A school in Gujarat, run by Sufalam Shala Vikas Sankul, asked what did Mahatma Gandhi do to commit suicide to class 9 students in their internal evaluation exams.
Class 9 students were asked ‘What did Gandhiji do to commit suicide?’ (Gandhiji e aapghat karwa maate shu karyu?). When the media reports came out of the above question being asked to school students, my first instinct was to distrust the reports because why would any school ask such a question. I also thought that perhaps this was misinterpreted as question might be translated into English from Gujarati.
Gujarat government had already sent a notice to the school and an inquiry has also been initiated against the teacher who set the paper. It became all the more important to verify whether the state government acted in haste based on media reports?
However, when I saw the question paper copy, I was taken aback.
The school teacher really did ask this.
To begin with, Mahatma Gandhi never committed suicide. He was assassinated by Nathuram Godse on 30th January, 1948. The school trust convener, SP Patel, had justified the question by giving a bizarre explanation that the reference to the question on Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘thought’ on committing suicide is there in the Gujarat State School Textbook Board (GSSTB) curriculum textbook. He added that his autobiography ‘My Experiments With Truth’ (Satya Na Prayogo) also mentioned his ‘thoughts’ on committing suicide. Patel then added that he saw nothing wrong in the question.
Erm. The question they have asked is ‘how did Gandhiji commit suicide’ when they meant to ask ‘what did Gandhiji do when he thought of committing suicide’. So that question is not only factually incorrect (because Mahatma Gandhi didn’t commit suicide) but the fact that school convener does not think it is wrong is even more disturbing.
Coming back to the reference SP Patel, the school convener, talks about in Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, the latter talks about how he wanted to commit suicide because he felt suffocated due to lack of independence when he was young, even before he got married. According to his autobiography [pdf], he talks about the time he and his friend felt like committing suicide for being unable to do anything without elders’ permission.
The relevant portion of his autobiography is produced her verbatim.
I have still to relate some of my failings during this meat eating period and also previous to it, which date from before my marriage or soon after. A relative and I became fond of smoking. Not that we saw any good in smoking, or were enamoured of the smell of a cigarette. We simply imagined a sort of pleasure in emitting clouds of smoke from our mouths. My uncle had the habit, and when we saw him smoking, we thought we should copy his example. But we had no money. So we began to pilfering stumps of cigarettes thrown away by my uncle.
The stumps, however, were not always available, and could not emit much smoke either. So we began to steal coppers from the servant’s pocket money in order to purchase Indian cigarettes. But the question was where to keep them. We could not of course smoke in the presence of elders. We managed somehow for a few weeks on these stolen coppers. In the meantime we heard that the stalks of a certain plant were porous and could be smoked like cigarettes. We got them and began this kind of smoking.
But we were far from being satisfied with such things as these. Our want of independence began to smart. It was unbearable that we should be unable to do anything without the elders’ permission. At last, in sheer disgust, we decided to commit suicide!
But how were we to do it? From where were we to get the poison? We heard that Dhatura seeds were an effective poison. Off we went to the jungle in search of these seeds, and got them. Evening was thought to be the auspicious hour. We went to Kedarji Mandir, put ghee in the temple lamp, had the darshan and then looked for a lonely corner. But our courage failed us.
Supposing we were not instantly killed? And what was the good of killing ourselves? Why not rather put up with the lack of independence? But we swallowed two or three seeds nevertheless. We dared not take more. Both of us fought shy of death, and decided to go to Ramji Mandir to compose ourselves, and to dismiss the thought of suicide.
I realized that it was not as easy to commit suicide as to contemplate it. And since then, whenever I have heard of someone threatening to commit suicide, it has had little or on effect on me.
So yes, Mahatma Gandhi did think of committing suicide because he did not like having to ask elders for their permission to do things, especially having to smoke cigarettes and eating meat, coming from a vegetarian family. He did ‘experiment’ with trying to commit suicide by consuming ‘dhatura’ seeds along with his friend who was also ‘tired’ of seeking elders’ permission. They even went to a temple at an auspicious time do kill themselves.
However, they both did not have the courage. They realised killing themselves may not do them any good and dismissed the thought of committing suicide.
Fortunately, good sense prevailed over both and MK Gandhi and his friend quit smoking thereafter.
Note: If you or someone you know is suicidal or in emotional distress, contact your nearest suicide prevention helpline. These centres provide crisis counselling and mental health referrals.