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Removal of Untouchability and Mahatma Gandhi-I

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229

E-mail- dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net;

dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com

Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India

 

 

Removal of Untouchability and Mahatma Gandhi-I 

 

 

 Why are we wasting our time here, then, keeping awake till this hour of twelve? We are like the parrot endlessly repeating Narayana, Narayana. I would advise Bhai Shinde to give up calling such conferences and to engage himself in some solid work. We can purge ourselves of the sin of untouchability only through purity of heart. Genuine feeling alone will ensure results, not any unnatural efforts. We pass resolution after resolution for the removal of untouchability, but the result has been nil. To prevent the unanimous passage of the resolution, one gentleman argued that the Conference will serve no practical purpose. I say the same thing. When I read out the resolution recommending acceptance of the Congress-League Scheme, I had hoped that it would be supported by a member of the Antyaja community, but there is none here at all. What is then the point of passing it? What weight will it carry with Mr. Montagu? I cannot move it.

This Conference has no right to pass such a resolution and, therefore, we cannot bring it up here. It would be enough if we gave up behaving unnaturally and took to straight forward ways. We don’t observe the varnashram. The Brahmin has given up his dharma, the Kshatriya and the Vaisya theirs, and we cling to what is no part of our religion. We are not fit for swaraj what should they who demand swaraj do for the Antyajas? Our friends like Lord Sydenham are bound to put this question to us, and in reply we shall have to hang our heads in shame. He who demands swaraj must give swaraj to others. It is a principle in law that he who seeks justice should render it to others. I would ask you to give up all this play-acting and in all sincerity of heart offer prayers at this midnight hour so that our sinfulness, our hardness of heart, may disappear. 1 I do not approve of deception anywhere. The question whether corruption will increase or decrease day by day has nothing to do with the removal of untouchability. Dharma lies in removing it. I believe the national school in Wadhwan can look after the education of small children. The only way for removing unemployment among the middle classes is to teach them vocations which will require them to use their hands and feet. 2 If untouchability is a part of Hinduism, I would say that, to that extent, there is Satanism in Hinduism. But it is my firm conviction that there is no such thing in it. It is not dharma but adharma to refuse to touch persons of a particular community. We have committed many sins by taking untouchability as a part of dharma. We have got to atone for them. I am not advocating interdining or intermarriage; I am only suggesting that the idea that there is harm in touching anybody should be abandoned. We have allowed one of our limbs to rot by treating it as untouchable, and our entire body is suffering pain in consequence. Today Englishmen look upon us as Bhangis. In the Colonies, they allot us separate areas for carrying on business. Our residential localities and railway coaches for our travel are segregated. We are considered untouchable, pariahs. We must end the long-standing injustice of our behaviour towards the untouchables. When we have changed our behaviour towards them, the life of the untouchable communities will become cleaner. It has been my experience that the homes and surroundings of many untouchables are much cleaner than those of quite a few belonging to the so-called higher castes. The work of a Bhangi is not low. It is essential for the existence of society. It is not impure.

I have myself often cleaned the latrines of patients both in South Africa and here, but nobody ever said that this work was unclean or low; on the contrary, it was praised. Every mother removes the stools of her child. There is service and an element of nobility in her work. Will anybody ever dream of looking upon the mother as an untouchable? Consolidation of Hindu-Muslim unity is as important as removal of untouchability. It is not at all necessary, for this purpose, that Hindus should become Muslims or that the latter should become Hindus. The right course for each community would be to remain loyal to its own faith and, at the same time, respect the faith of the other. 3 keep the promise you have given to make an effort to act upon the advice of the Congress. Gird up your loins for the removal of untouchability. I have mentioned this first, leaving aside the spinning wheel. The latter represents the supreme task to which we should bend all our efforts, but there is a still more important task for the Hindus, which is to see that not the slightest trace of untouchability survives. Work has to be done in the spinning-wheel movement, but in this our very mentality has to be transformed. Last night I went to the Bhangi quarters in Godhra. I was in agony at the sight of the conditions there. I wonder why Hindus, sharp-eyed as they are, cannot see what is visible even to the naked eye, why they do not know that there is a carbuncle on their back. You have been elected to get the city cleaned of its refuse, to look after the health of the people, to provide education for the children and to prevent diseases. You can do this only by raising the status of Bhangis. There will be no meaning in swaraj if you think merely of filling your pockets, just as England served its own interests on the pretence that it was fighting the War for the sake of small states like Belgium. 4

