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Harilal Gandhi

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Harilal Gandhi
Gandhi in 1910
Hiralal Mohandas Gandhi (later, Abdullah and then, Harilal Gandhi)

(1888-08-23)23 August 1888
Died18 June 1948(1948-06-18) (aged 59)
Other namesHiralal Gandhi
SpouseGulab Gandhi

Harilal Mohandas Gandhi (formerly Abdullah Gandhi; born Hiralal Mohandas Gandhi; 23 August 1888 – 18 June 1948)[1] was the eldest son of Mahatma Gandhi and Kasturba Gandhi.[2] He had three younger brothers: Manilal Gandhi, Ramdas Gandhi and Devdas Gandhi.

Early life[edit]

Harilal was born on 23 August 1888, just before his father left for England for higher studies.[3] Harilal remained in India with his mother

Harilal was involved in the Indian independence movement, and was imprisoned as a satyagrahi six times between 1908 and 1911.[4] His willingness to endure these sentences earned him the nickname of 'Chhote (Little) Gandhi'.[4]

He too wanted to go to England for higher studies, hoping to become a barrister as his father had once been. His father however firmly opposed this, believing that a Western-style education would not be helpful in the struggle against British rule over India, leading to tensions between father and son.[5] Eventually rebelling against his father's decision, in 1911 Harilal renounced all family ties.

In 1906[6] he married Gulab Gandhi, with whom he had had five children: two daughters, Rani and Manu; and three sons, Kantilal, Rasiklal and Shantilal. Rasiklal and Shantilal died at an early age. He had four grandchildren (Anushrya, Prabodh, Neelam Solanki, and Navmalika) via Rani, two (Shanti and Pradeep) via Kantilal, and one (Urmi) via Manu. After Gulab died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, Harilal became detached from his children. He contemplated marrying his wife's sister Kumi Adalaja, who was a child widow, however this did not materialize. This led to Harilal's further descent and he gradually began to slip and became an alcoholic.

In 1925, Harilal had lent Mahatma Gandhi's name to a Calcutta firm All India Stores. One of the investor of this firm was a Muslim from Lyallpur, he feared this was a bogus fair. He sent a legal notice to Young India, whose editor was Mahatma Gandhi. Gandhi replied that 'Harilal was indeed his son but his ideals and mine are different and he has been living separately since 1915'.[7]

He stayed in touch with his father sporadically through the years, sometimes through commonly known people, right up to 1947.[8]

Harilal appeared at his father's funeral in such a poor health condition that few recognized him.

Neelam Parikh, the daughter of Ranibehn, the eldest of Harilal's children, wrote a biography of him subsequently, entitled Gandhiji's Lost Jewel: Harilal Gandhi.

Religious conversions[edit]

In May 1936, at the age of 48, Harilal publicly converted to Islam and named himself Abdullah Gandhi.[9] Later on he re-converted to Hinduism.[10]

Gandhi's letters[edit]

In June 1935, Mahatma Gandhi wrote a letter [11] to Harilal, accusing him of "alcohol and debauchery". In the letters,[12] Mahatma Gandhi stated that Harilal's problems were more difficult for him to deal with than the struggle for an independent India.

In 2014 three letters written by Mahatma Gandhi to Harilal in 1935 were offered for auction.[13][14]


Harilal died of tuberculosis four months after Gandhi's death, on the night of 18 June 1948, aged 55 at a municipal hospital (now the Sewri TB Hospital) in Mumbai. His death certificate is preserved at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation's archives in Vakola. Harilal's death certificate reveals that he was admitted to the hospital after being found unconscious in Kamathipura.[15] Harilal did not reveal to staff that he was Gandhi's son, and his family only found out about his hospitalisation after his death.[16]

Gandhi, My Father[edit]

The troubled relationship between Harilal and his father is the subject of the film and play Gandhi, My Father. The film adaptation was released on 3 August 2007 and directed by Feroz Abbas Khan and produced by Anil Kapoor. Harilal is portrayed by Akshaye Khanna. Khan's play, Mahatma vs. Gandhi,[17] while different from this film, had a similar theme. The film got positive reviews from critics but was a failure at box office.

There is also a Marathi play named Gandhi virudh Gandhi.


Further reading[edit]

  • Harilal Gandhi: What Life[18] by Chandulal Bhagubhai Dalal
  • Gandhiji's Lost Jewel: Harilal Gandhi[19] by Nilam Parikh, grand daughter of Harilal Gandhi
  • Dinkar Joshi (1 January 2007). Mahatma Vs Gandhi. Jaico Publishing House. ISBN 978-81-7992-700-7.
  • Gandhi, Gopalkrishna (28 April 2007). "Review: A Son's Story: Harilal Gandhi: A Life". Economic and Political Weekly. 42 (17): 1501. JSTOR 4419514.


  1. ^ Gandhi, Rajmohan (2006) p 376
  2. ^ *Gandhi Family Tree
  3. ^ "The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi". www.gandhiservefoundation.org. Gandhiserve foundation (Berlin). Archived from the original on 6 March 2019. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  4. ^ a b Gandhi, Rajmohan (August 2015). Gandhi : the man, his people and the empire. Arabia Books. ISBN 9781910376263. OCLC 936199613.
  5. ^ "The Mahatma and his son". The Hindu. 22 July 2007. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 6 August 2016.
  6. ^ Desai, Sukrat (2 May 2015). "Mahatma Gandhi opposed son marrying young". Times of India. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  7. ^ Guha, Ramchandra (2018). Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World. Penguin Allen Lane. p. 233. ISBN 978-0670083886.
  8. ^ Gandhi, Tushar. "The truth behind news report suggesting Mahatma Gandhi accused his son Harilal of raping his own daughter: Tushar Gandhi's open letter to media". DNA. Retrieved 4 March 2019.
  9. ^ Gandhi, Rajmohan (2006), pp374
  10. ^ "Watching 'Gandhi my Father' was painful: Tushar". Archived from the original on 28 May 2008.
  11. ^ "The Tribune, Chandigarh, India - Main News". www.tribuneindia.com.
  12. ^ "Gandhi three autograph letters signed to his son". Mullock's Auctions. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  13. ^ Sinha, Kounteya (22 May 2014). "Gandhi's letters accusing son of raping grand daughter find no buyer". Times of India. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  14. ^ "Lost in translation, says Mahatma kin". Telegraph of India. 15 May 2014. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  15. ^ Mishra, Lata. "OLD HOSPITAL RECORDS REVEAL LONELY DEATH OF GANDHI'S SON". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  16. ^ Mishra, Lata (15 December 2012). "Old hospital records reveal lonely death of Gandhi's son". Mumbai Mirror. Retrieved 3 April 2019.
  17. ^ "Feroz Khan- A Distinguished Indian Theatre Director of highly acclaimed plays". Archived from the original on 6 February 2012. Retrieved 4 August 2012.
  18. ^ "Vedams eBooks". www.vedamsbooks.com.
  19. ^ "The Prodigal Who Didn't Return". Retrieved 6 August 2016.