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the Spirit of Mahatma Gandhi lives through every nonviolent action

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-V 

 

 

 

The worker who wanted a donation for a separate temple for Harijans, and the one who put the various conundrums before the writer of the letter reproduced above, missed the main reason for temple-entry. The demand for opening all temples to the Harijans is made not because the Harijans desire entry, or that when the temples are thrown open to them they will become changed beings. The demand is made for the purification of caste Hindus. It is made because Harijans are deprived wrongfully of a right that belongs to every Hindu. Even though not a single Harijan enters Hindu temples, it is the duty of caste Hindus to throw them open to their brethren the Harijans. It is the truest sign of removal of untouchability from the caste Hindu heart. The other disabilities have undoubtedly to go, but if this one remains untouchability does not die. The civil disabilities will go in course of time, whether caste Hindus wish it or not, but the temples cannot be opened without their free will. There is nothing to prevent a Harijan from drawing water from a public well or demanding at a public school equal treatment with the other pupils.

He does not do so today in a vast majority of cases, only because he is yet too timid to assert his legal right. He has reason to be afraid of physical hurt and worse from the caste Hindus. But as he grows from strength to strength, he will certainly assert himself and exercise the right which, owing to his helplessness, he has been hitherto unable to exercise. Not so, however, about temple-entry. If Harijans in a body marched to a temple, they would be prevented by law from entering that temple, Hence the necessity for agitation by caste Hindu reformers for opening their temples to Harijans. As to temples designed especially for Harijans, I have always opposed such projects. But there have always been reservations. I would not oppose a movement among Harijans themselves for building a temple accessible to both themselves and the caste Hindus. Nor would I oppose the building of such temples by caste Hindus. In other words I do not always oppose the building of temples as such. I think that they play an important and useful part in the lives of millions of people. 1 

Since it is the aim of the Sangh to look upon the constructive programme of the Indian National Congress as a dharma and make it a success, in a programme like the removal of untouchability it is the duty of the members of the Sangh to come into direct contact with sweepers and other Harijan brethren and convince them as well as others that they make no distinctions in their treatment of the Harijans. Let them give a place to Harijans in their homes, receive Harijans in the same way as they would receive others, seek opportunities to eat with them. Let them keep some Harijan members in their houses, bring up some Harijan children, go to the Harijan colonies and serve them in various ways and lovingly participate in their work and prove thereby that none of the jobs the Harijans have to do is lowly.   

For ordinary people, removal of untouchability is sufficient. But, for you, mere touch is not enough. You must continue to proceed further. Your field of progress is unlimited. Ordinary people can look up only to the sky. But scientists claim that they can look through the whole expanse of the Milky Way. It is not known if something exists beyond that. But truth pierces through the sky and reaches beyond. We have to imbibe truth in our lives. We find that under the guise of truth, untruth is being respected by people. It is the aim of religion to strengthen the idea of brotherhood, to minimize the unnatural distinctions between man and man. But today, in the very name of religion, the Harijans are being treated with contempt. I have already said that untruth, by itself, is powerless, it is dependent. It can never stand on its own without the support of truth. But I wish to point out to you that if untruth can succeed so much in the name of truth, how much more would truth itself succeed? Who can measure the extent of its success? For us, who are the members of the Sangh, there should be no place for any unjust distinctions in our hearts. It may seem strange, but as far as I am concerned, such a feeling of distinction disappeared from the day I ate a bit of mutton with a Muslim boy. Eating mutton was and is a bad thing. But this small thing saved me from something else as well. By tasting a little mutton I realized that there was nothing particularly to rave about it. That saved me in England and I did not betray my mother. I have not spoken to the millions about interdining and intermarriage. We do not have inter-dining and intermarriage even with Brahmins. My mother, while observing some pious vows, would not take food even from my hands. The Hindu masses still follow quite a few restrictive practices in the matter of inter-dining and intermarriage. Even I have followed certain restrictions in this regard.

