Gandhi and Untouchability
Mahatma Gandhi was highly grieved about the caste system that characterised Indian society. But it was untouchability that particularly pained him. All his life, he worked hard at eradicating this heinous practice from its very roots. He drew sharp distinction between caste and varna. Varna was based on profession. And in present day India, wrote Gandhi, there is no other trace of varnashram, as they are easily interchangeable, and were are actually interchanged at times, except for the varna of the Shudra. Their plight continued uninterrupted from the ancient times. Gandhi thought caste system to be a social evil, but untouchability was a sin. All his life, Gandhi worked for the untouchables. In fact, in one of his letters, Gandhi elevated the bhangis, or the night-soil cleaners as the very epitome of service for god, as they do their unclean work and cleanse society of its perils, and receive nothing but shame and admonition for it. Every man, thought Gandhi, should find a lesson in it. They should dispense their services to society and expect no reward in return. That would be the greatest service to God.
Gandhi worked relentlessly to elevate the social status of the untouchables in india. He wanted penance for crimes of discrimination that have been perpetuated for thousands of years as he wanted society to work hard to relocate the untouchables on an equal footing with the other members of society. He called them harijans or 'gods own people'. Gandhi went on a fast until death after the proclamation of the elections based on communal identity in 1935. He knew the cause of secular unification was lost for good, but he could not tolerate the non-accommodation of the harijans within the fold of the Hindu community. A meeting with B R Ambedkar followed and seats were distributed on the basis of reservations. This was one of the greatest achievements in the political career of Gandhi. Gandhi was instrumental to a great degree to...
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