Journal Article

Rethinking Gandhi's Celibacy: Ascetic Power and Women's Empowerment

Veena R. Howard

in Journal of the American Academy of Religion

Published on behalf of American Academy of Religion

Volume 81, issue 1, pages 130-161
Published in print March 2013 | ISSN: 0002-7189
Published online January 2013 | e-ISSN: 1477-4585 | DOI:
Rethinking Gandhi's Celibacy: Ascetic Power and Women's Empowerment

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Scholars question Mohandas Gandhi's highly idiosyncratic practice of brahmacarya (celibacy) and his inclusion of women in his tradition-breaking “experiments.” However, there exists no study that examines his methods as they relate particularly to Indian women's concerns. For Gandhi, brahmacarya was not merely sexual restraint, but comprehensive sense-control, which he believed was the source of moral power essential to addressing sensitive gender issues and serving the cause of women's emancipation. This article examines Gandhi's self-representation and public performance on its own terms, charting the evolution of his efforts to abolish customs oppressive to women, including child-marriage, subjugation to husbands, widowhood stigmas, gender inequality, and purdah (sex segregation). It analyzes Gandhi's creative use of celibacy and his authority as a mahātmā to reinterpret religious norms and confront unjust social and religious conventions relegating women to lower status. Through his efforts he exhorted women to embrace their feminine power, a power actually authorized by their own religious traditions.

Journal Article.  12441 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies

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