We must redouble our efforts to go through our programme. It is clearly as follows: (1) removal of untouchability, (2) removal of the drink curse, (3) ceaseless introduction of the spinning-wheel, and the ceaseless production of khaddar, leading to an almost complete boycott of foreign cloth, (4) registration of Congress members, and (5) collection of Tilak Swaraj Fund. 5 Removal of untouchability assumes a concrete shape when you demand temple-entry. On strategically grounds, I would ask you to drop temple-entry now and begin with public wells. Then you may go to public schools. 6 We should now ask ourselves what we have been doing for the Antyajas in Gujarat. Is every Congress Committee doing something in the matter? The Committee in Tadpatri has provided work to Antyaja women on its own premises. People are free to mix with them, and they with people. We can, in this and many other ways, demonstrate that Antyaja men and women are our own brothers and sisters. Only, we need to be serious about the matter. How many wells have we dug for them? How many new schools have been opened for them? How do we ourselves treat them at home? Do we give them left-overs to eat? This last question should particularly engage the attention of women. Removal of untouchability does not mean merely that we no longer take a bath on coming into contact with an Antyaja, believing ourselves polluted by such contact. We should, rather, think over the meaning of this practice and rid ourselves completely of the terrible contempt which lies behind it. Till we have done this untouchability will persist. Its disappearance is bound to be felt by every Antyaja man and woman. 7 The same correspondent further asks, “Don’t you think that the success of the present foreign Government is due to the oppression of the poor, the weak, of the so-called untouchables by the higher classes?” This oppression by us of our own kith and kin is certainly the root cause. It is a fall from spirituality. The curse of foreign domination and the attendant exploitation is the justness retribution meted out by God to us for our exploitation of a sixth of our own race and their studied degradation in the sacred name of religion. Hence it is that I have put the removal of untouchability as an indispensable condition of attainment of swaraj. Slave-holders ourselves, we have no business to quarrel with our own slavery if we are not prepared unconditionally to enfranchise our own slaves. We must first cast out the beam of untouchability from our own eye before we attempt to remove the mote from that of our “masters”. 8

Though, therefore, the All-India Congress Committee has authorized civil disobedience by Provincial Congress Committees on their own responsibility, I hope they will put due emphasis on the word “responsibility” and not start civil disobedience with a light heart. Every condition must be given its full effect. The mention of Hindu-Muslim unity, non-violence, swadeshi and removal of untouchability means that they have not yet become an integral part of our national life. If an individual or a mass have still misgivings about Hindu-Muslim unity, if they have still any doubt about the necessity of non-violence for the attainment of our triple goal, if they have not yet enforced swadeshi in its completeness if the Hindus among that mass have still the poison of untouchability in them that mass or that individual are not ready for civil disobedience.

Indeed it would be best to watch and wait whilst the experiment is being carried on in one area. Reverting to the analogy of the army, those divisions that watch and wait are just as much co-operating actively as the division that is actually fighting. The only time, whilst the experiment is going on, that individual civil disobedience may be resorted to simultaneously, is when the Government obstructs even the silent prosecution of swadeshi. Thus if an order of prohibition is served upon an expert spinner going to teach or organize spinning, that order should be summarily disregarded and the teacher should court imprisonment. But in all other respects, in so far as I can judge at present, it will be best for every other part of India scrupulously to respect all orders and instructions whilst one part is deliberately taking the offensive and committing a deliberate breach of all the unmoral state laws it possibly can Needless to add that any outbreak of violence in any other part of India must necessarily injure and may even stop the experiment. The other parts will be expected to remain immovable and unperturbed, even though the people within the area of experiment may be imprisoned, riddled with bullets or otherwise ill-treated by the authorities. We must expect them to give a good account of themselves in every conceivable circumstance. 9 

I can generally answer the question by saying that removal of untouchability means disappearance of a fifth caste. It therefore does mean at least that mere touch of a man shall not be regarded as pollution. The so-called untouchable should enjoy the same freedom that the touchables do. Generally speaking therefore water handled by the erstwhile untouchable will not be regarded as polluted. Removal of untouchability does not include partaking of rice or other food cooked by the untouchable or any other. That is a matter of reform in the institution of caste and not covered by the programme about untouchability. Restrictions about marriage and inter-dining may be undesirable and may require modification. But I do not regard them as a blot upon Hinduism, as I do untouchability. The latter puts a class of human beings beyond the pale of social service and therefore is an inhuman institution. 10

I can generally answer the question by saying that removal of untouchability means disappearance of a fifth caste. It therefore does mean at least that mere touch of a man shall not be regarded as pollution. The so-called untouchable should enjoy the same freedom that the touchables do. Generally speaking therefore water handled by the erstwhile untouchable will not be regarded as polluted. Removal of untouchability does not include partaking of rice or other food cooked by the untouchable or any other. That is a matter of reform in the institution of caste and not covered by the programme about untouchability. Restrictions about marriage and inter-dining may be undesirable and may require modification. But I do not regard them as a blot upon Hinduism, as I do untouchability. The latter puts a class of human beings beyond the pale of social service and therefore is an inhuman institution. 11

Untouchability is an attitude of the mind, not a concrete object. To eradicate it, therefore, is not as easy as to persuade pupils to leave schools. No agitation, therefore, like the one with regard to schools can be suggested in respect of untouchability. A change of heart is necessary for this reform, as it is for accepting the principle of non-violence. The movement, therefore, can only be carried on along the same line as that for non-violence. Just as the extent to which the latter has been accepted by the people can be measured from the occasional incidents of violence which occur, so can progress in the removal of untouchability be measured from occasional evidence of its survival? No rule of arithmetic can be applied to judge this. You cannot work out as an arithmetical exercise, “If so many Hindus have mixed with so many unit touchables within such a period of time, what time will it take for all the crores of Hindus to mix with all the millions of untouchables?”—and ascertain the progress from the answer. But we get a measure of the progress from incidents which occur from time to time. The issue was first discussed as a principle in the Gujarat Vidyapith.

