special to the tribune
Written in 1935, they ‘reveal’ his eldest son Harilal as alcoholic and a child molester
shyam bhatia in london
Disclosures that threaten to blacken the reputation of members of Mahatma Gandhi's immediate family are due to be made public later this month in the UK.
These are contained in three letters written by Gandhiji to his oldest son, Harilal, who died of liver failure in 1948, and who is revealed as a debauched alcoholic, child molester and possible rapist of his own daughter, Manu.
Harilal was one of Gandhiji's four sons. The others were Manilal — who stayed behind in South Africa — Ramdas and Devdas.
One letter from Gandhiji also refers to Harilal's 'illicit' relations with his dead wife's sister, Bali. "According to Anandlal, Bali was suffering from syphilis, then how can you escape it?" Gandhiji writes to his son.
All these never-before-seen letters hand written in Gujarati in Gandhiji's own hand and sent from Vardha near Nagpur in June 1935 have been authenticated by a leading Gandhian scholar, Professor Tridip Suhrud, current director of the Sabarmati Ashram Preservation Memorial Trust.
Professor Suhrud, who describes the content of the letters as "disturbing", is a recipient of a Sahitya Akademi Award for his translation of "Harilal Gandhi: A Life."
The most controversial content of one letter sent on June 19, 1935, starts: "Chi (long live) Harilal" before going on to talk about the arrival in Vardha of Harilal's 16-year-old daughter (and Gandhiji's grand daughter) Manu.
In a translation from Gujarati provided to The Tribune Gandhiji writes, "Manu is telling me a number of dangerous things about you. She says that you had raped her before eight years and she was so much hurt that medical treatment was also to be taken. She permits anyone to ask about this incident. I am getting more and more pained by this."
At the end of this same letter Gandhiji goes on to say, "I would wish that you better die than resort to alcohol in any manner. May God save you from lack of peace. Bapu's blessing, Vardha, 19-6-1935."
In a separate, second letter, Gandhiji again addresses the issue of his son's alcoholism, saying, "Please let me have pure truth, please tell me if you are still interested in alcohol and debauchery."
Harilal's troubled life and tense relationship with his father have been well documented. He was born in 1888 and hoped to go to England to qualify as a barrister, but this was opposed by his father.
Suhrud accepts the possibility that Harilal physically assaulted Manu, and there is a reference to that in Harilal's biography, but whether Manu was actually raped by her father is open to interpretation because of Gandhiji's use of the word 'balatkar'.
"The word 'balatkar' means rape, but in Gujarati it also means 'use for force' ", explains Suhrud. "So I'm not trying to defend, I'm just saying there is the possibility of a different kind of usage."
Asked to comment on the contents of Gandhiji's letters, Suhrud told The Tribune: "They were written at the most disturbed time in Harilal's life. He had gone through conversion to Islam, a re-conversion to Hinduism and he had been working as a Vedic missionary for the Arya Samaj. So in his own personal life this is perhaps the most traumatic period. Also a time when his son Kanti is growing up and aspiring to become a doctor, but doesn't become a doctor."
What letters say