That is the reason why I have not spoken to the masses about these. But if I suggest to you that you should go to the extent of interdining and intermarrying with Harijans I would not be violating truth. Let me talk to you on a religious point. I am talking about religion as a matter of day-to-day practice. It is not something related to any particular occasion. You have really not much control in the matter of intermarriage. You should certainly not bring compulsion on your children in this matter. Inter-dining is a different matter. If your mother says that it is irreligion, you must tell her that you would take the food cooked by her as well as the food cooked by an untouchable, and it would not matter that you were forsaken by her on that account. You cannot compel your mother or even your wife. We must have two separate establishments in such a situation. If we cannot exercise force over them, we cannot do it over religion either. In other words, we cannot coerce our own sons. Our mothers and wives may well consider it their duty to forsake us. Let us stay apart without being enemies of each other. In such a situation I would treat them more affectionately.

I would try not to hurt their feelings. But at the same time I would not hurt the feelings of Harijans in order to please them. Only truth and Hinduism can teach me this. For me, religion, truth and Hinduism are inter-changeable terms. If there is an element of untruth in Hinduism, I cannot accept that particular aspect of Hinduism as religion. If, on this account, the entire Hindu community forsakes me and I am left all alone, I would still proclaim that I am not alone; they who forsake me are alone. For, truth is on my side. And truth is God Himself. I would accept the hospitality even from a leper. But the manner of acceptance would be different. I would tell him affectionately that he should allow me to cook the food and fetch the water. As far as I am personally concerned, for the sake of love, I would even take the food and the water offered by a leper if he really insists. I would be even willing to die for his love. But the whole world cannot accept his hospitality in this spirit. Hence, I too would accept it in the same manner that the entire society can accept. I followed the same principle in the case of Parachure Shastri. But that is a different case. We should not confuse disease with the issue of untouchability. They are two absolutely different problems. The question relating to the sweeper is altogether different from the question relating to the leper. We have an opportunity of teaching the sweeper habits of cleanliness if we come in greater contact with him. And, is it not also true that if any sweeper invites me or you for a meal he would himself be concerned about washing himself clean and donning clean clothes and offer us cleanly prepared food? Please do not confuse the issue of poverty with this. The problem of poverty is economic, whereas the problem of abolition of untouchability is religious or spiritual. My religion will not be destroyed if I do not solve the problem of poverty of a poor peasant. But if I allow the untouchability to persist even in the case of a wealthy Harijan, my religion will cease to exist. That is the reason why the beginning of an act of service should be only with the Harijan. 2

But I need hardly say that removal of untouchability from the Hindu heart is, like communal unity, an indispensable condition of success through the non-violent action that is implicit in office-acceptance. Therefore Harijan sevak have to redouble their efforts to touch the caste Hindu heart as well as the Harijan heart. We must constantly remind Hindu orthodoxy of the solemn oath taken at the all-India meeting held in Bombay on the 25th September, 1932, under the presidentship of Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya. Here is the oath: This Conference resolves that henceforth, amongst Hindus, no one shall be regarded as untouchable by reason of his birth, and that those who have been so regarded hitherto shall have the same right as other Hindus in regard to the use of public wells, public schools, public roads and all other public institutions. This right shall have statutory recognition at the first opportunity, and shall be one of the earliest acts of the Swaraj Parliament, if it shall not have received such recognition before that time. It is further agreed that it shall be the duty of all Hindu leaders to secure, by every legitimate and peaceful means, an early removal of all social disabilities now imposed by custom upon the so-called untouchable classes, including the bar in respect of admission to temples. 3

The removal of untouchability is one of the highest expressions of ahimsa. It is my daily prayer, as it should be the prayer of you all that if untouchability does not perish it were far better that Hinduism perished. This prayer found its most poignant expression during my Harijan tour of which the principal objective was the opening of the temples to Harijans. They tell me that the untouchables do not wish to enter the temples. Even if this is true, the reason behind this is that we have made such monsters of them that they no longer have any need for temples. Even if they do not care to go into the temples it should be our concern to permit their entry. And I have declared day in and day out that whoever believed in the removal of untouchability should shun temples which were not open to Harijans. Now, how could I bear the thought of my wife or my daughters having gone to such temples? I would plead with them, would go on bended knees to dissuade them from going to these temples, and might have to deny myself personal ties with them if my entreaties failed. I have tried to live up to this principle all these years, and I felt humbled and humiliated when I knew that my wife and two ashram inmates whom I regard as my daughters had gone into the Puri temple. The agony was enough to precipitate a collapse. The machine recorded an alarmingly high blood-pressure, but I knew better than the machine. I was in a worse condition than the machine could show. The Gita teaches us the lesson of detachment, but that detachment does not mean indifference to shocks of this kind failure in duty on the part of one’s dearest ones. The three who went were the least to blame. They went in ignorance.

