Kasturba Gandhi

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Kasturbai Mohandas Gandhi
Kasturbai Gandhi
Native nameકસ્તુરબાઈ મોહનદાસ ગાંધી  (Gujarati)
BornKasturbai Makhanji Kapadia
(1869-04-11)11 April 1869
Porbandar, Porbandar State, Kathiawar Agency, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Gujarat, India)
Died22 February 1944(1944-02-22) (aged 74)
Aga Khan Palace, Poona, Bombay Presidency, British India (present-day Pune, Maharashtra, India)
Other namesKasturba Mohandas Gandhi
Kasturba Makhanji Kapadia
Mahatma Gandhi (m. 1883)

Kasturbai "Kasturba" Mohandas Gandhi (About this sound listen  born Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia on (11 April 1869 – 22 February 1944) was an Indian political activist and the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In association with her husband, she was involved in the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India.

Early life and background[edit]

Kasturba was born the daughter of Gokuladas Kapadia and Vrajkunwerba Kapadia. The family belonged to the Modh Bania caste of Gujarati tradesmen and were based in the coastal town of Porbandar.[1] Little is known of Kasturba's early life. In May 1883, 14-year old Kasturba was married to 13-year old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in a marriage arranged by their parents, in the traditional Indian manner.[2] They were married for a total of sixty-two years.[3] Recalling the day of their marriage, her husband once said, "As we didn't know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives." However, as was prevailing tradition, the adolescent bride was to spend the first few years of marriage (until old enough to cohabit with her husband) at her parents' house, and away from her husband.[4][not in citation given]. Writing many years later, Mohandas described with regret the lustful feelings he felt for his young bride, "even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me."[5] At the beginning of their marriage, Gandhi was also possessive and manipulative; he wanted the ideal wife who would follow his command.[3]

Kasturba and Gandhi had five sons, with their eldest dying at a young age. Although the proceeding four sons survived to adulthood, Kasturba never fully recovered from the death of her first child.[6] The first two sons were born before Gandhi first went abroad. Later on, in 1906, Gandhi took a vow of chastity, or brahamacharya.[3] Some reports indicated that Kasturba felt that this opposed her role as a traditional Hindu wife.[3] However, Kasturba quickly defended her marriage when a friend suggested she was unhappy. Kasturba's relatives also insisted that the greatest good was to remain and obey her husband, the Mahatma.[3] When he left to study in London in 1888, she remained in India to raise their newborn son Harilal. The couple later had three more sons: Manilal, Ramdas, and Devdas. Kasturba's relationship with her husband can be described by the following extract from Ramachandra Guha's novel Gandhi Before India; "They had, in the emotional as well as sexual sense, always been true to one another. Perhaps because of their periodic, extended separations, Kasturba deeply cherished their time together."[7]

Political career[edit]

Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore with Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi at Santiniketan, West Bengal in 1940

Kasturba Gandhi first involved herself with politics in South Africa in 1904 when she helped her husband and others establish the Phoenix Settlement near Durban. Then in 1913, she took part in protests against the ill-treatment of Indian immigrants in South Africa, for which she was arrested. While in prison, Kasturba helped other women survive by leading them in prayer[8] referring to the prison as the temple during prayer meetings. Kasturba also referred to the women as sisters.[9] While imprisoned, Kasturba encouraged educated women to teach the uneducated women how to read and write.

[9] Kasturba and Gandhi then permanently left South Africa in July 1914 and returned to live in India. In spite of Kasturba’s chronic bronchitis, that had worsened in South Africa, she continued to take part in civil actions and protests across India that were organized by Gandhi. Moreover, she often took her husband's spot if he was in prison. The majority of her time was dedicated to helping out and serving in ashrams.[10] Here, Kasturba was referred to as "Ba" or Mother, because she served as mother of the ashrmas in India.[11] A place of contempt between Kasturba and Gandhi was the treatment of their children versus the treatment of the whole ashram. Gandhi believed that their son did not deserve special treatment, while Kasturba felt that Gandhi neglected them.[12]

In 1917, Kasturba focused on helping improve the welfare of women in Champaran, Bihar where Gandhi was working with indigo farmers. She taught women hygiene, discipline, health, reading and writing. In 1922, Kasturba participated in a Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) movement in Borsad, Gujarat. Kasturba joined the struggle even though she was in poor health, and was sentenced to hard labor on September 23, 1913.[8] However, she could not take part in Gandhi's famous Salt March in 1930, but continued to take part in many civil disobedience campaigns and marches. As a result, she was arrested and jailed on numerous occasions.[10]

In 1939, Kasturba took part in nonviolent protests against the British rule in Rajkot, after the women in the city specifically asked her to advocate for them.[10] Kasturba was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for a month. Her health worsened but Kasturba continued to fight for independence. In 1942, she was arrested again, along with Gandhi and other freedom fighters for participating in the Quit India movement. She was imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. By this time her health had severely deteriorated completely and she breathed her last at the detention camp in Pune.[6]

