Monday, 30 November 2015

Laxmi, Mahatma Gandhi’s daughter, albeit adopted

It was only when I read Mahadevbhai’s diaries that I came across references to Gandhiji’s adopted daughter, Laxmi. Ever since then, I have been curious about Laxmi and her life, not just as an academic but also as a woman. 

Being Gandhiji’s adopted daughter and having been brought up in the Gandhi ashram, her life would certainly not have been easy. Dudabhai and Daniben along with Laxmi, their daughter were the first Dalit family to join Gandhiji’s ashram in the year 1915 at Kochrab, Gujarat. [1] As a Dalit family they faced much hostility from both within and outside the ashram. Naturally it must have been very difficult for the young Laxmi to adapt to the ashram life. Therefore many questions come to my mind. How did Laxmi’s life span out eventually? Has she written anything about her experience of being Gandhiji’s adopted daughter or about her life in the Gandhi ashram? Where are her family members today?

Gandhiji's Ashram at Kochrab, Ahmedabad. Photo Source:

While there is substantial material available on other experiments of Gandhiji like satyagraha, naturopathy, brahmacharya, fasts, I have not found much material on Laxmi and her life in the ashram as Gandhiji’s adopted daughter and later.

The reason why I write on this subject now, or the timing of this post is right now because I recently read an article by Gandhiji’s grandson, Gopalkrishna Gandhi in Indian Express dated 17 Nov 2015, titled: True successors of Gandhi – Nehru.[2] I found this article interesting also because he writes as follows: “If Gandhi had had a daughter — just one — in addition to his four sons and Nehru a son — just one — in addition to his daughter, would those two men have been any different? I cannot say they would have been but certainly, life around would have been different, very different.”

Kasturba Gandhi with her four sons. I have not been able to locate a photograph of Laxmi. Photo source:


On reading this,  I was reminded of Laxmi, referred to in Mahadevbhai's diaries as Gandhiji’s adopted daughter. I also thought it would be interesting to share these references from the diaries with a wider readership, particularly against the backdrop of the article by Gopalkrishna Gandhi. Some excerpts from Mahadevbhai’s diaries here,  translated from Gujarati by me:

1. Volume 5, Year 1919 to 1921: [Gandhiji:] “ After having opened the satyagraha ashram in Ahmedabad, I had an antyaj ( belonging to the so called untouchable community) person Dudabhai and his wife stay at the ashram...the same Dudabhai’s daughter Laxmi moves about in my house like Laxmi (the Goddess) today...”
2. Volume 7, Year 1924 to1925: [Mahadevbhai:] ‘Botad- ... Botad is also Dudhabhai’s village and so Gandhiji was keen to go there first. After having spent considerable time at the satyagraha ashram, Dudabhai is running a school for the antyaj in Botad. From a very small school he has turned it into a school with ninety children. The meeting of the school was naturally at the Dhedhwada (Dalit locality). The children sang very nice bhajans and got prizes of khadi. Some people from the village were present but it is being said that Brahmins and some sanatani Hindus had boycotted the arrival of Gandhiji. 

'Gandhiji said, “...Do you know why I have come to Botad? I have come as Dudabhai has invited me. His daughter Laxmi, lives with me. She has been adopted by me. You all take her examination. Do see if she has improved after coming to the ashram or has she been spoilt. I don’t say that all the good qualities have been imbibed by Laxmi but you all can see how living together has influenced her. And I hope Laxmi will pass...

"I have heard that the brahmins of Botad have resolved that no Hindus come to this meeting...I can see that reasonably good number of people have come...We do not wish to do anything by creating poison...we are not having a dispute with the brahmins or anyone being boycotted, your religion is being tested, you are being tested for the extent of faith you have in God. I follow one main path. One must walk in this world with the head bowed to all- not because we are sacred of anyone but because everyone should be respected...

“But you lack in cleanliness. You must take the example of Laxmi and see if she remains clean or not- both from within and outside. At dawn daily, you should pray to lord Ram that the way in which I clean my body, do clean the dirt within me ...You cannot say at all that, “What is it to others no matter how much addiction  we may have or drunk we may be?”

“Let more students get admitted here and let Dudabhai live long. And in that blessing I hope that all of you become good with the touch of Dudabhai. Prahlad suffered a lot but he was never angry at those who gave him sorrow. You all must understand that by doing your duty you have won the world...”

[Mahadevbhai:]‘The boycott of sanatani was only momentary. Because no sooner had Gandhiji visited Dhedhvada (Dalit Basti), that he was taken to the village and there was big festivity at the Darbargadh (Palace). There Gandhiji said, “...Untouchability is a sin...and so long as we do not remove untouchability Hindustan will not progress...Dudabhai prays to God, he teaches children. To believe he is an untouchable is a sin...”

