Kasturbai was born at Porbandar in 1869. Her father was
a well-to-do businessman and she was one of his four children. The date
of her birth is not known.
She was illiterate at the time of her marriage with Mohandas Karamchand
Gandhi, son of the Prime Minister of Rajkot State. They were both aged
13. He taught her to read and write. She was slow but willing to learn
till the end of her life.
She had five children, of whom four grew up to manhood She became a tower
of strength to her husband. In consultation with her, Gandhi took the
vow of Brahmacharya in 1901. She was his steadfast companion in all his
experiments in India and in South Africa. A simple Kathiawari girl, she
learnt to dress like the Parsis and to eat with knife and fork when her
husband desired it on his return from England after his studies. Later
she took to austere simplicity when he decided to change his life. She
adapted herself to Ashram life without any difficulty. It was like a joint
family which she had already experienced.
She identified herself with the work of her great husband throughout her
life, but she did not accept his ideas unless she understood them and
considered them right. Gandhiji often had to work hard to convince her,
especially in the early days. This exercise led him to the discovery of
She was a deeply religious Hindu wife. In early life, she considered untouchability
a part of religion. Later she renounced all caste distinctions and brought
up a Harijan girl as her own daughter. She regularly read Bhagavadgita
and Ramayana and spun every day till she became too weak to do so during
her last illness in detention in the Aga Khan?s Palace, Poona.
A delicate, small but elegant lady, she was simple, straightforward and
methodical. Her simplicity had an elegance, all its own. She was ready
to lay down her life for her principles. A strict vegetarian, she refused
to take meat soup in South Africa even when the doctor said that she would
die without it and a holy man explained to her that it was not against
religion to do so during illness.
Her public life began after she joined her husband in South Africa in
1897. From 1904 to 1914, she was the soul of the Phoenix Settlement and
became Kasturba-- ?mother? to the inmates, a role continued
at Kochnab, Sabarmati and Sevagram Ashram in India.
She led the women?s satyagraha in the final fight in South Africa.
She was imprisoned and came out of jail in an emaciated condition. After
his return to India in 1915, Gandhiji took up the cause of the Indigo
workers against the oppression of the white planters in Champaran in Bihar.
Kasturba joined him and taught cleanliness, discipline and reading and
writing to the village women and children.
In 1918, she took an active part in the Kaira Satyagraha or ?No Tax
Campaign? and taught the village women the art of non-violent resistance.
Later during India?s non-violent fight for freedom, she took up the
leadership of the movement whenever Gandhiji was arrested; she plunged
into the struggle, addressed meetings, collected funds and kept up the
morale of the people.
She presided over the backward Rani Paraj community?s second conference,
which resulted in their giving up drinking and taking to spinning and
khadi. In 1930 and again in 1932, she courted arrest by picketing liquor
and foreign cloth shops. She was released when Gandhiji went on a prolonged
fast against the British Government?s decision to create separate
electorate for the Harijans. She joined him at Poona and nursed him during
In 1939, she participated in the Rajkot Satyagraha political reforms and
was kept in detention at Tramba. She was released when Gandhiji launched
his fast against the ruler of Rajkot for breach of promise. She refused
to leave the detention camp till her two companions, Maniben Patel and
Mridulaben Sarabhai, were also released.
In 1942, Gandhiji was arrested early in the morning of August 9 at Birla
House, Bombay. Kasturba decided to address the meeting which Gandhiji
was to have addressed that afternoon. She was arrested as she was proceeding
to the meeting and taken to Arthur Road prison at Bombay, from where after
two days she was taken to the Aga Khan Palace detention camp at Poona
to join her husband. She was very frail in body, but her spirit was indomitable.
In February 1943, Gandhiji went on a 21-day fast and Kasturba look after
him day and night. She took only one meal a day of fruit and milk. She
had done the same during all his previous fasts. This enabled her to have
the strength to nurse him while she shared his ordeal.
Her health began to fail soon after Gandhiji?s fast in detention.
The strain, physical and emotional, was too great. She would supervise
her husband?s meals even from her sick bed and it required considerable
persuasion to make her give up spinning in the interest of her weak heart.She
suffered from chronic bronchitis,with heart failure, and a terminal pneumonia
carried her away. She attended prayers morning and evening till the end.
She gave up all food except ?Ganga Jal? (Ganga water) on the
last day. She wanted to hear nothing but ?Ram Nam?.
She died on 22 February 1944 on Maha Shivratri Day as the sun went down,
with her head on her husband?s lap. There was an ineffable peace
on her face.
A grateful nation collected 125 lakhs of rupees with which Gandhiji established
the ?Kasturba Gandhi National Memorial Trust? for the service
of simple women like Kastruba in the villages of India and their children.