But I was to blame, and Mahadev was more to blame in that he did not tell them what their dharma was and how any breach would shake me. He ought to have thought also of its social repercussions. We should understand our individual as well as our social dharma. How did it affect me? I turned pale. My grandson says that the Amrita Bazar Patrika reports that Kasturbai did not go in but waited outside. If that was so I would have leapt high. But how could she at all go there after having lived with me for fifty years? And why did the two other women go? Are they not my daughters? That too is my fault. This act of theirs has depleted our soul force. We ought to be more vigilant. By looking upon women as mere women we overlook such matters. That is not the way of non-violence. This is a matter of awakening. It was Mahadev’s task to have reasoned with them. And, if they were not convinced, he should have brought them to me. I would have told them that I was their spiritual father and not opposed to their religion. I could be their spiritual father only if they and I belonged to one faith. If their faith could be identified with mine I could reason also with the people: “What is the use of [going to] such temples?” They were ignorant, I know, but we are responsible for their ignorance, and it is the reverse of ahimsa not to dispel their ignorance. I sent them to Puri not to go into the temple, but to stand just where the Harijans were allowed to go and refuse in protest to go beyond that limit. That would have been the right kind of propaganda, and they would that way have done Harijan service. To do scavenging work or to eat with Harijans or to feed them is not enough, if we do not deny ourselves the going to temples and the like so long as our kith and kin, the Harijans, are denied their use. 4

They happen suddenly and unawares. One experience stands quite distinctly in my memory. It relates to my 21 days’ fast for the removal of untouchability. I had gone to sleep the night before without the slightest idea of having to declare a fast the next morning. At about 12 o’clock in the night something wakes me up suddenly, and some voice within or without, I cannot say whispers, ‘Thou must go on a fast.’ ‘How many days?’ I ask. The voice again said, ‘Twenty-one days.’ ‘When does it begin?’ I ask. It says, ‘You begin tomorrow.’ I went quietly off to sleep after making the decision. I did not tell anything to my companions until after the Morning Prayer. I placed into their hands a slip of paper announcing my decision and asking them not to argue with me, as the decision was irrevocable. Well, the doctors thought I would not survive the fast. But something within me said I would, and that I must go forward. That kind of experience has never in my life happened before or after that date. 5

This is a much-delayed question. It should have been asked in 1920. In my view there is no special political field which is not related to social reform. They are both interrelated. If we do not earnestly go about the work of social reform, no political reforms are possible. I would, therefore, give the first place to the work of social reform and only the second place to purely political work, if there is such a thing. I took help from the sanatanists, whether for Gujarat Vidyapith or for the khadi work. But when they said that I should abandon my work for the removal of untouchability I told them that I would rather do without their help. The Mulji Jetha Market promised Rs. 35,000, but on some such condition. I told them that they could keep their money, I would do without it; but as for the removal of untouchability, I wanted it immediately. Till today I have not received the Rs. 35,000 from them. But the work for swaraj did not stop. It is dangerous to allow such things to find a place in our hearts. Let us not allow even such notions as ‘social’ and ‘political’ any place in our thinking. Let us not hinder national progress. It is true some sense of discretion will have to be shown. It would not be proper to go and resort to Satyagraha when someone in our community calls people for dinner. It is enough if we avoid going to that feast ourselves. There are so many areas of social-reform activity that can go on side by side with political work. There too we shall stick to non-violence. But Satyagraha is a mighty weapon. It cannot be used everywhere. Its use has to be limited. 6 

People of other countries make huge sacrifices in retaining their independence. If we pin our faith on ahimsa we will not have to spend crores of rupees nor sacrifice millions of people for our independence. Till my death, I will talk of no other means of achieving independence. I would repeat the programme that I have laid before the country. Women can take more effective part than men in achieving independence through ahimsa, Women as much as men must work side by side for the country’s independence. Whether in charkha or removal of untouchability, they must not lag behind men. From times immemorial, in India it had been the duty of women to spin. Even today women spin more than men. If charkha be the sole weapon for winning swaraj then women can certainly contribute more than men towards the country’s independence. 7

