Mohandas Gandhi by Ellen Hørup

Selected writing about Mohandas Gandhi, written by the Danish journalist Ellen Hørup (1871-1953). She visited Gandhi and worked for him in the late 1920s. (An introduction to Ellen Hørups writing is here.) See also: Mohandas Gandhi and Nordic countries

By Holger Terp

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"In Gandhis magazine "Young India" from 1929 there is an article entitled "The Hindu Wife", where he is asked for advice regarding a woman married to a man who treats her meanly. But Gandhi is against separation. What women need is education and upbringing. But when a man ties a women to a pole to make her look at his outrageousness, then I don't understand that the women is the one who needs education. Gandhi declared that she should go back home and find a job. But she has never learned anything, and possibly her parents are so poor, that they can't take her back. Does Gandhi know the words of the Chinese mother to her daughter, who, driven to the uttermost despair, runs from her husband back to her mother, who exclaims: "What do you come here for? Don't you know I can't help you, or have you forgotten the way to the river?"
But Gandhi is against separation. And even if the parents took her back, then she is, according to Hindu law, segregated from anything resembling normal life. She is not even seen as a widow. Instead the women has to suffer and do without a normal life. Why? Is it justice that she is going to be punished because her parents gave her to a bestial man?
In one of the last numbers of "Harijan", Gandhi discusses birth control with an English advocate of the cause. Gandhi is against it. He too doesn't want children before India has been liberated. But he demands abstinence. Only when the intention is to create new life is intercourse ethical. If two persons do it only for the sake of the enjoyment, then they are, instead of being near the divine, near the devilish. Is this not the unnatural teaching of Asceticism, which all healthy people, including the scientists, have long ago abandoned as dangerous?
Gandhi says that women are stronger than men. When a woman would rather die than give in, the worst beast can't make her do something against her will. But when the English woman then asks what a poor woman should do when her husband takes another wife, Gandhi answers that the English woman is changing the subject. Are there no poor women? Has Gandhi forgotten the girl-child married away in the age of 12 to 14? Is she not the one who has to fight for her life in order to escape pregnancy every time her husband wants her, and who no beast of a man can overcome? Has Gandhi no idea that a woman has the same need for devotion as a man, and suffers the same trouble of jealousy as Gandhi himself did when he was at school knowing that his wife was visiting her friends?"


"Gandhi enters the great and admirable fight for the untouchables. He fasts for their right to get into the temples for which he is subject to attempted assassinations, and he gets the entire priesthood on his back. Gandhi has declared that there is no such thing as an untouchable in the holy writings, and even if there was, it would conflict with all humanity and therefore not could be divine truth. Everybody enthusiastically follows him on his Harijan-tour. But the untouchable is a by-product of the caste system, and Gandhi fights for the untouchable but wishes to keep the caste system. As if we don't have enough with fighting the caste system, which, based on differences in money, education, work and sex, is the stain on the world human society. Gandhi wants to keep only the four main castes, and he would not allow one caste to be regarded as lesser than another. How shall he gain that end in a country where the haughtiness of the highest castes is so great that one is defiled if but the shadow of an untouchable falls upon one? How can Gandhi believe that he can do away with the caste system itself? Does Gandhi's fight for the untouchable amount to anything more than the rattling of the prison bars of the caste system which also breed the casteless? Why can't he take the next step? Of course, Gandhi is not afraid of the anger from those who, in his opinion, do wrong. And he won't be the first to break away from that tradition. There are two reform movements in India which have abolished both the caste system and the idols of the Gods. They are the Bramo-Samaj and the Arya-Samaj."


"And so Gandhi goes out to the villages, to his hungry milions, with their illiteracy and their superstitions, their indebtedness and their slave mentality. What will he teach them, how will he help them? He wants to teach the physiology of nutriton, hygiene and handicrafts. This is fine. If they eat their rice whole, press their own oil, and spin and weave their own clothes, then they will be better fed and they will save a little money for their clothing. If in five to six months they work 11 hours per day, they can earn 13 annas which is the wage the Zamindars pay. (1) Because the villagers' requirements are at an absolute minimum in the first place, having food or starving could be one and the same thing. The situation in the Indian villages is much like the age of villenage in our own country even worse. Extreme pressure comes from taxation forced upon them by a foreign power - taxes from which they receive nothing back. Not a well, not a road, not a school, not a hospital nor a doctor. They have only the option of going to the money-lenders as soon as they can't pay the taxes. And the English even collect taxes in so called hunger-districts. Misused by the money-lenders who take up to 200 % interest, the peasants are forced to go to the zamindars to sell their future labour in order to keep their land. Each year, getting nearer the abyss, they are forced to sell their grain as soon as it is ready for harvest. Of couse, the buyers use the peasants' privation in order to lower the prices. When the harvest is over, the price may be raised so the buyer takes the revenue that could have helped the peasants if he could have waited".
"Gandhi says that he is out doing purely social work. If he is, I cannot agree with him. What he can do could only help a neglible number of people. And this is no way for the peasants of India to gain a human existence. What they really need is political education, organization and self-confidence to make them capable of raising a determined resistance against their oppressors. No demands are more justified than theirs, but nothing can gain them their justice before they understand they already have a right to it".
"Gandhi does not teach them that. He brings them the gospel of moderation and resignation which in his views is the road to human satisfaction. When the masses are not starving, then the money-lenders, the zamindars and the capitalists will take what they have left. Poverty doesn't bring satisfaction. The possibility for satisfaction is within each human being, but nobody has the right to let others suffer from need. Gandhi doesn't preach revolt against all those who oppress the peasants. He wants to teach them instead to get a little more out of what they already have, to earn something in the dry season by hand-labour, even though it is very little because they haven't another choice". (2)
"But is this not the same gospel which all the churches and priests of all religions, in union with the rulers and the capitalists, have preached from the beginning of time? And is it not just this that all the advocates of the rights of the masses are fighting to destroy; the teaching of moderation and resignation to those who all their lives have been nothing but moderate and resigned, with reference to the glory of the next life? While those who have plenty in this life couldn't imagine exchanging it for the hereafter".
"Gandhi also brings God. But he also brings his own teaching, because he believes that it is the road to satisfaction - which it is. For him. This is the difference between Gandhi and other churches and their servants. Gandhi thinks that it is he who is exploiting the capitalists because they give funds for his work in the villages. He doesn't realise that they are the ones who use him to keep the peasants' dissatisfaction down and to support the spirit of fatalism and despair which encourages them to run after the carriges of the zamindars bowing and thanking him for keeping them alive; just as in other countries villeinage peasants like the Danish "Jeppe on the Mount" (famous play by the playright Ludvig Holberg), or the Russians who called their landlord 'father'".