As a result, the principle of admitting Antyaja pupils in its schools was accepted even at the risk of putting its very existence in danger, and some members who had tendered their resignations on this issue were allowed to leave the Vidyapith. If, again, the existence of an institution like the Dakshinamurti Bhavan is in serious danger today, the reason is the same. The teachers who are the very soul of the Bhavan are fighting a life-and-death struggle there to get the principle accepted. I cannot claim credit for either of these two results. I would have been defeated if the majority of the members of the Vidyapith had opposed me. But, on the contrary, they themselves believed in the principle independently of my view. In the holy fight which is being waged in the Dakshinamurti Bhavan, I cannot claim to have a hand even as an individual member. It was because of this issue that several proffered donations to the Tilak Swaraj Fund were withheld, but the managers of the Fund did not care for the loss. Antyajas have freely attended hundreds of public meetings in Gujarat and elsewhere. The All-india Congress Committee has sanctioned an expenditure of more than Rs. 50,000 for Antyaja-welfare activities at various places. This amount excludes the money already spent by the Provincial Committees. Non-co-operators have thus been working all over India and independently of party considerations. In every province, enthusiastic young men of character have been, with the utmost sincerity of purpose, sacrificing their all in the service of Antyajas. This is the first time that, in every constituency, Antyaja brothers has been elected delegates though they had expressed no such desire. This is for the satisfaction of the authors of the letter and other Antyaja friends like them who feel disappointed. But, while we may draw their attention to such a movement having spread, we must admit at the same time that there is some truth in their complaint. Many persons simply make a show of mixing [with Antyajas] in order to hoodwink others, and are not sincere about the matter. Mixing with them in this spirit will yield bitter fruit.

The practice of untouchability is an offence against dharma and its disappearance will bear fruit only if the prejudice is shed from the heart. The campaign against it is not a political move so that we may do just enough to throw dust in people’s eyes. Nor is the movement undertaken in order to please or bribe Antyajas. Our only object is to satisfy our own conscience; our very conception of this evil is that, as long as Hindu society does not rid itself of it, it will continue to block our path invisibly, if not visibly, and will prevent our success in winning swaraj The consequences of karma are hard to comprehend; its law admits of no exception. We always reap, visibly or invisibly, the fruits of our good and bad deeds, of our sins and virtuous acts. There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that so long as we have not cleansed our hearts of this evil and have not accepted the path of non-violence, so long as Hindus and Muslims have not become sincerely united, we shall not be free. Our progress in all these three fields is impossible to measure by any visible yardstick. Till we succeed in regard to all three, we shall not get swaraj and when we get it, we shall have succeeded in them. So long as Hindu society turns a deaf ear to the six crores of Antyajas crying for justice at our doors, we shall not get swaraj, never. But even if caste-Hindus wash off their sins, will Antyajas ascend to heaven in consequence? For that, they themselves should strive. They should give up drinking, refuse to eat leftovers, stop eating meat and, though for the sake of service, engaged in the most uncleanly work, remain clean and worship God. All this is for them to attend to. Others cannot do it for them. To banish hunger from among them, they have the spinning wheel and the handloom at their service. Thousands of Antyajas have taken them up and prospered. The swadeshi movement is such that it feeds and strengthens all the limbs and I, for one, am certain that it is swadeshi which will, in time, end our abject poverty. 12 

If, at the end of the year, the people have not realized through their own experience that swaraj will be won through non-violence, through unity of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Jews, through swadeshi and the removal of untouchability, then I shall have been proved totally deficient in practical wisdom and I must retire to the Himalayas. 13 The same Lahore correspondent, however, regretfully mentions that the khadi movement has suffered a set-back and that khadi is not so much in evidence in Lahore as it used to be some time ago. If this is so, it is a bad sign. A mere filling of the jails will not answer the whole purpose. If India does not return to swadeshi, no amount of going to jail will make her self-contained or fill the mouths of the hungry millions. Without the four vital parts of the programme, which are meant not for particular classes but for all, we cannot establish swaraj. The reader must not be tired of my repetition of them: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi, Christian, Jew unity; swadeshi, i.e., manufacture and use of hand-spun khadi to the exclusion of all foreign cloth; removal of untouchability by Hindus; and observance of non-violence by all. These are like the four posts of a bedstead. Remove one of them and it cannot stand. 14

Similarly we must make a Herculean effort to deal with the question of untouchability. Not until the “untouchables” certify to the reformation in Hinduism, may we claim to have done anything in the matter. To my dismay I have found much misunderstanding on this question even in one of the most advanced and best awakened provinces, namely Andhra. The removal of untouchability means the abolition of the fifth caste. There should, therefore, be no objection to a Panchama boy drawing water from the common well of a village and to his attending its common school. He should freely exercise all the rights of a non-Brahmin. In the name of religion we Hindus have made a fetish of outward observances, and have degraded religion by making it simply a question of eating and drinking. Brahmanism owes its unrivalled position to its self-abnegation, its inward purity, its severe austerity,—all these illumined by knowledge. Hindus are doomed if they attach undue importance to the spiritual effects of foods and human contacts. Placed as we are in the midst of trials and temptations from within, and touched and polluted as we are by the entire most untouchable and the vilest thought currents, let us not, in our arrogance, exaggerate the influence of contact with people whom we often ignorantly and more often arrogantly consider to be our inferiors. Before the throne of the Almighty we shall be judged, not by what we have eaten nor by whom we have been touched but by whom we have served and how. Inasmuch as we serve a single human being in distress, we shall find favour in the sight of God. Bad and stimulating or dirty foods we must avoid as we must avoid bad contact. But let us not give these observances a place out of all proportion to their importance. We dare not use abstinence from certain foods as a cover for fraud, hypocrisy, and worse vices. we dare not refuse to serve a fallen or a dirty brother lest his contact should injure our spiritual growth. 15

