Shyam Pakhare – « Transcending gender »

Shyam Pakhare « Transcending gender: Colonialism, Gandhi and religion »

1. Introduction

The age of enlightenment, characterized by scientism, rationalism and materialism, created a binary between religion and material world. Darwin’s theory of evolution and the philosophy of utilitarianism developed a rift in the organic lifestyle of the west. ‘Knowledge is power’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ were the new mantras of this age. It separated human life from nature leading to an ideology of anthropocentrism based on the superiority of human beings over other species and dominance over the nature. It had its cascading effect on human society also. Respect towards nature and many other noble sentiments of human beings were the victims of the modern age. Colonialism was an outcome of the process which led to further binaries – colonizers and colonized. Gender played an important role in the process of colonization. It had been long neglected in the research on modern India. This article is an attempt to study Gandhi’s thoughts on religion from the perspective of gender and explore its impact in the struggle for independence. 

II. Muscular Christianity

According to Raewyn Connell, there is a dimension of masculinity in the culture of imperialism, and empires have been a gendered enterprise from the start.[1] The British invasion of India was not merely a material invasion but an invasion of a very different civilization. It was a clash between two very different visions of life. All the organized religions were founded and dominated by men, but the core of every religion remained feminine, emphasizing values such as love, harmony and compassion. Masculinity is not static – it is constantly reconstructed. The aggressive model of masculinity became dominant after the mid-nineteenth century. In the modern age, the colonial powers tried to wipe out the feminine values from Christianity because they were incompatible with the exploitative nature of colonialism. Masculine values were given superior status over feminine values. The colonizers were considered as masculine and the colonized as feminine. The expansion of the British Empire was defended as a civilizing mission and soldiers and adventurers were celebrated as heroes. Rudyard Kipling glorified colonialism as ‘White man’s burden’.

Muscular Christianity was an outcome of this process. It first developed in England and the United States and was intimately linked to colonialism.[2] Muscular Christianity provided a moral justification for the exploitation of the people in Asia and Africa. It considered cultivating physical strength through sports and exercise as a means to character building. Earlier religion had been a matter of inner conscience, but in the age of colonialism it was expected to serve the interests of the material world. It left an impact on the religious perceptions of the colonized people living in urban areas where socio-religious reform movements originated and had to grapple with the muscular orientation of religion newly introduced by the colonial masters.

[1] Raewyn W. Connell, Masculinities, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, p. xvi.

[2] Joseph S. Alter, ‘Indian Clubs and Colonialism: Hindu Masculinity and Muscular Christianity’, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 46.3 (2004), 497–534.