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Indian Govt. Pays $1.28 Million For Gandhi And Alleged Gay Lover's Letters

GandhiMA biography of Mahatma Gandhi published last year described German-Jewish bodybuilder and architect Hermann Kallenbach the "love of his life," a detail that fueled speculation the iconic activist was into men.

The Indian government did not like this narrative at all and some regions even banned the book.

Well, the Indian government is going to even greater lengths to keep Gandhi and Kallenbach's relationship under lock and key. The Wall Street Journal reports that the government paid a bargain-priced $1.28 million to keep men's personal letters from going to auction. Obtaining the letters was deemed "a matter of highest priority."

India’s Ministry of Culture said this decision was made after experts who reviewed the archival material, mostly letters between the two men, recommended it should be acquired “as a matter of highest priority.”

The archive includes over 1,000 letters, documents and telegrams exchanged by the two men between 1905 and 1945, as well as several gifts Gandhi gave to Kallenbach over the years.

If the Indian government thinks this will erase those gay rumors, they've got another thing coming. Their urgency actually only raises eyebrows further, and without specific details from the letters themselves, the public's imagination is free to run wild. So, reader, let it run...

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Comments

  1. Surely there are transcripts of these letters. The contents should be reproduced. The Indian government is known to be extremely homophobic.

    Posted by: jason | Jul 11, 2012 9:35:26 PM


  2. India's first Brokeback Ganges, tragic only in the sense that homophobia in India is a British import. Pre-colonial Hindu culture had a place of pride for LGBTs.

    Posted by: Manny Espinola | Jul 11, 2012 10:24:07 PM


  3. Richard Attenborough left this part out of the film.

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Jul 11, 2012 10:35:50 PM


  4. Manny is right. The genesis for rabid modern day homophobia can be found in very rigid, tight a** Victorian England morality, which was exported around the world through their empire. Even today you'll find that in the Caribbean for example the former British colonies are the most rabidly homophobic.

    Posted by: ratbastard | Jul 11, 2012 10:45:36 PM


  5. @Anastasia- Wasn't it David Lean who directed Ghandi? But your point about the Celluloid Closet is spot on.

    Posted by: RWG | Jul 11, 2012 11:18:41 PM


  6. They wouldn't be so panicy if they didn't have anything to hide. Why would they care so much if Ghandi was gay or not? Many Indian royals are gay. The whole culture is a bit flamboyant. Out of over 1 billion citizens there are well over 50 million LGBT. So what gives?

    Posted by: chris255 | Jul 11, 2012 11:50:01 PM


  7. WE just can't have Gandhi being gay. The next thing you know they will tell us Abraham Lincoln was gay or King David was in love with Jonathan or that Jesus loved John more than his other followers. The heads of the homophobes will just explode.

    Posted by: andrew | Jul 12, 2012 12:14:41 AM


  8. Why do governments and religions hide their secret lovers?

    Posted by: Mike | Jul 12, 2012 12:15:33 AM


  9. Also, the government is not necessarily attempting to hide the truth. Gandhi in every possible way is a very sensitive issue in India and so a lot of things go with Gandhi being gay. You don't know how some ppl might act here..like there can even be riots and that's why the government is acting smart and firstly taking the possession of the letter itself and then after accessing the truth, go about with what hey should do with it ('coz it's 100% proved that the letter talks the truth, so why to take a risk with the sentiments of so many ppl without finding the truth, am not saying that being gay should hurt others sentiment in India as I am, myself gay but then you know how ppl are, especially the homophobes and also we have a RTI so the LGBT groups here are anyway going to have access to the letter somehow, so given that I don't think the Governments's idea is to hide the letter as if you think that in Indian government, there are supporters of Gandhi then I can assure you that there are his haters too who would try in everyway possible way to prove anything that maligns his image.)So, I think the government is just trying to be responsible and when it finds the truth then it would let the truth out itself rather than through something which is nothing but a act of gaining publicity and tonnes of money.

    Posted by: Alejo | Jul 12, 2012 1:07:31 AM


  10. @agree with Manny, Andrew
    What would be so bad if Gandhi loved another man?

    Posted by: Matt26 | Jul 12, 2012 4:11:20 AM


  11. The saying is "If they think . . . then they have another THINK coming."

    Posted by: John | Jul 12, 2012 5:45:46 AM


  12. The contents should be reproduced. The Indian government is known to be extremely homophobic.

    Posted by: Nilda Laughlin | Jul 12, 2012 6:32:56 AM


  13. Towleroad needs a "mark as spam" button for comments.

    Posted by: St. Theresa of Avila | Jul 12, 2012 6:52:50 AM


  14. Some inaccuracies here, I think. First, there is nothing special about the Indian government acquiring these letters. For some time now the government has followed a policy of acquiring Gandhi memorabilia, particularly letters.

