Sunday, 31 August 2014

Gandhiji and Varnashram Dharma/ the system of caste among the Hindus- Part-2

Subsequent to my earlier post Gandhiji and Varnashram Dharma/ the system of caste among the Hindus, I further translate some excerpts from the diaries of Mahadevbhai Desai (originally in Gujarati): 

Gandhiji with Mahadevbhai Desai. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mahadevbhai Desai's Diary-Part-2, (Year 1933)

[Page 9-14]  [discussion concerning separate electorate]: [Mahadevbhai] : “ …People will come [to meet], Christian friends too will come and will say that you are finding faults with the Government but before that why don’t you see your own [faults] first? Why is the Hindu community considering the Antyaj people as untouchables?”
“Bapu: To explain that is in my hands. It is not a big thing. It can be told to them that let us resolve our own issues, why are you interfering in the matter? Once we are left to deal with our issues, you can do whatever you want. Why are you talking after dividing us? Today there is no option left for the Antyajo but to go to you or the Muslims. The issue of women is like that of the untouchables. But women are not untouchables. Even if she wishes to become an untouchable, man will go and sit on her bed. By creating a separate electorate for her we cannot separate her. Today Antyajo have been separated for ever. What will be its result? Interal disputes will be the result. ... like those are already involved. That community will be made to collect goons, atrocities will be committed on the Hindus, wells will be poisoned, any recourse will be adopted…”

[Mahadevbhai] :  “Today Bhandari came with the Prime Minister’s letter…”

“Vallabhbhai said: There is a big game in the whole thing. They will keep a few untouchables and through them they will rule…”

“Bapu: …If the rot of separate electorate gets into the Hindu samaj (community), then the Hindu samaj will be fragmented…I am willing to give up my life to fight against their desire to spread this rot in the Hindu samaj. They want to remove the role of the Hindu social reformers. Are we dead? We will give those people justice. But they are telling the Antyajo loudly that you do not depend upon them, depend upon the Muslims, and depend upon the goons. Therefore Muslims with the Antyajo will attack the temples. They will burn them and do whatever they please.”

[Mahadevbhai] : “Today morning Bapu told Major Bhandari the ethical side of yesterday’s discussion…”

“Bapu: …With my death the Hindu samaj will become aware. With my death this constitution too will die…today this judgment has the material to turn the Antyajo into Muslims or Christians. Ambedkar has neither dharma nor Hindutva and so he is dancing as per their tune.”

[Page 23] [Mahadevbhai] : “Is Ambedkar a hidden Muslim or what is he?   He has no Hindutva in him. Yet if there will be pressure on him from all sides he will listen. Look at his statement today he has talked as if untouchables are a different community from the Hindus.”

[Page 25] [Mahadevbhai] : “while talking about Ambedkar I said: All will flatter this man and so his impudence will get encouragement. He will tell his personal gatherings that see I made Gandhi fast…!”

“Bapu: Yes, this is an unpleasant thing. Nargis and other women will be after him. They will flatter him. This is not what one likes at all. But what does one do?”

[Mahadevbhai] : “I thought in my mind: to give rise to such a situation – is not the fast responsible for this? Why should one create a situation of complete dependence on such a man by fasting?” 
[Page 144-145] “…Then the talk of untouchables started and Ambedkar said: I must say honestly that the opening up of these temples, collective eating that is taking place, I am not interested in that because we suffer in that. My people have to suffer beatings because of it…if the upper caste Hindus had the guts they would have employed the untouchables as their servants. But that was not possible. That is why I am not interested in this. What I want is to end social and economic hardships.”

“Bapu: Give me an example.”

“He said [Ambedkar]: Untouchables do not get a place to live, they are being subjected to injustice and outrageous acts…you may not be aware of the sufferings I am subjected to… I cannot stay anywhere in Mumbai except in the chowl of Port Trust…In Pune all stay with their friends but I have to stay at the National Hotel and I have to spend rupees seven plus taxi charges.”  

“…Ambedkar said: Birla told me to be in the board of untouchability removal sabha. I said no, because what can I do alone? I have to agree to the work you desire to take up for untouchability removal. If we are many then we can bring about improvement as per our wish. You may wish to build temples or construct wells. We may think that this money is going waste, there is a need of a different way for this.”

