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How Motilal Nehru sought Gandhi’s help to persuade his daughter to end her relationship with a Muslim man

Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru, was opposed to his elder daughter’s love relationship with one Syud Hossain just because he was a Muslim.

While the Nehru-Gandhi clan has long been hailed as the fountainhead of secularism in India, there is a lesser-known but rather intriguing facet about them that has been scrupulously kept concealed so as to pull a veil over their hollow support to pluralism. Motilal Nehru, father of Jawaharlal Nehru, was opposed to his daughter’s marriage with a Muslim journalist, and had gone to the lengths of enlisting Gandhi to persuade the duo to call off their relationship.

In her book ‘Mr and Mrs Jinnah: The Marriage that Shook India’, Sheela Reddy cites historical accounts to claim that Motilal Nehru’s adherence to secularism was just a charade by highlighting how he was opposed to her daughter’s love relationship with a Muslim man.

‘Nan’ or Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, the elder daughter of Motilal Nehru and sister of Jawaharlal Nehru, was once head over heels in love with Syud Hossain, an Oxford-educated Muslim journalist and the personable young editor of the Independent, an English newspaper that was launched by Motilal Nehru. The duo had even got “secretly married” before Motilal Nehru found out about their romantic affair and decided to bring an end to it.

The romance between Syud and ‘Nan’ blossomed after the former was invited by Motilal to live at his lavish residence Anand Bhawan. Being one of the most richest and successful lawyers in the country, Nehru took a plunge into public affairs, following which his Allahabad residence Anand Bhavan had been turned into a hub of national politics. Guests, mostly political leaders, came and went, but one of them lived more or less permanently there—Syud Hossain.

Nehru was reportedly attracted by Hossain’s patriotic fervour and when he was looking for an editor to launch his newspaper, he eagerly hired the young journalist who was so highly recommended by his friend BG Horniman, the pro-Indian Englishman and founding editor of the Bombay Chronicle. However, Syud having studied in England and delicately raised, he found it difficult to tough it out in bachelor stays in Allahabad so after a bout of illness, was invited to stay at his employer’s residence Anand Bhavan. 

Soon after Hossain started living under the same roof as ‘Nan’, the two got close and developed a special liking for each other. By the time Motilal discovered that his daughter was in love with Hossain, the duo had already gotten ‘secretly married’, however, in an informal way, Hossain later confided in his good friend and only sympathiser, Sarojini Naidu. 

Nehru termed his daughter Nan’s relationship with Syud Hossain ‘wrong’ on account of him being a Muslim

But this did not sit well with Motilal Nehru, whose only grouse with the relationship was that Hossain was a Muslim. While he outwardly championed the cause of Hindu-Muslim unity, when it came to his family members, he was finding it hard to fathom the fact that his daughter was in love with a Muslim man and had also gotten married to him secretly. Within days after discovering the relationship between the two, Syud was out of Allahabad, and within weeks, out of country, having been sent abroad as a member of a Congress deputation to Europe. 

With minimum fuss and attention, the couple was persuaded to give up their relationship, mentions Reddy in her book. Nan later explained how she was convinced by her family to end her relationship with Hossain because he was a Muslim and marrying outside her religion was wrong. ‘In an era that proclaimed Hindu–Muslim unity, and belonging to a family that had close Muslim friends, I must have thought it would be perfectly natural to marry outside my religion. But in matters such as marriage the times were deeply traditional, and I was persuaded that this would be wrong,’ Nan reportedly explained later.

Motilal Nehru seeks Gandhi’s help to persuade her daughter to give up her relationship with a Musli man

After convincing the two lovers to go their separate their ways, Nehru enlisted Gandhi’s help to ensure that there is no relapse between the duo. The two now-separated lovers were sent off to Gandhi’s ashram in Ahmedabad, where they had one-to-one chats with Gandhi as a part of their cultural reorientation. 

During her stay at the ashram, Nan wrote letters to Padmaja to inform her about her discussions with Gandhi about her love relationship with Syud, according to Sheela Reddy in her book ‘Mr and Mrs Jinnah’. ‘He told me when I was at the ashram that this event had shaken his belief in all Mussalmans!’ Nan wrote in a letter to Padmaja. Gandhi was reportedly aghast at the prospect of a Hindu woman marrying a Muslim man. For Gandhi, Hindu women should look at Muslims as brothers only, and not as lovers. 

He asked Nan, ‘How could you regard Syud in any other light but that of a brother—what right had you to allow yourself, even for a minute, to look with love at a Mussalman.’ Later on, he even asked Nan how she could not find a worthy man out of nearly twenty crore Hindus to match her ideals, but instead got ready to hurl herself into the arms of a Mohammedan. ‘Poor man! To him it is inconceivable for a Hindu and a Mussalman to marry and live happily,’ Nan wrote of Gandhi in the letter to Padmaja. 

With the kind of admiration and reverence commanded by Gandhi, Motilal thought his intervention would serve to provide a moral justification to his daughter as to why her relationship with Hossain was problematic and undesirable. However, far from having a salutary effect on Nan, it only served to increase the contempt and scorn that she had for Gandhi.

‘Mussalmans and Hindus cannot marry each other’: Gandhi

Describing about an incident when Gandhi was lecturing her on why her relationship with Hossain was wrong, Nan wrote: ‘Gandhiji was telling me one day how he would have behaved had he been me. Of course it didn’t carry much weight because being Gandhiji it is absolutely impossible for him ever to enter into my thoughts or feelings. However, imagine me squatting on a little mat about six inches square opposite the great Mahatmaji, receiving the following lecture. ‘

“Sarup (Nan’s given name before her marriage), had I been in your place I would never have allowed myself to have any feelings but those of friendliness towards Syud Hossain,” Gandhi reportedly told Nan. “Then, supposing Syud had ever attempted to show admiration for me or had professed love for me, I would have told him gently but very firmly—Syud, what you are saying is not right. You are a Mussalman and I am a Hindu. It is not right that there should be anything between us. You shall be my brother but as a husband I cannot ever look at you.”

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Jinit Jain
Jinit Jain
Writer. Learner. Cricket Enthusiast.

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