The journey of Mahatma Gandhi, the father of the nation is well documented. However, in his shadow lived another Gandhi, who was his pillar of support, his constant companion, his wife, the lesser celebrated Gandhi, Kasturba Gandhi. Besides the iconic Kasturba Gandhi road near Connaught Place in Delhi she is relegated to oblivion in the bins of history. Today marks her 77th death anniversary and hence we decided to have a relook at her life.
Kasturba Gandhi, also known as Kasturba Gokuldas Kapadia was born in a wealthy merchant family to Gokuldas Kapadia and Vrajkunwerba Kapadia in the city of Porbandar on 11th April, 1869. Her family and Mohandas’ family were close friends. Kasturba and Mohandas were engaged at a very young age and were married in 1882, when both of them were just 13.
In his autobiography, Gandhi wrote “I do not think it meant to me anything more than the prospect of wearing good clothes, beating drums, marriage processions, rich dinners and a strange girl to play with. Little did I dream that one day I should severely criticize my father for having married me as a child? ” He has written that he was a jealous husband and tried restricting Kasturba. However, she was free - spirited and his efforts went in vain. According to Historian Vinay Lal, “Kasturba never acceded her husband's wishes easily, and Gandhi's autobiography itself furnishes remarkable testimony to her tenacity and independence of judgement, and the sharp disagreements she came to have with him when, in the first two decades of their marriage, he unreasonably sought to bring her under his control.”
Although she did not receive a formal education, she was always a keen learner.
Kasturba’s first involvement in politics and activism was in 1904 in South Africa. There she helped in establishing Phoenix settlement near Durban. In 1913, she was arrested for participating in protests against the ill-treatment of Indian immigrants in South Africa.
Even though she was suffering from chronic bronchitis due to complications at birth, she actively participated in civil actions and even used to take her husband’s spot when he was in prison.
During 1917, in Champaran when Mohandas was working for the plight of Indigo farmers, Kasturba worked for women welfare and taught them about hygiene, health, reading and writing. In 1922, she took part in the famous Satyagraha movement in Borsad, Gujarat.
She even advocated for women and took part in non-violent protests against the British Rule in 1939 in Rajkot. She was even arrested on various occasions. She was a front liner in the Civil Disobedience movement and Quit India movement. Her social work was not only confined to the freedom movement. She also laid her voice against casteism and the practice of untouchability.
In 1942, she participated in the Quit India movement and was again arrested along with Mohandas and other freedom fighters. After this, they were imprisoned in Aga Khan Palace in Pune, where her health deteriorated further and she finally succumbed to death on 22nd February 1944.
Gandhi in his autobiography wrote, “According to my earlier experience, she was very obstinate. In spite of all my pressure she would do as she wished. This led to short or long periods of estrangement between us. However, as my public life expanded, my wife bloomed forth and deliberately lost herself in my work.”
Her work, dedication, tremendous willpower and contribution in the freedom of India cannot be overlooked. Gandhi in his autobiography writes about her, “If anything she stood above me. But for her unfailing co-operation I might have been in the abyss. She helped me to keep wide awake and true to my vows. She stood by me in all my political fights and never hesitated to take the plunge. In the current sense of the word, she was uneducated; however, to my mind she was a model of true education.”
Kasturba was a role model for women at that time and her work and determination is still inspiring. Sarojini Naidu described her as “The living symbol of Indian womanhood”, and rightly so. Instead of knowing her only as Gandhi’s wife, we should remember and appreciate her for her wonderful display of courage and her part in Indian freedom struggle.