The Mahatma in Teluguland

When Gandhi wrote on men and women, domestic strife and failed love affairs...

The Mahatma in Teluguland

Shaik Mahaboob Basha

Mahatma Gandhi had a strong presence in Telugu women’s journals of the colonial period such as the Hindu Sundary, Grihalakshmi and Andhra Mahila. These women’s journals regularly published articles, short stories, poems, etc. propagating Gandhian ideology.

Andhra Mahila (1944-1961), a prominent monthly edited by Gummadidala Durgabayamma, later famous as Durgabai Deshmukh, ran a regular column, ‘Gandhiji Emantaru?’ (‘What does Gandhiji Say?’) from May 1944 onwards. The column published Mahatma Gandhi’s opinions on wide ranging topics such as ‘Are Women inferior to Men?’, ‘Women and NonViolence’, ‘Suitable Curriculum for Women’, women’s participation in the freedom struggle, suicides prompted by failed love affairs, etc.

Apart from the column, there were a number of independent pieces authored by women intellectuals like Channaghantamma, who reflected on Gandhiji’s views on Rama Rajya.

On the question of whether women were inferior to men (Andhra Mahila, 15 May 1944), Gandhiji said that although both women and men were ‘fundamentally equal to each other’, men thought that they were superior to women and had been enjoying dictatorial powers over them for centuries together.

However, a few noble-minded men accepted women as their equals.

According to Gandhiji, women had certain ‘special capabilities’. They were the personification of non-violence. It meant possessing enormous love which in turn meant incomparable forbearance. Therefore, as the flag bearers of the message of peace, women alone could provide leadership to the war-torn modern world (Andhra Mahila, 01 July 1944).

Replying to the question of a ‘sister’, if she could take part in the freedom movement in the face of opposition from her husband, Mahatma Gandhi replied that Sita and Rama represented ideal wife and husband: Sita was never Rama’s ‘slave’. Both husband and wife should cooperate with each other lest there would be domestic strife. In case her husband did not appreciate her participation in the freedom movement, and since it was a noble cause, she should tread the path of Mirabai, i.e., renouncing the family. There was nothing wrong in that (Andhra Mahila, 01 June 1944).

On the question of the suicide of a couple whose love was not accepted by their family elders, Gandhiji emphatically stated that society was to be held ‘responsible’ for their death and that society committed a ‘crime’ against the young couple.

However, he offered a suggestion to such couple in love that they should have more patience to deal with family members and the society at large and change them in due course of time as deeply entrenched social norms were hard to be removed in a day or two (Andhra Mahila, 15 July 1944).

After Gandhiji was assassinated, Andhra Mahila published a Gandhi Memorial Issue in March 1948. The issue carried articles by Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Babu Rajendra Prasad, Sarojini Naidu and a number of Telugu intellectuals, including the famous Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao. All the articles unanimously felt that Bapuji fell victim to religious hatred.

In the editorial, Durgabai Deshmukh observed that Gandhiji was murdered by Nathuram Vinayak Godse, ‘a Hindu fanatic’, and it was sad that Gandhiji who advocated non-violence, peace and international brotherhood throughout his life had to fall victim to religious hatred ‘shocking the entire world’. Further, she noted that there was a ‘big conspiracy’ behind Gandhi’s murder and the conspirators wanted to kill many other national leaders.

In his article titled ‘Gandhiji Shakti Prajashakti’ (‘Gandhiji’s Power is People’s Power’), Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao discussed the atmosphere of religious hatred that led to Gandhi’s murder. He emphasised that there was a conspiracy to kill him, pamphlets had been distributed before the act and sweets were distributed once the heinous act was performed. With his death, Gandhiji ‘exposed the naked picture’ of the Hindu chauvinists.

The April 1948 issue also carried a number of articles, especially by women intellectuals, mourning Gandhiji’s murder. In her article, ‘Yugapurushudi Astamayam’, Gollamudi Rajyalakshmamma wrote that ‘it was shameful for the entire Hindu community that a Hindu killed Gandhi who was like a Maharshi.’

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