It is necessary to explain clearly the condition of non-violence also. Muslims and some students of the Gita tell me that it is a religious duty to use the sword on some occasions. Lord Krishna himself urged Arjuna to battle. For me, however, non-violence is the highest dharma. I do not mind if you think of it as a practical necessity. But the removal of untouchability is an absolute duty. When I ask you to eradicate untouchability, I do not mean that you should eat and drink in the company of Antyajas or have marriage ties with them or drink water out of a jug used by one of them, without cleaning it. The Hindu religion does not compel anyone to use any article from which another has eaten. By this resolution, you bind yourselves to treat the Antyajas in the same way as you treat the Sudras. Raise your hands in support of this resolution only if you have understood this.  I followed Vithalbhai and went through every one of the conditions of mass civil disobedience laid down by the Congress. I took the sense of the meeting on every one of the conditions, separately. They understood the implications of Hindu-Muslim- Parsi-Christian unity. They realized the significance and the truth of non-violence. They saw what the removal of untouchability meant; they were prepared, not merely to take into national schools, but to induce untouchable children to join them; they have had no objection to the untouchable drawing water from the village wells. They knew that they were to nurse the untouchable sick as they would nurse their ailing neighbours. They knew that they could not exercise the privilege of non-payment of revenue and other forms of civil disobedience until they had purified themselves in the manner described by me. They knew, too, that they had to become industrious and spin their own yarn and weave their own khaddar. And lastly, they were ready to face forfeiture of their movables, their cattle and their land. They were ready to face imprisonment and even death, if necessary, and they would do all this without resentment.  Before the larger meeting I had met the real workers, about fifty in number.

Before that meeting Vithalbhai Patel, some workers and I conferred together and felt that we would pass a resolution postponing the decision for about a fortnight, to make the swadeshi preparation more complete and removal of untouchability more certain, by actually having untouchable children in all the sixty national schools. The brave and earnest workers of Bardoli would not listen to the postponement. They were certain that more than 50 per cent of the Hindu population was quite ready about untouchability and they were sure of being able to manufacture enough khaddar for their future wants. They were bent on trying conclusions with the Government. They bore down every objection raised by Vithalbhai Patel, and Abbas Tyabji, with his hoary beard and ever smiling face was there to utter the warning. But they would not budge an inch from their position and so the resolution which I give below was unanimously passed: After having fully understood and considered the conditions as essential for the starting of mass civil disobedience, this Conference of the inhabitants of the Bardoli Taluka resolves that this Taluka is fit for mass civil disobedience. This Conference is of opinion: (a) That for the redress of India’s grievances, unity among Hindus, Mohammedans, Parsis, Christians and other communities of India is absolutely necessary. (b) That non-violence, patience and endurance are the only remedy for the redress of the said grievances. (c) That the use of the spinning-wheel in every home and the adoption of hand-spun and hand-woven garments to the exclusion of all other cloth by every individual are indispensable for India’s freedom. (d) That swaraj is impossible without complete removal of untouchability by the Hindus. (e) That for the people’s progress and for the attainment of freedom, readiness to sacrifice movable and immovable property, to suffer imprisonment and, if necessary, to lay down one’s life, is indispensable. 16

Complaints having been brought to the notice of the Working Committee that in the formation of Volunteer Corps great laxity prevails in the selection and that insistence is not laid on the full use of hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar, and on the full observance by Hindus of the rule as to the removal of untouchability, nor is care being taken to ascertain that the candidates believe fully in the observance of non-violence in intent, word and deed, in terms of the Congress resolution, the Working Committee calls upon all Congress organizations to revise their lists and remove from them the names of all such volunteers as do not strictly conform to the requirements of the pledge. 17 Desai Gopaldas is the Durbar of a town called Dhasa in Kathiawar. The people of that place lead a very happy and simple life. The relationship between the Durbar and his subjects is as cordial as between father and son. The movement for swadeshi, the removal of untouchability and similar activities are proceeding in Dhasa with great vigour. Being a Patidar, however, Shri Desai could not restrain himself when Abbas Saheb took charge of the Kheda district; he left the management of affairs in Dhasa to his wife and plunged into the movement in Kheda. Everyone has seen the correspondence between him and the Commissioner. Every one of his letters bears testimony to his spirit of Satyagraha. The nation will advance only through such sacrifices. The atmosphere in Japan changed overnight when the nobles offered their lands and all their other possessions for the service of the people. The poor also understood the importance of that sacrifice and all engaged themselves in national work, similarly, when a large number of Durbars and zemindars in India start making sacrifices for the people, the resulting union between the rich and the poor will be a sight for the world to see. Today, it is the poor and those belonging to the middle class who are chiefly carrying on the non-co-operation movement. There is even some danger for the country in this. The somewhat delicate situation in which we find ourselves today will also end if the upper classes take full part in the movement. This requires courage and a Kshatriya spirit. Shri Desai has displayed these. I hope that others will take a lesson from his example. 18

I have given relevant extracts from this valuable report to show: (1) the utter impartiality with which the Commissioners approach their mission, (2) the marvellous progress made in the selected area in fulfilling the conditions laid down by the Congress, (3) the necessity for much greater work before the idea of civil disobedience could be approached with any confidence. I am aware that extraordinary efforts were being put forth in many parts of India for due fulfillment of the Congress conditions in order that the people might be able to exercise the privilege of civil disobedience. That in itself is certainly a matter for congratulation, but work of construction ought not to have to depend upon stimulation. It must go on irrespective of the excitement of civil disobedience. Removal of untouchability, manufacture of khaddar, Hindu-Muslim unity, cultivation of non-violence is not measures of a temporary character. They are the four pillars on which the structure of swaraj must for ever rest. Take away any one of them and it must topple down.

