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The Library Of The Sabarmati Ashram

Good Essays
While working in the archives of the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, I came across a fascinating letter to MK Gandhi sent by 11 young women of Calcutta. The letter was undated, but it appeared to have been written in January, 1939. It was addressed to “Most revered Mahatmaji”, and was signed individually by the 11 women, all Hindus by their names. The letter was written in protest against an essay written by Gandhi for his journal, Harijan. Gandhi’s article, said these women, was “not very inspiring”, since it seemed to “put the whole slur upon the injured female who suffers most due to the malevolent social custom”.

The letter (to whose arguments I shall presently return) intrigued me, so I set off to locate the original article by Gandhi
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Gratuitous attack
In between acknowledging the problem and offering solutions, Gandhi spoilt his case by launching an unprovoked attack on the dress code of the modern woman. For all the evil that males did, he remarked, “I have a fear that the modern girl loves to be Juliet to half a dozen Romeos. She loves adventure. My correspondent seems to represent the unusual type. The modern girl dresses not to protect herself from wind, rain and sun but to attract attention. She improves upon nature by painting herself and looking extraordinary. The non-violent way is not for such girls.”

It was to this gratuitous advice, this patriarchal preconception of how women must dress, that the young women of Bengal responded. “Some may find modern girls’ dresses and deportments a bit different than they wish them to be,” said these women to Gandhi, “but to brand them as exhibitionistic generally is a positive insult to her sex as a whole. Strength of character and chaste behaviour are necessary not only for modern girls but for men as well. There may be a few girls playing Juliets to a dozen Romeos. But such cases presuppose the existence of half a dozen Romeos, moving around the streets in quest of a Juliet, thereby pointing out where the proper correction lies.”

These 11 young women of Calcutta spiritedly defended the woman’s right to
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