3. Volume 8, Year 1925: 1-11-25 Gandhiji said: “...I told my wife (Kasturba), if my and your religions are different then it is appropriate to build and live in separate huts, but you cannot force me to not keep Laxmi with me, and I too cannot force you to keep Laxmi with you...”
4. Volume 9, Year 1926:  This is a noting in Mahadevbhai’s diary about the sharing of incidents or explanations given by Gandhiji in the ashram during/after the prayers:

 “29-4-1926...I have offered everything/sacrificed everything over that girl. The game of swaraj (independence) is like a ball’s play. Sometimes one side will win and sometimes the opposite side will win. There is no issue of happiness or sadness in it. But if any of my children falls low than my blood dries up. And what is more, Laxmi is my first born/child. I have taken her for the atonement of sins against the antyaj.  That is why I am showering a lot of love on her. But that girl has been giving limitless disappointments. I had never believed that she can stoop so low...when children betray, I feel very sad. Because children are innocent. I had the same hopes about Laxmi. There should not be so much sin at such a small age as eleven.

“The pot of sin broke within 4 days. Felt like beating with a stick...then thought even fast can be undertaken. But again thought that if I will undertake fast then there will be a great calamity in the ashram, there will be more anger on the girl than what already exists, and the attitude towards antyaj will become worse. Thinking of all this my heart became as hard as a stone. No, we don’t want to do that; and I kept staring. Devdas, who has the strength to influence, went to fetch. She came with him by force. Then I got up. “Don’t beat me,” she started saying. I said, “I will not do anything now. Will send you off to Dudabhai.” Today did not have to wake her up and so I felt good. I open my eyes after prayers for all of you- otherwise I would not open my eyes at all and remain in meditation. But right now I cannot remain in meditation. I told her to stand up. I did not tell her to get up as a punishment. She did not listen. I told her to run away from there. She went and sat with the excuse of studying.

“Now even if I say (pray) “take me to light after darkness,” how will that happen? I have not been able to sleep at all today morning. She asked me for eight days' time. That she has asked to be allowed to keep standing for half an hour, could be because of her fear to be sent off to Botad [Laxmi’s father was a teacher at Botad]. I have removed that fear too. She said that she will complete the stolen threads. She will complete 2500 threads daily. That she obeys and does not lie, so long as these two things exist, there is a hope for improvement. I am confident that I can turn the dumbest of all children, like me. But there are two conditions for this, not to lie and not to be obstinate before me. If that girl does not improve I feel disgraced towards myself; and I must leave the hope of her having a humane nature.  If she cannot be good, how can I be good? I want to link her thread to mine. Her strength is my strength. Otherwise the prayer sung in the morning...will prove to be false. If she remains mean for ever then I too remain mean forever- there will be difference of only degrees, but both of us will remain of the same kind-antyaj.

5.Volume 14, Year 1931: [Mahadevbhai:] “...Caught the twelve o’ clock train with great difficulty. Mira, Ba, Prabhavati, etc left by the nine o’clock train. That Laxmi [in the foot note in the diary it has been mentioned that, “She must be Gandhiji’s adopted/protected Harijan daughter”] remained with us pinched  Bapu. He did not quarrel much as he was observing silence. But he did not like it. “Why did you not go with Ba [ Kasturba]?” he asked this a couple of times.”

 6. Volume 15, Year  1931-1932: [Gandhiji:] “...The Ashram which is my family has several antyaj families. And one sweet but naughty girl (in the foot note of the diary, the daughter has been mentioned as Laxmi) lives like my own daughter....”

7.Volume 3, Year 1933: [Gandhiji:] “Take the example of Laxmi. I brought/trained her as a daughter of a brahmin. She is the girl of the ashram. I feel that if I get her married to a Dhedh (Dalit), I will be doing a terrible mix up. Her father wishes that I look for a Dhedh husband for her. If that girl wants to marry a Dhedh, let her marry, but I have to look for only a cultured husband for her. And I did find such a person...And we selected and we decided.  That youth is not in a hurry. The struggle started and the girl went to prison. That fellow says and the girl also says that we will marry only when you get us married. We are not in a hurry. I would consider such betrothal where both observe restraint as an appropriate betrothal, but not a mix-up.”  

[Mahadevbhai:] ‘14-3-1933, today is Laxmi’s day of marriage. Wrote a beautiful letter of blessings to Laxmi. Why was it written again and again to her that “Follow only that much restrain/control over the senses as is possible by you.”

These references in Mahadevbhai's diaries right from the year 1919 to the year 1933, show that Laxmi was in Gandhiji's life as his adopted daughter right from her childhood till she was married. And Gandhiji played a prominent role in Laxmi's upbringing right up to her marriage. I have not been able to find more details about her in the dairies.

However from the details available in Mahadevbhai’s diaries, Laxmi most certainly must have had a lot to say about her life and the impact of having been the adopted daughter of Gandhi.