The greater, therefore, the progress in these four matters, the nearer we are to swaraj, and the nearer also to capacity for civil disobedience. Indeed, even disobedience, if it is truly civil, excludes the idea of excitement. When Daniel threw open his doors in defiance of the laws of Medes and Persians, when John Bunyan became a non-conformist, when Latimer thrust his hand into the fire, when Prahlad embraced the red-hot iron pillar, not one of these civil resisters of old resisted under excitement. On the contrary they were, if possible, more collected and deliberate than on ordinary occasions. Absence of excitement is an infallible test of civil disobedience. I therefore hope that the good people of the selected area will not go to sleep now that mass civil disobedience has been suspended, but that they will go on with the programme of construction with greater zeal and devotion.  There should therefore be no hartals, no noisy demonstrations, no processions. I would regard the observance of perfect peace on my arrest as a mark of high honour paid to me by my countrymen. What I would love to see, however, is the constructive work of the Congress going on with clockwork regularity and the speed of the Punjab Express. I would love to see people who have hitherto kept back, voluntarily discarding all their foreign cloth and making a bonfire of it. Let them fulfil the whole of the constructive programme framed at Bardoli, and they will not only release me and other prisoners, but they will also inaugurate swaraj and secure redress of the Khilafat and the Punjab wrongs. Let them remember the four pillars of swaraj: non-violence, Hindu-Muslim-Sikh-Parsi-Christian-Jew unity, total removal of untouchability and manufacture of hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar completely displacing foreign cloth. 19

If we earnestly start working on the various items in the non-cooperation programme and make progress in them all, we shall automatically learn the lesson of peace, for they include three important constructive activities khadi, removal of untouchability and the unity of all communities. Can anyone even dream that Hindus and Muslims can be truly united until they have fully realized the importance of peace? If the two can maintain peaceful relations so that they may help each other, they together can, with love, win over the unsocial elements and other mischief-makers. Those who believe that this cannot be done cannot possibly believe in true friendship between Hindus and Muslims. If these two major communities are not bound to each other by ties of mutual regard, I venture a prophecy and say that one day they will fight it out to their heart’s content. If the pride of both is humbled after this, the two together will be able to overcome the third party; if, on the other hand, one of the two is defeated in fighting, it will be doomed to slavery. This way of looking at the matter will furnish us the key to an understanding of all our problems. 20 If we could but visualize the growing pauperism of the land and realize that the spinning-wheel is the only remedy for the disease, the wheel will leave us little leisure for fighting. I had during the last two years ample time and solitude for hard thinking. It made me a firmer believer than ever in the efficacy of the Bardoli programme and, therefore, in the unity between the races, the charkha, the removal of untouchability and the application of non-violence in thought, word and deed to out methods as indispensable for swaraj. If we faithfully and fully carry out this programme, we need never resort to civil disobedience and I should hope that it will never be necessary. But I must state that my thinking prayerfully and in solitude has not weakened my belief in the efficiency and righteousness of civil disobedience. I hold it, as never before, to be a man’s or a nation’s right and duty when its vital being is in jeopardy. I am convinced that it is attended with less danger than war and, whilst the former, when successful, benefits both the resister and the wrongdoer, the latter harms both the victor and the vanquished. 21

 Shri Sriramulu is an unknown poor Congressman and servant of humanity working in Nellore. He has been labouring singlehanded for the cause to the Harijans of that place. There was a time when high hope was entertained about removal of untouchability and other social work in Nellore. An ashram was built near Nellore, but for variety of causes the activity received a set-back. Deshabhakta Konda Venkatappayya was, and still is, though very old, the moving spirit in connection with these activities. It is in this place that Shri Sriramulu has been quietly and persistently working for the removal, root and branch, of untouchability. 22

 You seem to think that the Congress has done very little in the matter of untouchability and general national education. I am venture to dissent from the view. The removal of untouchability has been brought within the range of possibility in the near future because of the incessant propaganda by Congress Hindus. No doubt a great deal still remains to be done. It is not a n easy feat to root out prejudices which have acquired an undeserved sanctity because of their age. But the barrier is breaking down. 23 Gujarat is not likely to fail in regard to other aspects of non-cooperation too. No other province has as many non-co-operation schools as Gujarat has. The province has done fairly good work in regard to khadi, removal of untouchability and other items. It need not fear comparison with other provinces. There has been no breach in Hindu-Muslim unity, though I notice some effects of the prevailing atmosphere. I congratulate Gujarat on all these efforts. I wish to add, however, that very much more yet remain to be done. The education imparted in national schools has still to be infused with a national spirit. The number of these schools is much too small yet. Efforts need to be made to popularize khadi on a large scale. The spinning wheel has yet to find a place in every home. A great deal is remains to be done in the way of service to untouchables. A large number of hard-working, able and honest volunteers are needed to undertake these activities. As long as we have not made sufficient progress in all these fields, we cannot afford the luxury of resting. 24 