Kasturba considered her work above everything and Gandhi wrote about this in his biography, "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. But as my public life expanded, my wife bloomed forth and deliberately lost herself in my work."[13]

Health and death[edit]

Kasturba with Mohandas Gandhi in the 1930s
Kasturba and her husband Mohandas Gandhi, 1902
Kasturba Gandhi memorial stone (on the right) with the memorial stone of Mahadev Desai in Aga Khan Palace, Pune where she died

Kasturba suffered from chronic bronchitis due to complications at birth. Her bronchitis was complicated by pneumonia.[14] Kasturba's health later deteriorated in January 1908, as she fasted while Gandhi was in prison, becoming ill. Kasturba came so close to death that Gandhi apologized to her, and promised he would not remarry if she were to die.[8]

In January 1944, Kasturba suffered two heart attacks after which she was confined to her bed much of the time. Even there she found no respite from pain. Spells of breathlessness interfered with her sleep at night. Yearning for familiar ministrations, Kasturba asked to see an Ayurvedic doctor. After several delays (which Gandhi felt were unconscionable), the government allowed a specialist in traditional Indian medicine to treat her and prescribe treatments. At first she responded, recovering enough by the second week in February, to sit on the verandah in a wheel chair for short periods, and chat. Unfortunately, she suffered a relapse.

To those who tried to bolster her sagging morale saying "You will get better soon," Kasturba would respond, "No, my time is up". Finally, at 7:35 pm on 22 February 1944, she died at the Aga Khan Palace in Poona, aged 74.[15] The incidents of that day go like this: That morning, her youngest son Devdas came to visit her. He told her that he had brought penicillin for curing her. But, Mahatma Gandhi prevented his son from injecting the medicine. After her death, Mahatma Gandhi quoted that even if he allowed Devdas to inject the penicillin, his wife would not have survived.[citation needed] She died in the arms of her husband, who outlived her for four years before his assassination.

The Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust Fund was set up in her memory. Gandhi requested that this fund would be used to help women and children in villages in India.[16]

In popular culture[edit]

Narayan Desai wrote a play, Kasturba, based on Kasturba Gandhi. It was directed by Aditi Desai and was staged several times.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gandhi, Arun and Sunanda (1998). The Forgotten Woman. Huntsville, AR: Zark Mountain Publishers. p. 314. ISBN 1-886940-02-9.
  2. ^ Mohanty, Rekha (2011). "From Satya to Sadbhavna" (PDF). Orissa Review (January 2011): 45–49. Retrieved 23 February 2012.
  3. ^ a b c d e Tarlo, Emma. "Married to the Mahatma: The Predicament of Kasturba Gandhi". Women: A Cultural Review. 8: 264–277.
  4. ^ Gandhi (1940). Chapter "Playing the Husband".
  5. ^ Gandhi before India. Vintage Books. 4 April 2015. pp. 28–29. ISBN 978-0-385-53230-3.
  6. ^ a b Gandhi, Arun (14 October 2000). Kasturba: A Life. Penguin UK. Retrieved 3 November 2016.
  7. ^ Guha, Ramachandra (15 October 2014). Gandhi Before India. Penguin UK. Retrieved 2 November 2016.
  8. ^ a b c Hiralal, Kalpana. "Rethinking Gender and Agency in the Satyagraha Movement of 1913". Journal of Social Sciences. 25: 94–101.
  9. ^ a b Kapadia, Sita. "Windfall: Tribal Women Come Through". Women's Studies Quarterly. 17(3/4): 140–149. JSTOR 40003104.
  10. ^ a b c Routray, Bibhu Prasad. "Kasturba Gandhi: Indian Political Activist". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  11. ^ Banerjee, Mita. "Kasturba Gandhi Strength of a Woman." Alive 02 2013: 32-4. ProQuest. Web. 27 Sep. 2017
  12. ^ Lal, Vinay. "Manas: History and Politics, Kasturba Gandhi".
  13. ^ Gandhi, Mohandas Karamchand. My Experiments With Truth: An Autobiography. Jaico Publishing House.
  14. ^ "Birth Anniversary of Kasturba Mohandas Gandhi". english.dcbooks.com. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  15. ^ "Death Takes Gandhi's Wife". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 23 February 1944. p. 2. Retrieved 18 May 2017.
  16. ^ Bhatt, Neela. "The Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust: Plan, Development and Programme of the First nation-Wide Movement of its Kind for Dealing with the Problem of Women and Children in Rural India". Indian Journal of Social Work. 10: 94–101.
  17. ^ "Ahemdabad-based theatre group to perform KASTURBA in Mumbai... Penned by veteran Gandhian Narayan Desai... : www.MumbaiTheatreGuide.com". mumbaitheatreguide.com. 2013-05-16. Retrieved 2017-11-17.

Further reading[edit]

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