Kasturbai "Kasturba" Mohandas Gandhi listen (born Kasturbai Makhanji Kapadia on 11 April 1869 – 22 February 1944) was the wife of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. In association with her husband, Kasturba Gandhi was a political activist involved in the Indian independence movement in British-ruled India.
Early life and background
Born to Gokuladas and Vrajkunwerba Kapadia of Porbandar, little is known of her early life. In May 1883, 14-year old Kasturba was married to 13-year old Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in an arranged marriage, according to the custom of the region. Recalling the day of their marriage, her husband once said, "As we didn't know much about marriage, for us it meant only wearing new clothes, eating sweets and playing with relatives." However, as was prevailing tradition, the adolescent bride was to spend much time at her parents' house, and away from her husband. Writing many years later, Mohandas described with regret the lustful feelings he felt for his young bride, "even at school I used to think of her, and the thought of nightfall and our subsequent meeting was ever haunting me."
When her husband left to study in London in 1888, she remained in India to raise their newborn son Harilal. She had three more sons: Manilal, Ramdas, and Devdas. Kasturba also had a son who died very young and even though she had four sons later on, she never truly got over the death of her first newborn. Kasturba's relationship with her husband can be described by the following extract from Ramachandra Guha's novel Gandhi Before India; "They had, in the emotional as well as sexual sense, always been true to one another. Perhaps because of their periodic, extended separations, Kasturba deeply cherished their time together."
Kasturba Gandhi first involved herself with politics in South Africa in 1904 when she helped her husband and others establish the Phoenix Settlement near Durban. Then in 1913, she took part in protests against the ill-treatment of Indian immigrants in South Africa, for which she was arrested. Kasturba and Gandhi then permanently left South Africa in July 1914 and returned to live in India. In spite of Kasturba’s chronic bronchitis - that had worsened in South Africa - she continued to take part in civil actions and protests across India that were organized by Gandhi. Moreover, she often took her husband's spot if he was in prison. The majority of her time was dedicated to helping out and serving in ashrams.
In 1917, Kasturba focused on helping improve the welfare of women in Champaran, Bihar where Gandhi was working with indigo farmers. She taught women hygiene, discipline, health, reading and writing. In 1922, Kasturba participated in a Satyagraha (nonviolent resistance) movement in Borsad, Gujarat. However, she could not take part in Gandhi's famous Salt March in 1930, but continued to take part in many civil disobedience campaigns and marches. As a result, she was arrested and jailed on numerous occasions.
In 1939, Kasturba took part in nonviolent protests against the British rule in Rajkot, after the women in the city specifically asked her to advocate for them. Kasturba was arrested and kept in solitary confinement for a month. Her health worsened but Kasturba continued to fight for independence. In 1942, she was arrested again, along with Gandhi and other freedom fighters for participating in the Quit India movement. She was imprisoned in the Aga Khan Palace in Pune. By this time her health had severely deteriorated completely and she breathed her last at the detention camp in Pune.
Kasturba considered her work above everything and Gandhi wrote about this in his biography, "According to my earlier experience, she was very obstinate. In spite of all my pressure she would do as she wished. This led to short or long periods of estrangement between us. But as my public life expanded, my wife bloomed forth and deliberately lost herself in my work."
Health and death
Kasturba suffered from chronic bronchitis due to complications at birth. Her bronchitis was complicated by pneumonia.
In January 1944, Kasturba suffered two heart attacks after which she was confined to her bed much of the time. Even there she found no respite from pain. Spells of breathlessness interfered with her sleep at night. Yearning for familiar ministrations, Kasturba asked to see an Ayurvedic doctor. After several delays (which Gandhi felt were unconscionable), the government allowed a specialist in traditional Indian medicine to treat her and prescribe treatments. At first she responded, recovering enough by the second week in February to sit on the verandah in a wheel chair for a short periods, and chat. Then came a relapse.
To those who tried to bolster her sagging morale saying "You will get better soon," Kasturba would respond, "No, my time is up". Finally, at 7:35 p.m. (IST) on 22 February 1944, she died at the Aga Khan Palace in Poona, aged 74. The incidents of that day go like this: That morning, her youngest son Devdas came to visit her. He told her that he had brought penicillin, the famous drug discovered by Alexander Fleming, for curing her. But, Mahatma Gandhi prevented his son from injecting. After her death, Mahatma Gandhi quoted that even if he allowed Devdas to inject, his beloved wife would not have survived. She died on the arms of her husband, who outlived her for four years before his assassination.