    It would be nice to think this was from a desire to support scholarship, and if one wants to be conspiracy minded one could suggest, as this report does, that its from a desire to suppress information, but the truth is more like any Gandhi sale is met with cries about how the government is betraying his legacy, allowing him to be commercialised, etc etc, so its simpler just to acquire the material if it can be done at a reasonable price.

    I have some peripheral knowledge about Gandhi scholarship, and I know Ram Guha, who is one of the people who was asked to examine the letters. There has been no suggestion, as far as I am aware, that the material will be embargoed once it is available - and Guha would certainly not have been party to any such agreement. Its quite likely the material will be available to scholars and will be incorporated into the revised version of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) that is underway.

    Its true that the Indian government has a spotty record on access to archives, but the main embargo is on material relating to the Gandhi-Nehru family, which I hope I don't need to explain has nothing to do with Mahatma Gandhi.

    Gandhi's own writings, which are incredibly voluminous, filling some 96 volumes of CWMG, are almost entirely uncensored, to almost startling effect. One of the main reasons why this homosexuality story has always seemed implausible is because there is so much material in CWMG that shows his very heterosexual attractions to many women.

    These were almost definitely not directly consummated, yet the evidence of the attraction is clear and articulated by Gandhi and the committee that put together CWMG in the 1950s did not censor his words, only putting certain names as initials to protect the privacy of the individuals concerned, though its nearly always easy to work out who the person was - for example, an American woman referred to as 'N' who Gandhi first found entrancing, then impossible, is Nila Cram Cooke.

    The material in CWMG can be so startling that there is something of a cottage industry in 'exposés' of Gandhi appearing every 3-5 years or so - in recent years, Kathryn Tidrick, Jad Adams and most recently the Joseph Lelyveld book in which the homosexuality allegations were made. But in nearly all these cases the material has been there in plain sight - except for Lelyveld's gay allegations, which are pretty tenuous. (For the record, I'm gay myself and would see nothing wrong in Gandhi having a gay affair, but the evidence does not really support it).

    Posted by: Vikram in Mumbai | Jul 12, 2012 7:19:49 AM


  15. @RWG -- From Wikipedia (imdb.com concurs):

    David Lean and Sam Spiegel had planned to make a film about Gandhi after completing The Bridge on the River Kwai, reportedly with Alec Guinness as Gandhi. Ultimately, the project was abandoned in favour of Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Attenborough reluctantly approached Lean with his own Gandhi project in the late 1960s, and Lean agreed to direct the film and offered Attenborough the lead role. Instead Lean began filming Ryan's Daughter, during which time Motilai Kothari had died and the project fell apart.

    Attenborough again attempted to resurrect the project in 1976 with backing from Warner Brothers. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency in India and shooting would be impossible. Finally in 1980 Attenborough was able to secure both the funding and locations needed to make the film.

    Posted by: Anastasia Beaverhausen | Jul 12, 2012 7:46:02 AM


  16. Thank you VIKRAM, I trust your remarks. The hysteria among gay men to belive that others are gay is a laughable eye-roll.

    Posted by: UFFDA | Jul 12, 2012 8:09:52 AM


  17. In case anyone has more interest in this matter, here's a link to an article I wrote about Gandhi and Kallenbach after the furore over Lelyveld's book broke out. Its based both on CWMG and a slim volume on Kallenbach that was published by his nice after his death and which was pretty much all Lelyveld himself had to work on:
    http://blogs.economictimes.indiatimes.com/onmyplate/entry/gandhi-s-first-disciple

    Lelyveld's book is actually quite a fine one, a decent introduction to Gandhi and has one of the best discussions of Gandhi and caste that I've read. The gay allegation is just one part of it, and might never have had the impact it did if it was not for a really unpleasant review by Andrew Roberts, the right-wing British historian, who has his own reasons for loathing both Gandhi and Lelyveld, and who hyped it up in the most lurid way. It was this misrepresentation that made the news and lead to the ban in Gujarat.

    That point being made, its true that Lelyveld does suggest a gay affair between Gandhi and Kallenbach and dwells on it in a way that is just not borne out by the evidence. It could just be that Lelyveld found Gandhi's views on sex so strange he felt that there had to be a suppressed gay angle behind it. Which might be plausible enough, if other evidence didn't exist, like all those later life attractions to women.

    The reason Gandhi's views on sex seem so strange is because he essentially didn't approve of it - homosexual or heterosexual. He acknowledged its practical need for reproduction, but discouraged his associates from doing it, partly because he saw it as a distraction and from notions about sperm being connected to strength, so needing to conserve it for full vigour (anyone who's studied yoga will have come across this, and I think it even featured in a Sex and the City plot!) It may sound wierd today, but was of his time and is something that comes up in different monastic traditions.

    Kallenbach might have been gay - there is certainly something startling about how completely he devoted himself to Gandhi (and there is a sense of this in Attenborough's film, where he's played by a handsome European actor and first shown in a shirtless shot). But its most unlikely this would have been physically consummated, which is what Lelyveld suggested.

