“Nathuram”, ever wondered what the name meant? “Nath (pronounced N-uh-th), is an ornate piece of traditional Indian jewellery – A large nose ring.
The early 20th century was a time of widespread epidemics, famines – both drought and manmade, poor health facilitation for Indians, and malnutrition.
This was own to the coupling of indiscriminate population growth (the destitute held the notion that the more the hands to aid their labour and profession the better, and people always longed for a male child) and colonial excesses, particularly mismanagement, harsh impositions as tariff manipulation and prohibitions, and resource diversions.
Stillborn, maternal, neonate and infant mortality rates were dismally high. The colonial rule had pushed Indians centuries behind, with average lower living and health standards than they had during the Mughal period, while the Britons enjoyed elite, hitherto avant-garde amenities – two worlds coexisted at the same place.
The orthodox Chitpavan Brahmin parents of Nathuram, Vinayak Vamanrao Godse and Lakshmi, had lost three male children, and only a single child, a girl had thereto survived.
A few years later, when their fifth child, another boy, was born, their parents feared a supernatural curse, that exclusively targeted male children – the heirs of the family lineage.
In a desperate, superstitious bid to “conceal” their male child from the noose of the emissaries of Yama, the God of Death, his parents altered his original birth name ‘Ramachandra’ to ‘Nathuram’.
They believed this would deceive or fool death, when it came to dispatching their son, a theme echoed in certain Hindu mythological tales, particularly in a tale where a master sculptor creates impeccable icons of himself to trick Yama. Thus, Godse was raised, referred treated, dressed up, and likely predisposed as a girl, with effeminate ethos.
When Godse’s younger brother Gopal was born, this practice wasn’t repeated. His brother was raised normally, while his feminine treatment and upbringing abruptly ceased.
This led Godse in an uncomfortable limbo. His gender identity was confused, and later he longed for a way to assert his masculinity, proving it more to himself, than anyone else.
In his in-depth psychoanalysis of Godse, political psychologist Ashis Nandy wrote in his book, At The Edge of Psychology, “Perhaps it was given in the situation that Nathuram would try to regain the lost clarity of his sexual role by becoming a model of masculinity.”
Masculinity is frequently equated and typecast with aggression and belligerence. This led to Gandhi, once an idol of his, to wane in influence, because of his core tenets of pacifism and nonviolence, and transgress towards bellicose Hindutva.
Godse began to see Gandhi as an effeminate patriarch unfit to lead a family that India was, due to his peaceful ways, nonchalance, lack of urgency, and composed serene demeanour.
He saw advocacy of aggressive nationalism as the only way to assert masculinity. When his pen (a newspaper called the Hindu Rashtra) failed to bring sea-change, he picked up a pistol – killing the ideologue, who he believed was emasculating the Hindus, rendering them effeminate, complaisant and subversive.
Thus, besides caste and religious hegemony, Godse was as much a product of patriarchy, superstition, gender assertion, and fragile masculinity. Godse aspired to embody chauvinism, in all senses of the word.