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117. The Fallen Sisters

The chastity of women was always held by Gandhiji as a very sacred thing. It was in Cocanada in 1921 that he came face to face with the fallen sisters. Thereafter his thoughts consistently turned on the ways and means of ameliorating their lot and raising them from the social degradation to which the brute in man had reduced them.

Describing his experiences in Andhra Gandhiji wrote :

"At Cocanada, just after the great public meeting, on my return to my bungalow at about 9 p.m. I had a visit from some women and girls. The light was very dim when I entered. There was something uncanny about their move­ments and their looks. Somehow or other the usual greeting, 'Do you spin ? What will you give me for the Tilak Swaraj Fund ?' would not come to my lips. On the con­trary I asked my hosts who the ladies were. He did not know. He enquired and after some hesitation the reply came, 'We are dancing girls.' I felt like sinking into the bowels of the earth. My host soothed me by saying that there was a ceremony attached before the commencement of life. It made matters worse for me. It gave the damnable thing an .air of respectability. I cross-examined. They said in the politest of tones they had come to have darshan. 'Will you take up some other occupation ?' 'Yes, if it gave us our livelihood.' I had not the heart to close with them there and then. I felt ashamed of my sex. I spoke straight the next morning at Rajahmundry, the next halting places. It was one of the most painful experiences in Andhra. I suppose the sin is common enough in one shape or another in the rest of India. All I can say is that, if we will have Swaraj through self-purification, we may not make women a prey to our lust. The law of protection of the weak applies here with particular force. To me the meaning of cow protection includes the protection of the chastity of our women. We will not have a regenerate India, unless we learn to respect our women as we respect our mothers, sisters and daughters. Let us cleanse ourselves of the sins that kill the man in us and make us brutes."