Eradicating the ‘Scourge of Drink’ and the ‘Un-pardonable Sin of Illegitimate Sexual Enjoyment’: M.K. Gandhi as Anti-Vice Crusader
This essay highlights an oft-neglected facet of M.K. Gandhi’s political work by scrutinizing the anti-colonial icon’s extended engagement in campaigns against alcohol, narcotics, prostitution and a number of other ‘vices’ between 1906 and 1948. It argues that, while the Mahatma’s anti-vice crusades definitely were part and parcel of his vision of ‘inner swaraj’ (or: self-control) as a necessary pre-condition for national independence, they cannot be understood by situating them merely in narrow national or colonial contexts. As is demonstrated, Gandhi was constantly drawing on (and simultaneously contributing to) the ideological and methodological repertoire of a flourishing transnational, indeed, global, network of temperance and purity activists that had been in the building since the mid-nineteenth century and cut across a wide political, social and religious spectrum. Hence, a close analysis of Gandhi’s fight against intoxication and debauchery on the Indian subcontinent does not only shed new light on the formation of Indian mass-nationalism in early 20th century, it also enhances our knowledge of one of the first world-spanning ‘advocacy groups’.
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