V.R. Devika is an activist, writer and educator. She is the founder and managing trustee of The Aseema Trust, a nonprofit organization that links traditional performing arts with education, particularly concepts of non-violence inspired by Gandhian principles. She conducts regular workshops on peace education and communication skills for students and teachers. She has received awards and honours from a number of organisations including the British Council, the Goethe Institute, Bharath Kalachar, Sri Krishna Gana Sabha and Rotary clubs, among others. She has held the position of Director for Education and Culture of the Madras Craft Foundation and its project Dakshinachitra.
In her talk, Dr. Devika analysed the gendered politics of M.K. Gandhi’s philosophy and writing. She presented rich accounts and lively stories detailing the experiences of several of the women he lived and interacted with. She reflected that Gandhi impacted millions both during his lifetime and after, in a multitude of ways that have rendered him a polarising figure. She emphasised the need to consider alternative sources and diverse historiographical approaches, particularly to understand his views on women. His wife’s letters, for instance, provide interesting insights and possibly a different narrative to mainstream accounts of their relationship.
Dr. Devika suggested that Gandhi was a study in contrasts, often changing his position on various issues. For example, while he wanted women to join the freedom struggle in the public sphere, he also believed their ‘place’ was in the home. Even as he tried to be a social reformer, he was constrained by the demands of social norms, which was evident in his interactions with his wife and children. Dr. Devika argued that Gandhi supported the participation of women in public life, but failed to understand that oppression is not a moral condition, but a socio-economic one. She also commented on his sexual politics and experiments, which have elicited much debate and discussion both in historical and popular writing.
Rapporteur: S. Shakthi