How Superstition-motivated upbringing and Gender-anxiety shaped Gandhi's Assassin

How Superstition-motivated upbringing and Gender-anxiety shaped Gandhi's Assassin

Godse's first name - 'Nathuram' was not a common one. A "Nath" (pronounced as N-uh-th) is an ornate semicircular nosepiece - an important component of traditional Indian female jewelry. Epidemics, Droughts, and Manmade Famines prevailed in the Indian subcontinent in the early 20th-century. This was coupled with the abject British neglect of the food-sufficiency and health of Indians and indiscriminate population growth owing to the desire for a male child and even plain, blatant ignorance. When the impoverished got poorer, they begot more offspring as they held the misconceived notion that more hands made light work and would alleviate their poverty. Mismanagement, tariffs and prohibitions, and resource diversions as mercantile and wartime measures led to widespread malnutrition and starvation. Even among the middle-class, stillbirth, miscarriage, and maternal, infant, and neonate mortality rates were very high - worse than they were two centuries prior.

Vinayak Vamanrao Godse and Lakshmi, the orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin parents of Nathuram had already lost three male children, and a girl child was the sole survivor till that point. Their fifth child was born a few years later. Their parents, fearing a supernatural curse or jinx, that selectively targeted their male children, made a desperate bid to disguise and conceal their male child from the God of Death, Yama. In order to trick Yama's dispatches, his parents raised him as a traditionally bejeweled girl, dressing and treating him such, and altered his birthname 'Ramachandra' to 'Nathuram'. Once his parents were convinced that Godse had managed to evade the pangs of death for good his traditionally-feminine treatment was abruptly ceased, and when they begot another child Gopal, he was raised normally (in accordance with erstwhile gender norms). This left him in a very confused, shocked, and perturbed state. He was stuck in limbo with a confounded gender identity. He now desperately sought a way to assert his masculinity and longed to prove himself - more to himself than to anyone else.

Delving deep in the psychoanalysis of Godse, esteemed political psychologist Ashis Nandy penned in his book, At The Edge of Psychology, “Perhaps it was given in the situation that Nathuram would try to regain the lost clarity of his sexual role by becoming a model of masculinity.” Conventionally, masculinity has been near-invariably associated and typecast with belligerence and aggression. His yearning for masculine expression led his former idol Gandhi to dwindle in his eyes. Pacifist influence and humanist ideals waned, and he became firmly convicted that Gandhi's core virtues of pacifism and nonviolence - principles which he staunchly adhered to even in adverse, dire, and desperate times, posed a threat to the nation's vigor and robustness. He believed that aversion to aggression emasculated a nation, and this led him to transgress towards bellicose Hindutva ideology. He believed that Gandhi was making Hindus effeminate by selectively preaching inaction, subversion, and complaisance. This drove him to abandon his pen, and pick up the pistol, attacking the very ideologue he believed was rendering Indians, and Hindus in particular, effeminate. This assassination act, he believed would be a lasting and memorable expression and a public proclamation of his masculinity - an announcement and testament of his vigor to the world that would bring him acknowledgment and perhaps closure.

Hence, it was not merely religious and caste hegemony that shaped, impelled, and drove Godse - superstition, patriarchy, gender assertion, and fragile masculinity. Godse was quintessentially and holistically a chauvinist - in all senses of the word.

About the Author

Pitamber Kaushik
Journalist.

Pitamber Kaushik is a columnist, journalist, writer and amateur researcher, having previously written in over 4

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