Gandhi's Prescription: health and hygiene in the struggle for swaraj

John Mattausch

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


As David Arnold, and many another of his biographers, observes, Gandhi presents us with an enigma for which countless analytical interpretations have been advanced. However in the literature, one aspect of the Mahatma's life and work has received comparatively little theoretical attention: his obsessions with health and hygiene.
Thwarted in his youthful ambition to take a degree in medicine by caste prejudice and by the need to support his family, Gandhi nonetheless pursued his experiments in amateur medicine, subjecting both himself and his followers in the Ashrams to his sometimes bizarre practices and prescriptions, and to his hygiene regime. Arguably, in his political struggles for nationalist freedom, having failed to qualify as a doctor he tried to cure India of its ills.
In this paper, drawing upon my own research and upon the emerging theory of 'parasite stress', I will examine Gandhi's health and hygiene obsessions and too his campaign against untouchability. I will suggest that his understanding of health and hygiene were grounded in a Hinduisitic paradigm, that this religio-cultural bedrock was itself a health strategy, and that by comparing Gandhi's campaign against untouchability with the progress of Britain's night-soil workers, we can appreciate the limits to Gandhi's political campaign for swaraj and limitations upon Gandhism as a global political resource.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusIn preparation - 2012
EventGujarat Studies Association 4th Biennial Conference - Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Duration: 15 Feb 201216 Feb 2012


ConferenceGujarat Studies Association 4th Biennial Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Arab Emirates

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