“Bapu: I can understand your view point, and I will keep that in mind and I will see what can be done...”

[Page 301]: Mahadevbhai: “… In the morning Birla, Thakker, etc came. They gave the news that Panditji is not satisfied with the Pune pact…”

“Birla said: With this pact the Muslims have received a big setback is what I gather from here and there. Skarpa came from Italy. He said that …’s plan was that if every Muslim marries 4 untouchable girls then six crore untouchables will cease to be Hindus…”

“Bapu: We deserve that…”

[Mahadevbhai] : “…while talking about Ambedkar he said...”

"Bapu: He [Ambedkar] has the will to sacrifice; he has the strength to have a headlong fight. Volcano is to erupt. If we Hindus can be truthful then we can turn the Yerwada Pact into golden ashes. Otherwise four crore untouchables will destroy Hindustan…"

“…I had agreed with Ambedkar to take untouchables in the untouchable removal sangh, but now I feel it is not proper. We have to do repentance and not them. Let them make an advisory group and give suggestions. But we will not take a single one.”

[Page 297] [Mahadevbhai] : “…Five students of Pune College came to meet. All were untouchables and from their way of talking and intelligence it seemed like they are growing Ambedkars. They asked many questions to Bapu. What about scholarships and other facilities for students?” “…Why are you not keeping us in the administration of untouchability removal mandal...?”

“Bapu: …Ambedkar had also asked the same thing. I had explained to him that it is not possible.  You cannot make such a demand. When can you make such a demand? When you are independent. If this mandal was not established for you with the view of repentance dharma, then I would say that not fifty percent but all hundred percent should be your people. But these people are debtors. Debtors should understand how they can clear their debt.  The debtors cannot take suggestion from you as to how they can clear their debt."

“Bhole (leader of student deputation): "True, but that feeling of being in debt is in you. We do not believe others have that feeling. Others are interested in keeping an upper hand, they are interested in giving only donations to the poor, we know this and so we are giving this suggestion.”

“Bapu: That is why I am telling you that let them realize their debt…till they do not become aware, I know that you will suffer…  I tell the Harijan brothers that you become clean, leave drinking, leave eating dead meat. The reason behind this is that I talk with Harijans as a Harijan. I feel your sorrows more than you do; this is because I have suffered the condition of Dedh (untouchable)…”

[Page 450-51: 5th Appeal by Gandhiji]: “…Bath and cleanliness: Cleaning toilets in a better way…Selfish and ignorant upper caste Hindus have made the task of cleaning human excreta in a clean way almost impossible…those Harijans who are having to this highly necessary social work, can take a bath immediately after cleaning such toilets in today’s unfavorable circumstances, and instead of using some grass for cleaning they can use soil. I claim to be an efficient Bhangi (untouchable) and my claim is true…"

“…The Bhangis should learn not to accept the cruel among the cruelest method of throwing leftover food by the land lords. Due to years of habit the refined taste of Bhangis has gone numb and so they do not find anything wrong in eating the leftover food of others. They crave to eat the good food from the plates of their customers. For having taught the children of Bhangis to not touch such leftover food but to be satisfied with the home made corn chapattis, I know of cases where in parents have removed their children from school….”

Mahadevbhai’s Diary- Part-3,  (Year 1933)

[Page – 7 ]: [Mahadevbhai] : ‘Meeting with untouchable students from Pune. In [response to] an appeal by them to untouchability removal samiti. They [untouchable students] informed that if the average income of Hind [India] is low then that of untouchables is nothing at all.’

"Bapu: This talk is not proved as per experience. Many touchables are, are dying hungry, whereas there are fewer untouchables who are dying hungry. Take the example of the Bengal’s Namshudras, the Thia’s of Malabar, or the Bhangies of Mumbai. They are far happier than the touchables. Among the Bhangies, all the three- men, women and children earn. I can give so many such examples. Where are the weavers dying of hunger? The condition of the Chamars is so much better. Now take the opposite examples. The Odiyas are just skin and blood. But they will not do the work of Chamars or Bhangies... If you will take the average income of all untouchables than it will not be any less than the average income of the touchables.”

"Student Bhole: But the untouchables are undergoing slavery and are doing menial work.”