I would be, if khadi was confined only to Congressmen or civil resisters. Khadi is prescribed as national wear for all, whether Congressmen or others. It is used even by some Englishmen, Americans and other Westerners. Your objection, if it was valid, would apply even to communal unity, removal of untouchability and temperance. These four have gained importance and momentum since they were incorporated in the Congress constructive programme. They can all become illegal if they become mixed up with violence. If they did become illegal, it would be found that the movements as such were not suppressed but the organizations masquerading under innocent labels were in reality covering violence.   Valuable as this work undoubtedly is, it cannot become part of the constructive programme. It is not every form of social relief that can be made part of the Congress constructive programme. Such programme can only cover that part, the omission of which would make the attainment of swaraj through non-violence impossible. Who can deny that Hindu-Muslim unity, removal of untouchability, temperance and the charkha are essential for achieving our object? My answer, however, does not mean that disabled humanity does not need any attention. No man or woman, whether of the Congress or not, can be worth much if he or she neglects to do his or her part of social service in the widest sense of the term. 8 

Indeed it is the duty of the Congress to prosecute its demand for independence and to continue the preparations for civil disobedience to the fullest extent it can. The nature of the preparations should be appreciated: to promote khadi and village industries, communal unity, removal of untouchability, prohibition, and to this end to enlist and train Congress members. Is this preparation to be suspended? I dare say that, if the Congress truly becomes non-violent and in pursuance of the policy of non-violence it successfully carries out the constructive work I have mentioned, it will be able to have independence without doubt. Then will be the time for India as an independent nation to decide what aid she should give to Britain and how. 9 This certainly is good work. Removal of untouchability is a question of double education, that of ‘touchables’ as well as ‘untouchables’. ‘Touchables’ have to be taught patiently by precept and example that untouchability is a sin against God and humanity, and the ‘untouchables’ that they should cease to fear the ‘touchables’ and shed untouchability among themselves. I know that that is very easily said. But I have found nothing else. Living in the midst of both, I know how hard the work is among both. If Hinduism is to live, the work has to be done, however difficult and even hopeless it may appear to be. 10

As long as the curse of untouchability pollutes the mind of the Hindu, so long is he himself an untouchable in the eyes of the world, and an untouchable cannot win non-violent swaraj. The removal of untouchability means treating the so-called untouchables as one’s own kith and kin. He who does treat them so must be free from the sense of high and low, in fact free from all wrong class-sense. He will regard the whole world as one family. Under non-violent swaraj it will be impossible to conceive of any country as an enemy country.  Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place At this time of the day it is unnecessary to dilate upon the necessity of the removal of this blot and curse upon Hinduism. Congressmen have certainly done much in this matter. But I am sorry to have to say that many Congressmen have looked upon this item as a mere political necessity and not something indispensable, so far as Hindus are concerned, for the very existence of Hinduism. If Hindu Congressmen take up the cause for its own sake, they will influence the so-called sanatani far more extensively than they have hitherto done. They should approach them not in a militant spirit but, as befits their non-violence, in a spirit of friendliness. And so far as Harijans are concerned, every Hindu should make common cause with them and befriend them in their awful isolation such isolation as perhaps the world has never seen in the monstrous immensity one witnesses in India. I know from experience how difficult the task is. But it is part of the task of building the edifice of swaraj. And the road to swaraj is steep and narrow. There are many slippery ascents and many deep chasms. They have all to be negotiated with unfaltering step before we can reach the summit and breathe the fresh air of freedom. 11 

When I said that removal of untouchability did not include the removal of restrictions on inter-dining and intermarriage, I had the general Hindu public in mind, not the Congress workers or Congressmen. These have to abolish untouchability from every part of their life. 12 If the collections I make at railway stations and at evening prayer when I am out of Sevagram are any index to the progress of the removal of untouchability it must be very substantial, for I notice that the response is more liberal than before. Hardly a bystander at stations or a visitor to the prayer meeting refrains from giving his mite. Much need not be made of the response. But there can be no doubt that if the cause did not make any appeal, the response would be meagre, if any whereas it was hearty and willing. It gave me great joy as I studied the smiling faces of those who gave. The Bombay collection for the seven meetings was Rs. 4,000. Each day’s collection showed a substantial rise on the previous day. 13

