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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 23, New Delhi, May 22, 2021

Remembering Kasturba Gandhi - report from a webinar

Saturday 22 May 2021


by Siby K Joseph 

 To pay tributes to Kasturba Gandhi on her birth anniversary Sevagram

Ashram Pratishthan, Wardha in collaboration with Manibhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai and Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Mumbai organized a National Webinar on April 11, 2021. This Webinar on Kasturba Gandhi was organized on the occasion of her 152 nd Birth Anniversary. The webinar was a modest attempt to highlight the contributions of Kasturba Gandhi which was always overshadowed by the towering personality of Mahatma Gandhi. The life of Kasturba Gandhi was so merged into the life of Gandhi and the national life and her contributions in the life of Gandhi or her independent contributions to the freedom struggle were hardly recognized by historians or biographers of Gandhi. The so-called biographers of Kasturba Gandhi ultimately verge on the life and work of Gandhi. The main reason for such an approach is that both of their life was so intertwined and it is difficult to separate from each other. Her early life is largely unknown to us. Arun Gandhi, biographer of Kasturba, went in search of family records of the Kapadia family and came to know that the disastrous floods in the 1930s had destroyed all documents, letters and photographs. Therefore, a webinar on throwing light on different facets of life of Kasturba was a welcome attempt on the part of Sevagram Ashram which was founded by Mahatma Gandhi himself in 1936.

 Even the exact date of Kasturba’s birth is a matter of uncertainty. Siby K. Joseph, Director, Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Library and Research Centre, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Wardha while giving a brief introduction about the Webinar brought into limelight this fact. The books written on Kasturba during  Gandhi’s lifetime only mention that she was born in the month of April 1869. The celebration of April 11 as Kasturba’s birthday is of recent origin. In the year 2003, at the request of White Ribbon Alliance India, an alliance of 1,800 organisations — the Government of India had declared April 11, the birth anniversary of Kasturba Gandhi, as National Safe Motherhood Day. Then onwards Kasturba’s birthday is being celebrated as National Safe Motherhood Day. The theme of this year’s celebrations of Safe Motherhood Day is ‘Stay at home during coronavirus, keep mother and newborn safe from coronavirus.’

The first speaker of the Webinar was Sonal Parikh, great great-granddaughter of Mahatma Gandhi or fifth-generation member of Gandhi Family. She is a creative writer and journalist associated with reputed Gujarati Daily "Janmabhoomi." She has published around 25 books which includes collection of poems, novels, collection of articles, translations etc. Among them, six books were on Mahatma Gandhi’s work and thoughts and one on Kasturba’s life. The theme of her presentation was ‘Married Life of Kasturba Gandhi.’ In her presentation, she was successful in removing the common misconceptions about Ba and Bapu that Gandhi was a dominant husband and Ba was a victim. Also there was no match between them intellectually. The guest speaker in her address showed the other and beautiful side of the coin that Bapu and Ba used to share a warm, beautiful, friendly and blessed relationship throughout their married life. They respected each-other’s identity and their love was deep and sublime. She substantiated her argument that both of them had a warm and cordial relationship with the help of some letters in her emotional and heart-touching presentation. She cited the letter Gandhi wrote to Kasturba when he was in jail in 1908 and Ba was seriously ill. He wrote that it cuts his heart and he is not in a position to come to nurse her. “I love you so dearly that even if you are dead, you will be alive to me. Your soul is deathless. I repeat what I have frequently told you and assure you that if you do succumb to your illness, I will not marry again. Time and again I have told you that you may quietly breathe your last with faith in God. If you die, even that death of yours will be a sacrifice to the cause of Satyagraha.” She also cited the letter Ba wrote a letter to Lilavati Munshi, who alleged that Ba’s life was miserable because of Bapu’s stubbornness. Ba wrote that her husband is a great person and he takes proper care of her. In that letter, she further wrote that no other women in the entire world got a husband like Gandhi and he loves her deeply. In fact, he was like God-Shankar for her as in the case of Parvati. After Ba’s death, Gandhi had written in a letter that Ba was part of his existence, many a times she stood above him and he would like to have her as his life partner in every birth.