"Bapu: You are an intelligent student. Take one village and study all figures. Had I been free and had the time, I would take the villages of Gujarat and examine their economic condition. But you should ask Thakkerbapa.”

"Thakkerbapa: The impression that I have is similar to that of these young friends. But I do not have facts and figures.”

"Bapu: That may be your impression. But I have moved about among the Harijans with my eyes wide open. To prove your point without enough proof and to make such generalization is not proper is what I feel.”

Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary Part-15, ( Year 1932):

 [Page 138-139 ] [On the issue of representation in Round Table conference] : [Gandhiji] : “…If Ambedkar has a control on all of Maharashtra, then I have a control on all of India…if there is a competition between independence and him, then I must say without bitterness that he [Ambedkar] is not the representative of the untouchables…”

Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary Part-17, (Year 1923):

[Page 197-199 ] [Mahadevbhai in an article in Navjeevan dated: 29-April-23] : “… There are two debates in the ‘Mumbai Samachar’ published on the 25th.  In one of these an attempt has been made to show that Gandhiji is in favor of inter-dinning among castes and the second tries to show that he is against it…in my long association with Gandhiji, I do not remember him ever stating that inter-dining is the responsibility of the subjects…the meaning of his utterances is just that due to inter marriages and inter dinning, there will be no problem to Varna (caste), human being brings his Varna right from the time of the birth, however he has said that it is definitely a hindrance in the upliftment of the soul…I appeal to the reformers that they may bring about such reforms as they may wish but they should not misuse the statements of Gandhiji… Congress has never made its business to remove untouchability through inter caste dinning. No person will be considered untouchable is all that the Congress wants to achieve…Gandhiji has not minced words in stating that it is a mistake to think that inter caste dinning can lead to unification. In one article he writes: “inter caste dinning and marriage is not capable of bringing unity but also it is in no way helpful in resolving disputes…” The gist is that inter-dinning is not included in the objectives of the Congress and for the Congress to think of inter dinning in order to remove untouchability would be wrong. The pure activity of removal of untouchability will be put under threat due to this [inter dinning].” 


Saturday, 2 August 2014

Gandhiji and Varnashram Dharma/ the system of caste among the Hindus

Today (2 Aug 2014) I read in the Hindu that “The police have sought the video footage and transcript of writer Arundhati Roy’s Mahatma Ayyankali lecture organized by the Mahatma Ayyankali Chair of Kerala University here on July 17.”

Among other things, what Arundhati spoke in her lecture was about Gandhiji and his views on Varnashram (caste system) and based on this, she asked a few uncomfortable questions. What she essentially said was the following as put up on the Navayana blog

“ I have followed Gandhi’s writings in South Africa. I started out with looking at the debates between Gandhi and Ambedkar and went back looking at his attitudes on caste and further back at his attitude on race. His doctrine of nonviolence was based on an acceptance of the most brutal social hierarchy the world has ever known, the caste system… what does it mean? What does it say to us? A person who believed that the hereditary occupation of people who belonged to whichever caste they belonged to should be maintained. So I ask you … a person who believed that a scavenger should remain a scavenger all their lives … I will read to you an essay Mahatma Gandhi wrote called The Ideal Bhangi, the ideal scavenger…

There is nothing I’m saying here that is not straight from the horse’s mouth. Everything I’m saying is quoted from the writings of Gandhi himself. I’m not making any judgments. In 1936, when perhaps one of the most famous revolutionary texts, Annihilation of Caste, was written by Dr Ambedkar, one of the most brilliant intellectual, erudite, texts full of rage against a system that still exists today… that same year, in 1936, Gandhi wrote an essay called The Ideal Bhangi… bhangi, as you know in the North is a scavenger…”

Subsequently, many people have also asked me what my stand on the subject is. Though I cannot claim to be a scholar on Gandhian thoughts and work, I can say that I have read Gandhiji’s own writings as well as the writings of his close aides and secretaries like Mahadevbhai Desai, Indulal Yagnik (all in Gujarati). I have come across the following references in Mahadev Desai’s diary which make the views of Gandhiji regarding Varnashram Dharma/the caste system clear. From some of these writings, I can say that there is no ambiguity in Gandhiji's belief in the Varnashram Dharma (caste system). Gandhiji believed in removal of untouchability within the caste system, but was a believer in the caste system itself. Therefore to bring to light Gandhiji’s belief in the caste system cannot be a crime to be investigated by police or objected to. There can only be a debate on the issue. Here, to throw some  light on Gandhiji’s views on the caste system, I translate some excerpts from the diaries of Mahadevbhai Desai, originally in Gujarati:

