Who was Kasturba Gandhi?
Kasturba Gandhi was the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Mahatama Gandhi), a famous leader of Indian independence movement, who through his association became a political activist in her own right. Even though well-known for being the wife of a very famous man, Kasturba was herself a selfless patriot who relentlessly campaigned for civil rights and independence of India from the British rule. Married to Gandhi at a very young age, she soon had to fulfill the responsibilities of motherhood as well after giving birth to four sons in quick succession. She was a very hard working woman, completely devoted to her husband and children. She had to live away from her husband for long periods of time due to his political activities and handled all her domestic responsibilities in a remarkable way. Eventually she too was influenced by her husband’s ideals and plunged into political activism herself. She traveled to South Africa with her husband and became active in the Phoenix Settlement.; she also protested against the working conditions for Indians in South Africa. She was even imprisoned as a result of her activism yet she never gave up on her beliefs. By working along with her husband she inspired the womenfolk in India to join the Indian independence movement and encouraged other women to volunteer for socio-political causes.
Childhood & Early Life
Kasturba was born on April 11, 1869, in Porbandar, to Gokuldas Makanji, a merchant, and his wife Vrajkunwerba Kapadia. Not much is known about her early life except for a few basic facts.
Her father was a friend of Karamchand Gandhi, the father of Mohandas Gandhi. Both the men decided to get their children married in order to bring their families closer.
Child marriage was a commonly practiced custom in 19th century India and thus the marriage of Kasturba was fixed with Mohandas, and the children were betrothed to each other when they were seven years old.
The young couple got married in 1882 and started living together as husband and wife. Initially they got to know each other as friends and played together before they became mature and realized the actual implications of married life.
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Kasturba was illiterate at the time of her marriage and Mohandas took it upon himself to educate her. He painstakingly taught her the alphabets, and taught her to write. But she could not learn much because of her domestic responsibilities and also because she did not share her husband’s enthusiasm for education.
With time their relationship evolved and soon she gave birth to her first son, Harilal, in 1888. When Mohandas left India to study in London, she could not accompany him as she had to stay back to raise their son.
Over the next few years she remained deeply involved in familial chores and gave birth to two more sons: Manilal in 1892 and Ramdas in 1897.
Her husband meanwhile was gaining in fame due to his political activism. She too worked closely with her husband and accompanied him to South Africa when he went there to practice law in 1897. She gave birth to the couple’s fourth son, Devadas, in 1900.
Since Mohandas was busy in political activism, he was unable to give their sons much of his time. So a major portion of the great responsibility of raising the sons also fell upon the young mother’s shoulders.
By this time she too was actively involved in socio-political issues, but in spite of this fact, she tried her best to be a caring mother to her four sons.
Mohandas took the oath of celibacy and chastity in 1906. Kasturba who had always wholeheartedly supported her husband agreed to this and the couple never had any sexual relations henceforth.
She became passionately involved in activism in the Phoenix Settlement near Durban during the 1910s. She participated in the 1913 protest against working conditions for Indians in South Africa and was arrested and sentenced to three months in a hard labor prison.
Mohandas returned to India in 1915 to support Indian independence movement and ever the supportive wife, she accompanied him back to India. She also became involved in social service and taught reading, writing, health and hygiene.
As her husband became more deeply involved in political causes and protest, she joined him and became his pillar of support. Her involvement in national and social causes motivated other women to join the socio-political movements that were gaining momentum in India.
Due to her political activism and because of her association with Mohandas Gandhi, she became a very popular figure in India and people respectfully addressed her as “Ba”.
Over the course of her activism she was arrested many times, but nothing could deter her indomitable spirit. During her later years she began suffering from ill-health yet she continued to support her husband until her last breath.
Personal Life & legacy
She had been married to Mohandas Gandhi for over six decades, yet only a few details about their marriage are known to the world. Even though a remarkable woman with an independent streak, her works were always overshadowed by those of her more famous husband’s.
She suffered from two heart attacks in January 1944 and never recovered fully. She died on 22 February 1944, in the arms of her husband.