It has retarded the progress of the constructive programme, namely, the charkha, unity between the different communities, removal of untouchability, and development of the Panchayat system, National Schools and the collection of subscriptions necessary for carrying on the programme. 25 I observe that questions are still asked about issues which I thought had been made sufficiently plain. According to the Congress resolution and my personal opinion as well, removal of untouchability can have only one meaning. That is that, we Hindus must rid ourselves of the sin of untouchability. The four Varnas do not regard one another’s touch as defiling or sinful. We should treat Antyajas in the same way. It has been repeatedly stressed that the resolution has no other implication. As there is no inter-dining or intermarriage among other communities, so also we are not required by the Resolution to have such relations with Antyajas. There can be no compulsion in these matters. But the conduct of the person who objects to physical contact as such with another person or looks upon someone as untouchable merely because he is born in a certain community, violates Nature’s law, is repugnant to he spirit of compassion and to shastra in the true sense of the word. To mix up the efforts being made to end this sinful practice with inter-dining and intermarriage is to obstruct the progress of the atonement which it is essential for us to go through. The evil of untouchability has struck such deep roots among us that we do not recognize it as evil. One would actually think that it was being carefully preserved as an ornament to the Hindu community. When well-wishers of the community find it difficult to end this evil, practical men would not introduce further difficulties and obstruct the progress of the reform. 26

But why may the Vaikom satyagrahis not receive monetary aid from outside, especially if it be from Hindus? So far as non-Hindu assistance is concerned, I am as clear about such pecuniary help as I am about such personal help. I may not build my Hindu temple with non-Hindu money. If I desire a place of worship I must pay for it. This removal of untouchability is much more than building a temple of brick and mortar. Hindus must bleed for it, must pay for it. They must be prepared to forsake wife, children and all for the sake of removing the curse. As for accepting assistance from Hindus from outside, such acceptance would betray unreadiness on the part of the local Hindus for the reform. If the satyagrahis have the sympathy of the local Hindus they must get locally all the money they may need. If they have not, the very few who may offer Satyagraha must be content to starve. If they are not, it is clear that they will evoke no sympathy among the local Hindus whom they want to convert. Satyagraha is a process of conversion. The reformers, I am sure, do not seek to force their views upon the community; they strive to touch its heart. Outside pecuniary help must interfere with the love process if I may so describe the method of Satyagraha. Thus viewed, the proposed Sikh free kitchen I can only regard as a menace to the frightened Hindus of Vaikom. 27 

My friends asked me whether I had expressed an opinion to the effect that the Kerala Congress Committee should not have taken up the question. My answer to them was that, if the question should have been taken up at all, the Congress Committee should have been the first body to take it up because it is pledged to bring about the removal of untouchability by all peaceful and legitimate means. But the Congress taking it up cannot and does not mean that non-Hindus can or ought to participate in Satyagraha. They can only give their moral support. 28 I for one can be no party to a tug of war in which each party tries to capture the Congress executive. That war may be fought out if at all necessary without heat and bitterness at the forthcoming session in December. The Congress is the debating and legislative body. The permanent organizations are purely executive bodies to give effect to the resolutions of the Congress. I am in a desperate hurry. I believe implicitly in the full and undiluted non-violent non-co-operation programme as passed by the Congress and no other. If I can get really non-violent and truthful workers who share my belief in the boycotts, in the potency of khaddar, in Hindu-Muslim unity and in removal of untouchability, I would again feel swaraj coming to us much quicker than most of us think possible. But if we wrangle on in the All-India Congress Committee, we can only discredit and obstruct one another. Each party honourably and without jealousy and ill will working separately (because they cannot do otherwise) can help one another. 29 

If I were asked what India desires at the present moment, I should say I do not know. I could only say I would have her to desire truthful relations between Hindus and Mussalmans, bread for the masses and removal of untouchability. That is how I would define swaraj at the present moment. I give that definition because I claim to be a practical man. I know that we want political independence of England. It will not be attained without the three things mentioned by me, not even if we had arms and we knew how to use them. 30 If we hold, as we must, the removal of untouchability to be an essential part of the work to be done by the Congress it will be impossible to win swaraj for the country as long as we continue to keep the Antyajas at a distance and are not ready to treat them as our equals. English newspapers and spokesmen of the British Government may exploit this statement of mine, but I am not worried on that score. We wish to win swaraj only through self-purification. Hence, I will keep on repeating this statement. 31

I am a soldier. I am speaking therefore with a grasp of the strategy of war. Hindu-Muslim unity and removal of untouchability do not involve bodily labour. They need propaganda and education. This work can be done extensively with a devout heart; whereas khadi work requires some exertion of the limbs over and above a devout heart. I wish to bind the workers and the people together with a common bond. The yarn produced by a spinning-wheel can alone be such a bond. If members of the Congress spin, crores of our countrymen will spin. 32 I have purposely called my proposal the lowest common measure, not the highest. And the lowest does not mean the lowest acceptable to the whole of India, but the lowest necessary for the national achievement. And I hold that, if we are to achieve swaraj by bloodless methods, the three things mentioned by me are absolutely necessary. If the ideal is to have as many voters as we can, irrespective of efficiency, then Hindu-Muslim unity and [anti-]untouchability also must go by the board. For I know that our intense work about untouchability has driven away many men from the Congress. They still hug it as an integral part of Hinduism. The same may be said of Hindu-Muslim unity. For recent experiences have shown that there are many who not only do not want Hindu-Muslim unity, but want to perpetuate our differences. They want to pick quarrels on the slightest pretext. They do not hesitate to manufacture pretexts. If, therefore, we dispense with all conditions conducive to internal growth, we will have a Congress of rabble, not a Congress that would respond as one man to the call of the nation. I for one would absolutely freeze in an organization in which the three things mentioned by me were not living realities. To paraphrase a Biblical verse, if it is no profanation, I would say:” Seek you first Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchability and the spinning-wheel and khaddar, and everything will be added unto you. 33