"What is Gandhi's opinion on the workers' struggle? Gandhi does not want a class struggle. Capitalists and workers should be good neighbours and co-operate. Work is capital too! As soon as the workers are properly educated and organized, no capital, no matter how big it is, can overcome them. Yet Gandhi himself leads strikes, and this is class struggle. Unions and strikes are the workers' weapon in the class struggle. Gandhi doesn't want India to become industrialized. He would rather avoid the creation of a workers' proletariat. But this is in opposition to the interest of the Indian workers. What has driven the Indian workers into their present misery is, first and foremost, unemployment. The English took the raw materials of India, which she until then had prepared herself, made a living for the English workers by producing the final goods, and then forced the Indians to buy from them. The sooner India gets an industry the better, so the country can produce its own goods. Thereby, the manufacturers' money will stay in the country and more Indians will be employed, plus a big labour organization will be a strong weapon in the fight for proper wages".


"Gandhi is not fit to be a politican. The political game is played with the same rules as in war. The result of the fight is partly due to the strength of the two forces and partly due to their ability to judge the enemy. In the First World War thousands of human lives were sacrificed because of poor calculations of the strength of the enemy. And most important in war and politics is to attack at the right moment, to use the chances when they are there and to avoid falling into an ambush.
A personality like Gandhi's is not fit for the war called politics. He is an idealist, a visionary. The line he follows is not a political one. He does not unchangeably strive toward pre-selected and pre-determinated goals. He lacks a definite goal. He says, 'The final goal we know nothing about, but the means we are masters of ourselves.' The line Mahatma Gandhi is following has gone through many changes, influenced by too many religious, moral and ethical considerations. There is something accidental, capricious, about the policy of the Congres, resulting in adverse effects upon its relationship with the British goverment.
This is clearly shown by the incidents of 1922. Gandhi had promised the country independence before the year had passed. When it didn't come Gandhi decided to begin a no-tax campaign. The whole country prepared feverishly for the struggle. Gandhi addressed the ultimatum to the British viceroy. The wave of ecstacy reached a peak. But before the answer from the viceroy came, an accident happened which overthrew the whole thing. Some peasants, angered by the brutality of the police, set fire to a police station and killed some constables in Chauri-Chaura. Gandhi, terribly shaken and disappointed by this isolated incident of lack of self-control, stopped the movement throughout the entire country. The other leaders were outraged. And there was a revolt inside the Congress. But the moment had passed. The chance lost. Gandhi sacrified the political for the ethical.
One example of how he understands how to unite both parts in an effective and dramatic way is his departure from the Congress. He left because he felt like a dictator who forced others to follow him against their consciousness. This move was an admission of the fact that there was an oposition against him and his leadership. Pierre Ceresole said that Gandhi hoped that the Congress Party, liberated from the pressure of his personal presence, would more easily find the right way in the right spirit. He left in order to give the opposition open opportunities. A politician could never act more ethically. Even so, Gandhi did not forget the political aspects.
Before he left, he excluded all opposition members from the working group of the Congress Party. He wanted the working group united. And he made it a personal referendum. He then departed, leaving a leadership consisting only of his own followers, people who would do nothing without him - who admired him as a human being and followed him as a prophet. It is impossible to conclude other than Gandhi left the Congress in order to strengthen his influence in the country and at the same to secure his power within the Congress. Certainly, he couldn't have acted more politically at that moment. And seldom, if ever, has a single man had as many followers as Gandhi."
(Read introduction to Ellen Hørups writings about Gandhi here.)


  1. (Return to text) Native landholders who collected land tax for the British.
  2. (Return to text) The following quote is an example of the average contemporary analyses of Gandhi's suggestions for ending poverty and unemployment, offered here as a contrast to Ellen Hørup's analysis."
    When asked what measures he would suggest for this great work of filling the empty stomachs of the people, Dr. Mann said that much could be done by the people themselves. They must put themselves to work, for no country could ever hope to be prosperous if the majority of its population were idle for six months of the year.
    The people must be given some work, no matter how small the income derived therefrom, during the dry season, and Dr. Mann said that no matter in what other way Mr. Gandhi had gone astray, he had penetrated into the secret of the poverty of India when he had advocated the spinning wheel, no matter if it would only produce a few annas a day". (Richard B. Greigg: Economies af Khaddar. Calcutta. 1928. S. Danesen. pp. 107).
Read introduction to Ellen Hørups writings about Gandhi here.

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