1.     Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary, Volume 5, year 1921, Page 345-346-347
     [In Pune and Wai: Gandhiji while addressing a mammoth Sabha in Bhavanipeth:]  “…I request the non Brahmins that they should not spread any lies in my name. I do not know the Satyashodhak Mandal, but they are projecting that I deny Varnashram (Caste system). I say that is a lie. All kinds of falsehood go on in my name. I am a staunch Hindu- Vaishnav…I understand the faults in my Shastras, but I am a staunch believer of Varnashram…”  

'In Wai while talking on the same subject he said:' “…Non Brahmins are saying that they will remove Brahmins. They are also harassing them and bothering them in many different ways. But our Hindu culture does not permit anyone to behave like this with anyone. I cannot understand how anyone who has been brought up in this culture can say that I am not a Hindu. I am also not able to understand that any non Brahmin can have any bad feelings for a Brahmin…”

'While addressing non-Brahmins in Satara, he had placed the same arguments before them like this: “…Even if you consider them (Brahmins) not worthy of reverence you will have to worship the Brahmins for their knowledge, penance, yagna and purity, those Brahmins who have created Upnishads and other books, I would be afraid of criticizing them…however those Brahmins who have allowed untouchability have erred a little-this is what I have said and will say. But by burning the homes of Brahmins, by calling them bad words you are not going to be able to save your own religion…it will be impossible to uplift yourself by holding a prejudice against that caste in which people like Ranade, Ramdas, Tulsidas, Tilak, etc were born… you talk of non cooperation with the Brahmins but to be able to talk of something as pristine as non cooperation, one needs to be pure…”

 'But more than this, Gandhiji had given more details while replying to a question raised by Maratha family man in Nipani, and in that he had praised the Bhramins a lot... A family man named Maruti Rao made an accusation that' , “Brahmins by lying about shastras want to keep a hold on nonbrahmins,  by degrading us even more than cattle we have been kept out.”
'Gandhiji replied:' “…I want to tell the Hindus that for all the sacrifice dharma, yagna dharma, we are grateful to only the Brahmins… no one else in this world has done the kind of sacrifice that Brahmins have done…therefore I wish to tell Maruti Rao and all the non Brahmins that the faults that you have sighted are all right, but for that I am reminded of a saying. If there is any dirt in milk you can see the same immediately, but dirt cannot be seen in that which is already dirty. Non Brahmins have kept such high values in respect to Brahmins that their faults can be seen immediately…the kind of penance that Brahmins have done – I have seen no community has done in any other country…do not commit suicide by noncooperation with the Brahmins…” 

2.      Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary, Volume 6, year 1924, Page 459 to 461
    [ Excerpts from Gandhiji’s speech at The Asprushyata Nivaran Parishad ( Untouchability removal convention)] : “…I believe in Varnashram (caste system), and I believe in birth and deeds in relation to that…I have never said that roti (chapatti/food) and beti  (daughter) Vyavhar ( marriage relations) should be maintained with antyajano ( people of lower caste) however I do keep roti  vyavhar, I have no scope of Beti vyavhar …the fault that should be removed is that of untouchability. But that does not include Roti Vyavhar…let that much control that exists in rotibeti vyavhaar continue. That there will invariably be a downfall by eating with someone is not always true…I do not desire that my son eats anything and anywhere because food has an impact on the soul…may God give us such knowledge that untochability is removed within a second…”

3.     Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary Volume 7, year 1925, Page 287, 299, 304

    [ Excerpts from Gandhiji’s reply to the Sanskrit manpatra  (degree of honor)given at Alvai’s Advaitashram]: “…Your Mudralekh (lead article) is ‘one caste, one religion and one God’…I feel that without varnashram dharma human race will not be able to function…” 