The Congress should further resolve that different classes of work of the Congress may be done, as may be found necessary, by the different sections within the Congress and should resolve that the spread of hand-spinning, hand-weaving and all the antecedent progress and the spread of hand-spun and hand-woven khaddar, and the promotion of unity between different communities, specially between the Hindus and the Mussalmans, and the removal of untouchability by the Hindus from amongst them should be carried on by all sections within the Congress; and the work in connection with the Central and Provincial Legislatures should be carried on by the Swaraj Party on behalf of the Congress and as an integral part of the Congress organization and for such work the Swaraj Party should make its own rules and raise and administer its own funds. Inasmuch as experience has shown that without universal spinning India cannot become self-supporting regarding her clothing requirements and inasmuch as hand-spinning is the best and the most tangible method of establishing a visible and substantial bond between the masses and Congressmen and women and in order to popularize hand-spinning and its products, the Congress should repeal Article VII of the Congress Constitution and should substitute the following therefore. 34

There is a heavy duty resting on the shoulders of Congressmen, whether Swarajists or No-changers, Hindus or Mussalmans, Brahmins or non-Brahmins. They have to show their programme on their persons and in their daily conduct. They will attend the Congress as servants and not as masters demanding service. They will show their faith in khaddar which they have been preaching for the past four years by wearing it to the exclusion of all other cloth. They will show their faith in unity between different religious sects and denominations by exercising the greatest forbearance against one another and showing respect for one another’s religious observances. Hindus will show their faith in the removal of untouchability by going out of their way to be attentive to those of than who may attend the Congress. 35

If unity, removal of untouchability and the charkha are an integral part of the politics of this country, then No-changers have all the truth, all the non-violence and all the spirituality that they may wish for. A No-changer’s fight with the Government consists chiefly in purifying himself and developing his own strength. But he must not by any act of his impair the power of the Swarajists whom he is bound to regard as honest as himself. A No-changer should be the last person to arrogate sanctity for him to the exclusion of others. And granting that the Swarajists system is bad let him not act as if the existing system of Government is not much worse. Even a believer in non-violence has to say between two combatants which is less bad or whose cause is just. Between Japan and Russia, Tolstoy gave his verdict for Japan. Between England and Dutch South Africa, W. T Stead sided with the Boers and prayed for England’s defeat. Between Swarajists and the Government, I do not take a single second to make my choice. There is danger of our vision being blurred because of the Swarajists revolt against the programme of 1920. Assume for the moment that the Swarajists are as bad as the Government should have us believe, even so their government will be infinitely preferable to a government which has limitless resources for crushing the slightest attempt at independence of conduct or real resistance. I am not aiming at any “strategic” unity. I am simply aiming at representation of all parties in the Congress, so that we may learn to tolerate one another’s opinions, we may know one another better, we may react upon one another and, if we cannot find a common method of execution, we may at least frame a common scheme of swaraj. 36

Before I put this resolution to vote I must answer note that I have received. A friend asks if the resolution on removal of untouchability implies inter-dining and inter-marriage with the untouchables. There is nothing in the resolution suggesting this, but if this friend wants to know what I myself feel in the matter I will say that I have expressed my views in Navajivan and Young India namely, that we should behave with those we consider untouchable as we behave with other castes. 37 Before I move the next resolution I have an atonement to make. When the resolution on removal of untouchability was being moved, I had it in mind to present an untouchable brother before you. I had received a note saying an untouchable brother who was not a delegate wanted to say a few words. I had felt that even though he was not a delegate it would be good to permit him to speak as he was an untouchable. And so I had wanted to call him. But I forgot. The only way I now can atone for it is to apologize to him. Anyway, it is good that I remembered in time. 38 

 The Congress is strongly of opinion that the hope of the future of the country lies in its youth and therefore trusts that the Provincial Committees will strive more vigorously than they have done to keep alive all national educational institutions. But whilst the Congress is of opinion that existing national educational institutions should be maintained and new ones opened, the Congress does not regard any such institution to be national which does not employ some Indian language as the medium of instruction, and which does not actively encourage Hindu-Muslim unity, education among untouchables and removal of untouchability; which does not make hand-spinning, carding and training in physical culture and self-defence obligatory; and in which teachers and students over the age of 12 years do not spin for at least half an hour per working day and in which students and teachers do not habitually wear khaddar. 39

I do not regard inter-dining and intermarriage as essential to the removal of untouchability. I believe in varnashrama dharma. But I eat with Bhangis. I do not know whether I am a sannyasi, for it seriously doubt whether in this Kaliyuga it is at all possible for anyone to fulfil the conditions prescribed for a sannyasi. But I am moving deliberately in the direction of sannyasa. It is, therefore, not only not necessary for me to observe these restrictions but their observance may be even harmful for me. As regards the question of inter-marriage, it does not arise in cases like mine Sufficient for me to say that my scheme does not include intermarriage. Let me tell you that in my own clan all the members do not inter-dine. In certain cases among our Vaishnava families they do not use each other’s utensils or even cook food on fire fetched from others’ kitchens. You may call this practice superstitious, but I do not regard it as such. It certainly does no harm to Hinduism. In my Ashram, Dudhabhai, one of the untouchable inmates, dines with the rest without any distinction. But I do not recommend anybody outside the Ashram to follow this example. Again, you know the esteem in which I hold Malaviyaji. I would wash his feet.