The second is untouchability. Hindu religion must understand that it is a sin. If untouchability endures, Hindu religion will not survive. If the former is removed, the latter is safe. In the removal of untouchability and in trying to live as brethren Government cannot interfere. The third exhibition is communal bitterness. Political settlement may be effected or not. As long as the present Government remains, it will not be possible; it would not be allowed. But we can develop good relations between us. We should not give any cause of complaint with regard to matters which are in our hands. The conduct of Congressmen in Allahabad Municipality has grieved me much. In short, we should develop good relations amongst us in the removal of untouchability and securing communal unity. Government cannot interfere in such attempts. 14  Removal of untouchability means not merely touching the Harijans, but also looking upon them as our own kith and kin; in other words, treating them in the same way as we would our own brothers and sisters. None is high, none low. 15

The removal of untouchability root and branch thus becomes a religious duty for me and for other Hindus like me. If we want to achieve swaraj through non-violence then untouchability will have to be eradicated. We cannot attain swaraj without that. Not all Congressmen share this view of mine. The Congress is a democratic organization and it can have in it peopled representing many points of view. No one has the right to thrust his own view on others and expect them to work in pursuance of those views. It will be right if those who consider eradication of untouchability a religious duty give themselves up exclusively to this work with single-minded devotion. At the same time it will also be right if those who consider anti-untouchability work as a part of the political programme of the Congress pursue it as such. Religious duty is a very subtle and complicated thing. It is not a commodity that can be bought and sold. Perpetual inner searching is needed in order to discover it. In essence it is the same for all times and all places but its form and its translation into practice changes from individual to individual and from time to time. If we can but grasp this secret of the many-sidedness of truth we shall be able to see any differences between principles and practice in their proper perspective. I therefore welcome both those who work for the eradication of untouchability independently and those who do so in pursuance of the Congress programme. 16

I have made no statement, and I do not know that the Harijan Sevak Sangh has, to the effect that the removal of untouchability has made ‘no headway at all’. What all of us have admitted is that removal, so far as the caste Hindus are concerned, has made no satisfactory headway. That is not a new complaint. It is of long standing. Woe to the reformer who is easily satisfied with the progress of the reform, on which his mind is set. The reform is two-sided. So far as work among the Harijans is concerned, the Sangh has made fair strides. That in itself is no small contribution to the cause of removal of untouchability. The work among the touchables has gone on at a snail’s pace. It is an uphill task. Yet I assert that it is making sure progress, though undoubtedly slow. The charge that the tyranny and oppression by caste Hindus have “increased and have become intensified in rigour” is wholly wrong and cannot be sustained. What is true, and it is a healthy sign, is that there is a growing consciousness of the wrong among the Harijans, thanks largely to the efforts and the increase in the number of reformers and their impatience of the wrong. But they dare not be satisfied with the results so far achieved. They have to go much farther than they have done. I am sure that will never be through the legislatures or legislation, necessary as both are, though to very limited extent. As I have said in a previous issue, it is the hoary custom and not law that is responsible for the mischief. Custom is any day tougher than law. It can be removed only by enlightened public opinion. Progress will be totally blocked by separation. It is a night-mare which must be given up, unless the goal of separation is extinction of Hindus including the so-called Scheduled Classes. They can only be misrepresented by separate electorates. How can others who are not interested in Scheduled Classes oppose separation?  At one time I did say that interdining was not an essential part of the campaign for the removal of untouchability. Personally, I was for it. Today I encourage it. In fact, today I even go further, as a perusal of my recent preface to which I have already referred would show. 17

It is very good of you to want to do something for the charkha class. So far as I am concerned, the delicacy of your gesture is equal to the best you can do. However, in order to please you, I suggest a small donation to the cause of the removal of untouchability. 18 Of course, compared to what we want to achieve, this progress is a miserable show. But seeing that Gujarat has been so far behindhand in this matter of removal of untouchability, the little progress of which Shri Parikshitlal takes note with pardonable satisfaction is pleasant, if it is permanent and is a precursor of better things to come. Every nail driven into the coffin of untouchability is a step in the right direction towards the purification of Hinduism. 19 I agree with you that the removal of untouchability among the so-called untouchables is more difficult than its removal between caste Hindus and non-caste Hindus, i.e., untouchables. 20

He says that I should not hold the prayer in this temple. But this temple belongs to the scavengers who come to me and complain

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