    There is also a possibility that these letters might actually confirm Kallenbach's heterosexuality. Ram Guha, who has seen them, says there's evidence in them of Kallenbach's attachments to women.

    Posted by: Vikram in Mumbai | Jul 12, 2012 8:10:16 AM


  18. VIKRAM IN MUMBAI: Thanks for the insightful commentary. Much appreciated.

    Posted by: Joe in CT | Jul 12, 2012 8:25:41 AM


  19. Another "think" coming. That's a tough one.

    Posted by: Joe | Jul 12, 2012 8:28:00 AM


  20. I haven't read the book. I have only this to say: I've known and been in the sack with a better-than-fair number of Indian men over the years, and nearly every one of them was married.

    Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC | Jul 12, 2012 8:37:45 AM


  21. "But its most unlikely this would have been physically consummated"

    Oh, give me a break!

    Seriously, do you expect anyone to swallow THAT?

    Ghandi had several female consorts, that's a known fact, so he was very sexual. And if you get two virile men THAT devoted to each other (Ghandi called him "his soulmate") it may not have been a love-fest in our modern, gay sense, but those two probably f*cked at one point or another, so get over it.

    He's not a saint nor perfect, he made many mistakes and had flaws. And he had a set of testicles that probably needed some relief once in a while. Who cares if it was with another guy? The nation of India will not crumble if Ghandi was bi or gay.

    I know he's revered, but PUH-LEEZE...

    Posted by: johnny | Jul 12, 2012 10:51:32 AM


  22. He was certainly very sexual - which is partly why he was always struggling with his desires. And if you read his Collected Works, which don't just include material meant for publication in his time, but also personal letters, you get a clear sense of how much this mattered to him, and why it was so unlikely he had sex with anyone other than his wife.

    He did have sex with her, of course - he had four sons. And one theory about his feelings about sex is that they stemmed from his deep feelings of guilt because the night his father was dying and Gandhi should have been by his bedside, he had actually stolen away to have sex with his wife. That combined with the link made between mental strength and sperm retention in the traditional Indian system of health could easily have pushed him towards celibacy.

    Acknowledging this doesn't mean validating or disproving the belief - all you need acknowledge is that Gandhi believed this passionately and did his best to live his life according to his ideals, which is clear enough from his writings. He did slip sometimes - as you say, he had quite functioning testicles - but the circumstances tend to reinforce the likelihood that he didn't physically consummate his undeniably passionate relationships with men or women.

    For example, when he was 67, at a time when he felt he had finally conquered his passions, he had a wet dream one night. Where most of us might just laugh it off (and wash our nightclothes) for Gandhi this was an agonising reminder of his bodily weaknesses. Compounding the problem was the fact that he had been sleeping close to Sushila Nayyar, who functioned as his physician and to he certainly had a deep emotional attachment.

    What results in the Collected Works is both extraordinary and exasperating - for pages and pages in the relevant volume (I think its 73) he goes on and on to Sushila, her brother Pyarelal (his secretary) and other associates about what this means, the reason for his weakness, how he can overcome it and so on. The point I'm making here is that if he could do this for a simple wet dream, does it seem likely he would then casually have actual sex with any of his associates?

    The other point is that all these really close episodes happen with women, so while Gandhi was very close to many men (starting with Kallenbach) it is never quite in the same way. Combined with the huge social stigma attached to homosexuality at that time its extremely unlikely that Gandhi would have had sex with Kallenbach.

    Posted by: Vikram in Mumbai | Jul 12, 2012 12:49:50 PM


  23. Well, there would be political motivations for suppressing the documents, as no doubt many opinions were expressed in confidence in the letters. Some might not be too favorable to the Indian regime. MG was a bit superstitious and naive about a lot of things and he was more the spiritual focus of the anti-colonial movement than its practical political organizer. A lot of his "policies" had no practical quality to them at all and were essentially whimsies. Ironically, they would impact Rock-n-Roll in the US and UK more than daily life in India itself.

    Posted by: anon | Jul 12, 2012 1:22:04 PM


  24. there are also speculations that neharu was his other gay partner. there are evidences to it. i) Though Netaji subhash chandra bhose was elected as a president of congress, gandhi opposed it and when it did not worked out, he emationally blackmailed and convinced netaji to withdraw. ii)Though there were great leaders and scholers like BR Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Patel..etc, he favoured neharu for the post of PM. Neharu was never a great leader, he was just a seasoned politician.

    Posted by: Raj | Aug 26, 2012 3:35:57 PM


  25. there are also speculations that neharu was his other gay partner. there are evidences to it. i) Though Netaji subhash chandra bhose was elected as a president of congress, gandhi opposed it and when it did not worked out, he emationally blackmailed and convinced netaji to withdraw. ii)Though there were great leaders and scholers like BR Ambedkar, Veer Savarkar, Patel..etc, he favoured neharu for the post of PM. Neharu was never a great leader, he was just a seasoned politician.

    Posted by: Raj | Aug 26, 2012 3:35:58 PM


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