 Sejal Shah was the next speaker of the webinar. She is currently Head, Department of Gujarati and Centre for Gandhian Studies, Maniben Nanavati College for Women, Mumbai and visiting faculty at Post Graduate Department of Gujarati, S.N.D.T. University. She has deep interest in Gandhian Thought and Jaina philosophy and has a number of publications to her credit including Muththi Bhitar ni Azadi’ profiling lives of freedom fighters of Quit India Movement. She along with Smt. Sonal Parikh edited a special issue of Prabuddh Jeevan viz. “Rashtramata Kasturba Visheshang” in March 2021. Theme of her presentation of the webinar was ‘the personality of Kasturba Gandhi as an independent individual.’ In her presentation, she highlighted the individual identity of Kasturba. Ba through her dedicated work has proven that she is fit for the status of Mother of the Nation. The speaker narrated Ba’s contribution in Ashram Management and how she used to take care of Bapu, guests and all inmates of the Ashram. Ba was very systematic in the management of the Ashrams and as a result of her motherly approach everyone was emotionally attached to her and Bapu. She played a very important role in social and political activism in South Africa by managing the affairs of the Phoenix Settlement which Gandhi established near Durban in 1904. She not only limited herself as a mother or wife but she became a mentor, guide, leader of common people. She used to take an independent stand in front of Gandhi and other women inmates of the Ashram wholeheartedly supported her viewpoints and her mission. Ba showed amazing willpower and unshakable faith during the Satyagraha struggle in South Africa. Though Ba and Bapu held different points of view by virtue of their gender but always maintained true friendship and love. Kasturba’s presence in the Indian national movement inspired many Indian women from South Africa to donate funds directly to her, without any solicitation on her part. She was really a uniting force and through her work she proved her individual personality which was independent irrespective of her identification with the husband in his mission of life.

Shobha Supekar was the third guest speaker of the Webinar. She is an academic activist who spent 23 years in Aga Khan Palace, Pune. She was a full-time residential karyakatra of Gandhi National Memorial Society (GNMS) and served as Joint Secretary of GNMS and Principal of Kasturba Mahila Khadi Gramodyog Vidyalaya. She is currently a Trustee of Central Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, New Delhi and working as the Director of Shri Manilal Nanavati Vocational Training Institute, Pune. Theme of her presentation was Kasturba Gandhi’s days at Aga Khan Palace. Her presentation started with a brief background of Kasturba’s arrest for her involvement in the Quit India Movement which was launched by Mahatma Gandhi after the All India Congress Committee Session in Bombay on August 8, 1942. The very next day Congress leaders including Gandhi were arrested. He was lodged in Aga Khan Palace. Gandhi was supposed to address a public meeting at Shivaji Park in Bombay. Kasturba announced that she would be addressing the public meeting in his absence. This led to the arrest of Kasturba and brought to Arthur jail, Bombay and later shifted to Aga Khan Palace, Pune. The demise of Mahadev Desai, while he was undergoing incarceration along with them at the Aga Khan Palace, was a great shock for Ba and Bapu. Ba’s health further deteriorated due to the 21 days fast of Gandhi. The guest speaker vividly narrated the final days of Kasturba at the Aga Khan palace based on the writings of Dr.Sushila Nayar who was with her during the last days. Finally on February 22, 1944, Kasturba passed away at the lap of Mahatma Gandhi. The presentation clearly showed the emotional attachment of Ba and Bapu and sufferings Ba had undergone while in Aga Khan Palace. The slides of Aga Khan Palace were also used to have a quick glimpse of the place, where Kasturba spent her last days.

The last presentation was made by. Siby K.Joseph of Sevagram Ashram, Wardha. He is a Gandhian academic and author/editor of many books including Kasturba Gandhi :An Embodiment of Empowerment, which was published by Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Mumbai coinciding with death anniversary Kasturba on February 22, 2020. Theme of his presentation was Kasturba’s involvement in Satyagraha Struggles. He stated that the Cape Supreme Court judgment of 14th March 1913, that marriages not celebrated according to Christian rites and/or not registered by the Registrar of Marriages were invalid in South Africa provided a historic opportunity for Kasturba to join the Satyagraha struggle in South Africa. In his brief presentation, he quickly surveyed Kasturba’s contribution in Champaran Satyagraha of 1917 especially of teaching the basics of health, hygiene, and sanitation, her involvement in Non-co-operation Movement and its aftermath, her role in awakening the women in Borsad Satyagraha of 1922-23, her active involvement after arrest of leaders of Salt Satyagraha, crucial role during the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1932 to 1934, participation in Rajkot Satyagraha and finally the Quit India movement. It was due to her immense contribution in Satyagraha struggles Subhas Chandra Bose described Kasturba Gandhi as ‘the mother of the Indian people’ in his homage after her martyrdom at the altar of freedom struggle.

The Webinar was attended by people from different walks of life including prominent academics, scholars, activists, journalists, women, youth and students. Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan took the initiative for the organization of the webinar. Manibhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai; Gandhi Smarak Nidhi, Mumbai joined hands in the effective organization of the Webinar. The high appreciation of webinar was evident from the comments in the chat box including persons like Tushar Gandhi and many others. Also the participants requested the organizers to plan similar programmes for the rejuvenation of Gandhian principles in the present society.

(Author: Dr. Siby K Joseph is a noted Gandhian academic and scholar. He is currently Director, Sri Jamnalal Bajaj Memorial Library and Research Centre, Sevagram Ashram Pratishthan, Wardha, Maharashtra. Email: directorjbmlrc[at]

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