But he would not take food touched by me. Am I to resent it as a mark of contempt? Certainly not, because I know that no contempt is meant.  But I can help you in this only by following the way indicated by my religion and not by following Western methods. For that way I cannot save Hinduism. Yours is a sacred cause. Can one serve a sacred cause by adopting Satan’s methods? I pray you, therefore, to dismiss from your mind the idea of ameliorating your condition by brute force. The Gita tells us that by sincerely meditating on the Lord in one’s heart, one can attain moksha. Meditation is waiting on God. If waiting on God brings the highest bliss of salvation, how much quicker must it bring removal of untouchability? Waiting on God means increasing purity. Let us by prayer purify ourselves and we shall not only remove untouchability but shall also hasten the advent of swaraj. 40

I see a great purpose in God saving me from a serious illness in Yeravda Prison and releasing me for your service. The purpose is that I should come to you and give you self-confidence, put before you the fruit of profound meditation in prison, namely, the key to swaraj lies in fulfilling three conditions alone—in the spinning-wheel, in Hindu-Muslim unity and in the removal of untouchability. The reason that I have mentioned the spinning-wheel first is that amongst these three, we are skeptical about it alone and, secondly because it is the spinning-wheel alone which demands from us honest daily work. If I wish to work half an hour a day for Hindu-Muslim unity or removal of untouchability, I would be hard put to it to imagine what to do. But the plying of the spinning-wheel for half an hour is concrete work. It is an inanimate object, but there is an irresistible power behind it. I ask everyone to get ready to activate it. You find khadi course. If you say that khadi irritates your skin, it would amount to saying that this country irritates you. And, how can he, whom his country irritates, win swaraj? Tilak Maharaj used to say that he was pained when he heard anyone talk of going abroad for a change of climate. Since God ordained my birth here, would He not have provided that I should keep healthy in this climate? Although it is bitterly cold in England, do the English run away from their country? They light fires in their homes, put on woolen clothes, and take all precautions.

What do the multimillionaires do here? They think of a change of climate. I tell you that this is a grave error on their part. In like manner, our patriotism consists in wearing indigenous khadi, whether it is expensive or cheap, good or bad, coarse or fine; otherwise it is meaningless to speak of one’s motherland. Would any mother abandon her own ugly child and take into her lap another’s comely child? I hope that you would have the same God-given love and affection for India, for the grain that is grown here and for khadi. If every man in Godhra produced khadi worth five rupees, how much money would a population of 25,000 save? If that amount is saved, the people of Godhra would become to that extent prosperous. You will become stronger and your patriotism will shine forth. The spinning-wheel alone is a thing which enables all men, women and children, the rich and the poor—to contribute equally and which brings about great good. Remember the saying that drop by drop fills the lake and keep filling the lake of swaraj by contributing two thousand yards of yarn. Do you believe that you will win swaraj by Vamanrao’s going to the Legislative Assembly and glaring at the Government? I would then ask you to go and talk of yarn and khadi even there. If, however, you cannot boycott foreign-cloth, swaraj will not be won even by Vallabhbhai or five thousand persons like Vamanrao entering the Legislative Assembly. 41

 

References:

 

  1. Speech at Antyaja Conference, May 5, 1918
  2. Letter to Mohanlal, August 7, 1920
  3. Navajivan, 3-4-1921  
  4. Navajivan, 5-5-1921
  5. Young India, 25-5-1921
  6. The Hindu, 30-9-1921
  7. Navajivan, 9-10-1921
  8. Young India, 13-10-1921
  9. Young India, 10-11-1921 
  10. Young India, 1-12-1921  
  11. Young India, 1-12-1921 
  12. Navajivan, 8-12-1921 
  13. Navajivan, 11-12-1921
  14. Navajivan, 16-1-1922
  15. Young India, 5-1-1922
  16. Navajivan, 2-2-1922
  17. Young India, 16-2-1922
  18. Navajivan, 19-2-1922
  19. Young India, 9-3-1922
  20. Navajivan, 12-3-1922
  21. Young India, 14-2-1924
  22. Statement on Potti Sriramulu’s Fast, March 15, 1924
  23. Letter to C. Vijayaraghavachariar, March 19, 1924
  24. Navajivan, 6-4-1924
  25. Draft Statement on Council on Counci-Entry, April 11, 1924
  26. Navajivan, 20-4-1924
  27. Young India, 1-5-1924
  28. The Hindu, 19-5-1924
  29. Young India, 29-5-1924
  30. Young India, 17-7-1924
  31. Navajivan, 3-8-1924
  32. Navajivan, 14-9-1924
  33. Young India, 25-9-1924 
  34. Young India, 13-11-1924
  35. Young India, 27-11-1924
  36. Young India, 4-12-1924
  37. Report of the Thirty-ninth Indian National Congress, 1924, pp.  98
  38. Report of the Thirty-ninth Indian National Congress, 1924, pp. 104
  39. Report of the Thirty-ninth Indian National Congress, 1924, pp. 115
  40. Young India, 22-1-1925
  41. Navajivan, 11-1-1925 

 

 

 

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