September 18, 2006

Delineating Gandhi Influence in Forming India – A Case in Gender Studies

I have posted on this blog two posts directly referring to the place of Gandhi in Indian History. I have written an essay titled "Why Was Gandhi not Given Noble Prize" and then other one titled, "Need of Rewriting the Gandhi Era".

My main argument is that there is need of rewriting the Indian history. Somewhere, J Mills model has taken hold of the interpretation of Indian history which was later molded for the benefit of the group which took over the reigns of the government after the independence of India. The three stages of Indian History as described by J Mills History of India did not go away even after adopting the new nomenclature of Ancient, Medieval and Modern. The idea of nationalism, right and left wing groups, the Marxist, then Lenin, Gramasci and followed by Economic history interpretations thrown in, the overall shape of the history as it has emerged in present day India, is not serving the country called Republic of India. It becomes really a bad episode with highly ominous ramifications when one socio-political group that latter emerged as a strong sect followed by their claim to be a separate religion is termed as a terrorist organisation in the books by NCERT (A typical case of faulty interpretation wherein twenty century concepts were imported to seventeenth century.). The cause of such stupefying acts is that somewhere we need a fresh interpretation of Indian History because there is no such interpretation which was meant for the people of India. It should not be called rewriting. Rather it will be the first attempt in writing the history of India.

Anyhow, I am here with a small noting on the role of Gandhi in defining the role of a group in the life of India borrowed from a book written on that very group or the section of the Indian society. However, I am afraid, that such comments, wherein in the word "Gandhi" is appearing again and again may not be taken as Gandhi Bashing. That is definitely not the aim of all such writings. The main theme is that India should look at the records of her past now, that is, after getting independence in 1947 when she has established herself a nation with a reckoning. Now, this should also not be taken as a revisionist history. For me, there is no question of revisionist history because the history of India as being in existence today was never written for the Indians. The theory of history with which India has preserved her past was rejected because the history based on the function of time and space was based on definition of history brought by western schools. I am not against the western schools. I am rather bred and taught as per the guidelines of the western schools of history. For me that was a new learning. It was that learning that told me that there exists another theory also by which the history can be recorded. In addition to that, if we have to write history as per the western schools of history, then it is not there at all.

In short, I am definitely not indulging in Gandhi Bashing. No. Not at all.

I propose that the Indian history has to be written and the history of India as it exists today is what has been written by non-Indians for a particular period and with a particular purpose. It was not written with the purpose of writing history of India for the subject History.

British authors had written history of America for the understanding of the people of Britain. But the Americans had written history of America for the Americans. If that makes my point clear, then I continue with purpose with which I am writing this post.

The main theme of this post is an observation by Geraldine Forbes on the role of Gandhi in defining the Women participation in Indian history in her book ‘Women in Modern India'.

The relevant lines has been taken from her book titled ‘Women in Modern India'

The lines are as follows.

" …, Women began asking for their rights before they were brought into the nationalist agitation. The women involved in the women’s movement justified their new roles with the ideology of social feminism, that, they tied their arguments about women’s right to women’s obligation to perform traditional roles and serve the needs of the family. Although conventional wisdom credits Gandhi with bringing women into public life, I would argue that they were already there. Gandhi gave them a blueprint for action. Equally important, Gandhi assured their husbands and gathers that these politically active women would not rebel against the family."

Well, first of all, the fact which is emphasised here is that women had already defined their role in relation to political power even before Gandhi had given his "blueprint" to them. This is not evaluated in Indian history. The author of the book has already written about the problem of getting the material for the women in India whereas there were enough evidences that the Indian women had been influenced by the social policy of British company and then the Crown. She has differentiated between the aim of the British policies and the role which the women played in the colonial milieu. One has to just remember the name of Rani Lakshmi Bai and then recollect the role of different women before 1919. The only problem is that their role has not been studied and also due to patriarchal social setup, the desired sources are not available. It can be best explained by a case of Raja Rammohan Rai and his legal battle with his mother Tarini Devi.

The second important point which has been emphasised is that it is a conventional wisdom that it was Gandhi who brought the women in the nationalist movement. The author has proved in her book, that this role of Gandhi, which is already an established fact, requires right wordings to describe it because the participation of women before Gandhi is also a fact.

As far as the view of the historian on the role of Gandhi in convincing the patriarchal leaders of the society is concerned, the author has explained it in the book but there is need to evaluate it further. I will just refer to an incidence from the Rani Jhansi. When she was faced by controversy over the issue of legal heir with her in-laws on one hand and the Britishers on the other, she had declared that "Mein Jhansi Nahin Doongee". There is no doubt, that there was strong control of the male members on the Indian women. There were social restrictions which could never be broken by a common woman. But this is one side of the story. The fact is that it is not only the male mind set which has to be changed while researching in sphere of gender studies, even the mind set of the women researchers also requires a reformatting of their mind set so that they can rightly evaluate the role of other different women. No doubt, the problem is big because there is lack of right historic sources, which increases this problem. But on the whole, we have to break some of the conventional wisdom which now we are carrying about the Indian history.


  1. Anonymous4:46 PM

    I am also from Jhansi and felt really proud when went through this article… this is an absolutely fantastic article… I have posted it at To help others know about it as well

  2. Thanks for the kind words and recommendation.

    You may find me at India Happening in coming days.

  3. Sumir, I enjoy reading your posts from time to time. I'll admit the history of your country is not one of the areas I'm well versed in, but I do find it very interesting.

    Thanks for your kind words over at World History blog regarding my mention in the USA Today article. I appreciate the "cute" comment, however, I still plan to remain Elementaryhistoryteacher. I've gotten used to it and kind of like it.

  4. Dear Elementary History Teacher,
    I am here in response to your observation while commenting on my observation about your blogging activities as reported in USA Today, where you had said, “I'll admit the history of your country is not one of the areas I'm well versed in, but I do find it very interesting.”

    Well, I can a write an elaborate essay on it but here only a small provocation to study the history of India. There are many parallel happenings between the histories of America and India.

    When American spirit yelled out a war cry “No Taxation Without Representation” and separated herself from Britain, Britain was trying to adjust its Regulating Act in India. When Britain accepted America as an American Nation, She gave India Pitts India Act. When America was trying to correct its revenue problem under Hamilton, Cornwallis gave Permanent Settlement to India. When America was buying Louisiana, Britain was watching North West frontiers in India with a great concern. When America fought Madison War with Britain, India’s last hope, the Marathas, were succumbing to British forces. When Americans were about to start the Civil War, India revolted in 1857. Hey, was there in any connection between Britain not supporting Confederation as it was already terrified by her Indian experience? Do you know about any such study? Has any one, in your knowledge, studied this angle in American history? I think, I should put this comment on the blogs of Civil War Historians and bloggers. No doubt, it was American Civil War, which forced Britain to seek raw material in form of cotton in India. It was the period, in which three major industries started in India because Britain was still watching America. After that, America secluded herself from Europe and Britain became busy in managing her colonies in Asia and Africa. I can continue up to 1947. However, I know it will amuse you but I also hope that it will prod you to study the history of India.



Contact Form


Email *

Message *