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MK Gandhi denied ‘modern medicine’ for Kasturba but was eager to avail it when Manu needed a surgery? Here is what old documents say

Manu was Gandhi's grandniece and was used by him as one of the participants in his so-called 'experiments with celibacy' where he used to sleep naked with girls and had naked girls bathe him. She was often seen with Gandhi, who used her and Abha, another grandniece, as support while walking.

On 21st February 1944, MK Gandhi and his son Devadas fought as the latter wanted doctors to administer penicillin to Kasturba Gandhi who was on death bed due to pneumonia. Gandhi, however, was not in favor of the idea. Author Alex Von Tunzelmann talked about the incident in chapter 8 ‘A New Theater’ of the book ‘Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire’. 

Excerpt from Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire. Source:

Gandhi even pushed her to give up using medicine as she neared death. Devadas, in a desperate attempt to save her mother, flew in penicillin from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to treat her. However, he faced opposition from Gandhi who forbade it. When Devadas tried to argue with him, Gandhi said, “Why do you not trust God?”.

Instead of giving her the medicine, Gandhi decided to fill the room with followers who sang devotional songs, as per the book. The next day, on 22nd February 1944, Kasturba Gandhi died. Speaking to Sushila Nayyar, one of his close associates, his physician and partner in Gandhi’s “celibacy experiments”, he said, “’How God has tested my faith! ‘If I had allowed you to give her penicillin, it could not have saved her. But it would have meant bankruptcy of faith on my part… And she passed away in my lap! Could it be better? I am happy beyond measure.”

The incident was talked about in Siby K Joseph’s book ‘Kasturba Gandhi – An Embodiment of Empowerment‘. In the 22nd Chapter ‘The Road to Martyrdom’, it was described by Nayyar herself. Nayyar, in one of her notes, wrote that Gandhi called her and asked to stop all medicines. He claimed to have refused modern medicines to all his children even in serious illnesses. Gandhi wanted to stop food for Kasturba and ordered to give her only water and honey. Devadas’s arguments with Gandhi and how he forbade him from giving the medicine were described in detail in the book.

No modern medicine for Kasturba and children, but yes modern medicine for himself?

Going by the rigidness of Gandhi against modern medicine, one may think he had observed the same for himself and other associates. But the case was different. Interestingly, records show that he had undergone repeated medical tests and surgery throughout his life though Kasturba was denied penicillin.

In 2019, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) published a book titled Gandhi and Health on his 150th birth anniversary. In the chapter “Gandhi’s Experiments With Health” authored by Annalalai of the National Gandhi Museum, it was mentioned how he underwent an appendectomy on 12th January 1924.

It read, “Gandhi was admitted at the Sassoon Hospital on emergency medical care. Gandhi was then in Pune, serving his six-year sentence in a sedition case since 1922. However, two years later he was required to undergo an emergency appendectomy to remove an inflamed appendix and the surgery began on the night of January 12, 1924, as a thunderstorm raged on.”

Source: ICMR

It added, “The surgeon who operated on Gandhi was a British colonel, Maddock. While the surgery was in progress, the electric bulb went off. The appendectomy had then to be finished by the light of a hurricane lamp. Gandhi and Kasturba thanked the surgeon, nurse and the entire medical team and took a photograph with them. During his visit to London in 1931, he met Col. Maddock on a courtesy visit.”

There is a medical record available where Gandhi’s name was mentioned for the appendectomy. It can be checked here.

Source: Alamy

In an India Today report, it was mentioned that Gandhi wanted Dr Dalal and Dr Jeevraj to operate on him who were in Mumbai at the time. However, British surgeon Dr Colonel Maddock informed Gandhi he needed surgery immediately. Pune’s Sassoon Hospital, where he got the surgery has been turned into a memorial.

Manu Gandhi’s operation

Senior Consulting Editor of DD News, Prakhar Shrivastava, while replying to journalist Rahul Dev, recently pointed out that while Gandhi was vehemently against modern medicines and treatment when Kasturba was suffering, he changed his stance when Manuben had to undergo an appendix operation. Gandhi sat in the operation theatre and observed the surgery.

Dev had claimed Gandhi had tremendous faith in the traditional treatment and Ramanam. And he had put his children’s and wife’s life at stake not out of malice but because he was an ardent ‘believer’ in traditional treatments and prayers.

The operation was done on 15 May 1947, three years after Kasturba Gandhi died. ICMR’s book recalled the surgery.

It read, “During Manu’s appendectomy operation in Patna, Gandhi wanted to observe the whole operation. Noted in Gandhi’s diary on May 15, 1947, “Manu has a severe stomach ache, she also had vomiting and is running temperature. I therefore called in the doctors who examined her. Manu’s complaint was diagnosed as appendicitis. I had her removed to the hospital immediately. She will be operated upon at night.”

It added, “I called back Madalasa and Santok. They came. Watched Manu’s operation at the hospital. Mridula and Madu were keeping her company. But they were not allowed inside the operation theatre. I had put on a surgical mask and watched the whole operation. She was taken to the room upstairs at 10.30. I entrusted her to the doctor’s care and returned at 11.10. I went to bed after 11.30. Dr. Col. Bhargava operated.”


Gandhi tried to treat her with a mud-pack. As per ICMR’s book, on the next day, Gandhi wrote to Manu’s father Jaisukhlal Gandhi. He said, “I had suspected even in Delhi that it was appendicitis. I had hoped that treatment with a mud pack would help her to get well. But it did not help her sufficiently. I, therefore, called in the doctors yesterday. They advised an operation, and I, therefore, got her operated upon.”

Manu was Gandhi’s grandniece and was used by him as one of the participants in his so-called ‘experiments with celibacy’ where he used to sleep naked with girls and had naked girls bathe him. She was often seen with Gandhi, who used her and Abha, another grandniece, as support while walking.

Manuben (Right) with Gandhi, image via India Today

Manuben’s diaries were accessed in 2013 by India Today. The entires revealed that Gandhi used to control almost every aspect of her life, including food, education, sleeping, rest schedule, and even the clothes she wore. She even used to sleep in the same bed with him.

Photographs of him sitting in the operation theatre are available in the public domain and can be checked here and here.

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B.Sc. Multimedia, a journalist by profession.

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