In his old age Mahatma Gandhi used to sleep together with young women
The facts are that after his wife, Kasturba, died in 1944, Mahatma Gandhi began the habit of sharing his bed with naked young women: his personal doctor, Sushila Nayar, and his grandnieces Abha and Manu, who were then in their late teens and about 60 years younger than him.
Gandhi hadn’t had a sexual relationship with a woman for 40 years. His conscious purpose in inviting naked women to share his bed was – to avoid having sex with them. They were there as a temptation: if he wasn’t aroused by their presence, he could be reassured he’d achieved celibate self-control.
According to Gandhi, a person who had such control was “one who never has any lustful intention, who by constant attendance upon God has become proof against conscious or unconscious emissions, who is capable of lying naked with naked women, however beautiful they may be, without being in any manner sexually excited”. Such a person, Gandhi wrote, would be incapable of lying or harming anyone.
Why was this so important to Gandhi at that time? Because he believed that the Hindu-Muslim violence then sweeping India had some connection to his own failings. He had come round to the view, that the violence around him was in part a product or consequence of the imperfections within him.
And those imperfections, which he scrupulously recorded, included the “nocturnal emissions” (wet dreams) that spoiled a record of celibate living and which led each time to bouts of self-disgust. He had an almost magical belief in the power of semen: “One who conserves his vital fluid acquires unfailing power,” he said.
He believed sex existed only to procreate and never to enjoy. Lust was the enemy; that lesson was learned when, as a married 16-year-old, he had left his sick father’s bedside to be with his wife and, as they made love, his father had died. As to any unconscious motivation for bed-sharing, who knows?
His behaviour in the winter of 1946-47 shocked many of his followers. At least two of his helpers, his stenographer and his Bengali translator, quit his service in protest when they discovered that he was sleeping with 19-year-old Manu. The Indian press stayed silent.
Gandhi kept his “experiment” with Manu reasonably private – behaviour that he later regretted because it violated the principle that the seeker after truth must keep nothing hidden.
No evidence suggests the young women themselves bore Gandhi any ill will. Gandhi often liked to say he was half a woman: in the words of another historian, Vinay Lal, “it is almost plausible to speak of Gandhi’s vulva envy”. He liked to play with sexual boundaries.
While it was commonly discussed as damaging his reputation when he was alive, Gandhi’s sexual behaviour was ignored for a long time after his death. The preservation of his vital fluid did not keep India intact, and it was the power-brokers of the Congress Party who negotiated the terms of India’s freedom.