[Later in the diary after the visit to Rajgopalachari’s ashram, while addressing the village people, he explained the objectives of the Ashram-] “…Shri Rajgopalachari, his friends and I believe that untouchability is a sin and so untouchability has been banned in the Ashram. But do not imitate his deeds improperly. Through his deeds he wishes to tell you only that much that you should not consider anyone untouchable. Not that you should keep roti beti vyavhara with the untouchables. Yes, they do follow roti vyavhar in the Asharam but that is because it is not possible to follow the rule of not eating roti together…you are gruhasthi (people with families), you have the right to follow the rules of eating and marriage that arise due to Varna bhed (difference in caste). The only thing you need to do is to not consider untouchables as untouchable and they should not be looked down upon – that is all you need to do…”

4.     Mahadevbhai Desai Diary Volume 8, year 1925, page 12, 18,19, 104 :
“…I do not say to keep rotibeti vyavhar with the untouchables. Those who do it, I tolerate them. But without that there is no possibility of Swaraj (self rule) in Hindustan is not what I believe…”

“…Then there is one class of people. I had their experience in South Africa. They had threatened –‘if our sorrows are not done away with, then we will become Christians or Musalman,’ I had to tell them bitter words that here itself your religion is being tested…”

“…third way is atmashuddhi (self cleansing) you need to get free from all the accusations that are levelled against you. Do you eat meat? … Do you eat meat of the already dead? ”

‘…The metars (community involved in cleaning) of municipality honored Gandhiji. In the letter of honor they highlighted that they were 250 in number. All are dom people. Washer people, barbers do not do our work. And yet we clean their toilets. In reply Gandhiji said-’ 

“…you have received bad houses, these get waterlogged…I would like to tell you that crores of others are worse off than you…you get eight and a half rupees, others do not get even that much…thinking of them we must keep quiet…we must be satisfied that God has given us this much…you can give memorandum to the municipality…but you must also keep in mind that you have come here on your own. Has the municipality invited you here? Because they care for you that they have started night school for you. But you must understand your duty. You yourself should improve. What will come of your narration of your sorrows to me? You must tell your tale to Ramji.”

5.     Mahadevbhai Deasai’s Diary, Volume-2, year 1932-33, page 106, 349

     ‘Removal of untouchability does not mean rotibeti vyvhaar is made clear as follows:’ “…Removal of untouchability does not include inter dining unless untouchables are excluded on the ground of their being born so, when others are not.”
[In answer to a question] “…Where the issue is of principles, I do not calculate in terms of profit and loss. There is no relation of rotibeti vyavhar to untouchability…Caste is a scientific principle…Hindu religion has taken full advantage of heredity and has said that the business of forefathers should be followed…today there is no caste system…we are inter dinning and having inter marriage as we have forgotten the main principles…we are all shudras (lower caste) today…in reconstruction of the society we will remove the difference of high and low…if I had the strength and time I would travel from one corner to another in the country and declare that there is no caste system, we are all shudras (lowest caste)…”

6.     Mahadevbhai Desai’s Diary Volume 21, year 1936-37, page 99, 101, 108, 109:

"…Untouchability is a blot on the Hindu Dharma. If this is not removed in time, it will destroy the Hindu religion…It is necessary to have such behavior with Harijans that they should feel that better days are here. Do you know how to start this? Start taking Harijans to the temples…boycott those temples that are not open to Harijans…rotibeti vyavhar is a different matter…Harijan Sevak Sangh has no need to directly attack varnashram (caste system)…I firmly believe that even if there is rotibeti vyavhar you can keep varnashram dharma intact…”

[To conclude, the following sentences by Gandhiji from the book- India of my dreams, which is a compilation of Gandhiji’s writings in Young India, Harijan, speeches and other writings; sums up his belief regarding caste system in Hindu religion]:

“…Varnashram Dharma decided the duty of people in this world…as it would be wrong to destroy whole body if there is a boil…similarly it would be wrong to remove caste system due to untouchability…if we do not want to destroy the entire caste system,  we should remove the boil of untouchability…once untouchability is removed, the caste system itself will become pure and as per my dream it will translate into real varna dharma-four varnas, These four divisions in the society will be complementary to one another, these will not be above or below each other…
There is no ban on inter dinning and inter marriage in varnashram, however there cannot be any force in the matter, where a man or a woman should eat or marry should be left to their choice.”