In 1947, Gandhi received a letter from a young man who had decided to leave his ashram. “I object to your practice of sleeping in the same bed with members of the opposite sex,” the man wrote. “Apart from the question of any effect on you, what about the effect on the girls?” It was a good question, and the letter also talks about the effects it did seem to have on the girls. “[The] Punjabi girl who lived opposite my room… She used to weep unrestrainedly. And then there’s Sushila-ben… how many are the days when she has not wept?”
From a modern point of view, it seems less like Gandhi was conducting spiritual experiments and more like he was exploiting young women who looked up to him to satisfy his sexual desires. Sushila Nayar, who was one of the earliest followers to share Gandhi’s bed, reported that this was probably the case. As she said following Gandhi’s death it was only, “Later on, when people started asking questions about the physical contact with women…the idea of experiments was developed… in the early days, there was no question of calling it an experiment.”
There’s little question that Gandhi kept up these “experiments” in the face of objections from many people around him. But even when people told him how much he was hurting his image as a leader of India, and hurting the women around him, he couldn’t seem to stop. In fact, the objections seem to have had the opposite effect on him. In a way, that makes sense. He was telling the world that these were spiritual experiments. If he stopped, he was admitting that his motivation was less pure. As Gandhi said, “If I don’t let Manu sleep with me, though I regard it as essential that she should, wouldn’t that be a sign of weakness in me?”
Even at the time, if they had been public information, they would have seriously damaged his image as “Father of the Nation.” Gandhi and the people around him seem to have understood that. That explains why, following Gandhi’s death in 1948, some of Gandhi’s family members made a serious effort to keep the experiments out of the public eye. Manu reported that Gandhi’s son Devdas approached her after Gandhi’s death and told her she should keep the diary she kept of the time she spent with Gandhi to herself.
The effort to cover up Gandhi’s activity makes it clear that even those closest to him understood that what he was doing was fundamentally wrong. Or at least, they show that they understood that most people would have felt that way. But the cover-up was certainly effective. Even today, few people are aware of Gandhi’s strange experiments or the toll it took on the women around him. But the evidence we have available now paints a more complicated picture of Gandhi than simply a living saint. And it makes it clear that Gandhi’s public vow of chastity always had a secret, darker side.
Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources: