieve my object, the better way would be to go all over the country and preach against the evils of early marriage till people were, weaned from this evil custom. The serious part of the interview over, accompanied by a couple of young girls, he wended his way into the kitchen, sat down on a stool with a small table in front of him, and started peeling vegetables. A light conversation with the girls interspersed with jokes and laughter ensued. This made me feel at home and at ease. By the time the peeling of vegetables came to an end my time was over, and I came back to the labours of my Committee work pondering on all that I had seen and experienced.

How does he find time for such a trivial occupation as the peeling of vegetables in the midst of his multifarious activities and with the heavy responsibilities of guiding big movements which shape the destiny of millions resting on his shoulders, and what common interest can he have with those simple, raw young girls whom I saw around him? They hardly looked educated. Greater understanding of him and closer association with him supplied me with answers to both these questions.'

'During my occasional and short visits both at Wardha and at Sevagram, as I watched him engrossed in his daily occupations, I realized the fact that with him there was no high or low either in work or in men. All work was service, and all service was dedication, and so work had no rank with him.. I have seen him spending time in doling out food to the inmates of his Ashram with his own trembling hands both morning and evening. I have seen him devotedly attending on the sick. I have seen him giving as much time and attention to settling trivial disputes amongst his disciples, as one would give to settling matters concerning the most intricate affairs of politics or the State. He carefully reads the reports' of the smallest of institutions (and there are many such all over the country) run under his inspiration and guides them in great detail. He has time to enter into the domestic affairs of those who come near him and who seek his aid. He gives succour to the grief-stricken, and hope to the disheartened, by giving them daily attention. At this advanced age, with growing physical weakness and equally growing pressure of work, he writes his letters with his own hands. Others may consider all this a waste; and I have heard many highly placed men and women deploring the fact, asserting that, if Gandhiji spent his time a little more judiciously, saved it from these trivialities, and spent it on higher and greater objects which awaited his attention, things would be better managed. But I know how wrong such notions are, for the deep springs of Gandhiji's unfathomable love, like Christ's and Buddha's, must be equally shared by. all without any discrimination. It is the spontaneous natural- ness and the wisdom of these actions which is the real secret of the hold he has over millions. I can tell. from personal experience what thrill of joy a few uneven and illegible lines of his own hand-writing have given me and how I have longed to get them. It is this devotion to small matters which lifts him above everybody else, and makes the lowly feel that they too have a place in his scheme of things. In his dealings with human beings he has often struck me as a super-sculptor busily engaged with. the creation of. fine specimens of men and women out of the human material available to him. He moulds them, chisels them, and gives them a finish in accordance with his own conception of things. The fineness of the specimens he produces is naturally limited by the nature of the material at his command. There is, therefore, great variety and difference of stature and colour and fineness amongst his numerous followers on whom the skill of his chisel has been applied. But there is no doubt about the fact that i all those hundreds of thousands of men and women who I come under his magic influence are moulded into a better shape. They fall far short of his ideal, for it is so high; but they all benefit by the contact and evolve into a I better and higher life.

He is out to create a new world-a world which is free from the struggle and strife and turmoil of the world of today. He wants to bring the Kingdom of God on earth from which vicious human passions are eliminated and in which the governing force is love (ahimsa) and co-operation. For the creation of this world women supply the better material. He has often said that women can make better soldiers of his non-violent army than men. He therefore has confidence in them, and that is why they are so forcefully drawn towards him. I have often found him setting tasks to these little sisters of mercy too complicated and complex to be tackled even by men of great learning and power, with no other equipment except simplicity, humility, love of truth, and an iron will which he has instilled into them. These little women. wear themselves out at his bidding in fulfillment of the duties entrusted to them. Thus many of them are posted in different far-off corners of India burning the candle of their lives to give light to the poor around them. They live unknown to the outside world, enriching the little world they live in with the fragrance of their se1fless existence. The volume of their work may not be great, but its value lies in its purity which invisibly enlivens the world of their contact.

He values an ounce of practice more than a pound of precept. All rituals and conventions of society, therefore, have value for him only in so far as they conform to the actual facts of life and are based on moral principles. Mere assertions of principles, however learned, are like empty shells if they are not followed by practice. He pushes this love of living the truth to dimensions beyond the conception of ordinary individuals. The latest instance of this love for the living truth regardless of consequences was the Indumati Tendulkar marriage celebrated last year at Sevagram under his instructions.

The procedure he adopted in this marriage gave a practical shape to the whole ritual of Hindu marriage, disregarding the fact that this ritual of his making was not recognized by the law of the land. He gave a new shape to the rite of Saptapadi which in its orthodox symbolic form represents seven steps taken by the couple jointly in the path of life. In this new ritual the bride and the bridegroom were made to accomplish in company with each other seven pieces of activities like the reading of the Bhagavadgita, spinning, tending of the cow, cleaning the well-side and the land for cultivation etc., on the eve of the marriage. The priest who officiated at the marriage was a Harijan by caste and belonged to the Christian religion by profession. The whole proceedings were held in Hindustani. Amongst the list of pledges given and taken, some old unnecessary ones were omitted and new ones were introduced. In evolving this form of marriage the only one principle he regarded was strict adherence in life to the moral principles held by him and professed by the couple. At one stroke and in one action so many reforms which he advocates were woven into the fabric of life.

Another instance of a similar nature happened when my son's marriage was celebrated in accordance with his advice. In this case the complication was that the bride belonged to a nationality and a faith different from those of the bridegroom, and the question of the ritual of marriage allowing freedom of religion to either party was to be solved. I give below his written opinion on the matter, which prominently brings into relief his bold adherence to moral laws I alone in defiance of all false notions of social prestige.

The following is a quotation from what he wrote on the occasion:

"The very word 'Hindu' is modern. The label was given to us. The name of .our religion is 'Manava Dharma', i.e., man's religion. Manusmriti is the code of man's religion. The fountain of all is the Vedas. But no one possesses all the Vedas Man's religion has been under going evolution. Before the advent of British rule, society was undergoing change from time to time. British rule changed all this. What was fit for change became petrified. If there was a change, it came from either the Privy Council or the British-made legislatures. Owing to this much harm has been done, and society has become inert like the superimposed laws. In this state of things, my advice is to perform marriage rites according to morals prescribed by man's religion. That should be binding. We need not heed those British rules which are inconsistent with highest morals. We must run risks, if there be any in so doing."

In the immensity of his work, he covers the whole of human life. No aspect is neglected. He has tried to solve all questions confronting individual and collective life. His solutions are made with a view to evolving a civilization in which there is peace on earth and goodwill among men.

New Delhi, 4-3-1946.