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Gandhiji quoted as saying his anti-untouchability view has little space for inter-dining with "lower" castes

By Our Representative
A senior activist close to Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar has defended top Booker prize winning novelist Arundhati Roy’s controversial utterance on Gandhiji that “his doctrine of nonviolence was based on an acceptance of the most brutal social hierarchy the world has ever known, the caste system.” Surprised at the police seeking video footage and transcript of Roy’s Mahatma Ayyankali memorial lecture at the Kerala University on July 17, Nandini K Oza in a recent blog quotes from available sources to “prove” that Gandhiji indeed believed in “removal of untouchability within the caste system.”
Pointing out Roy’s entire speech and video have been posted on the website of Navayana, an anti-caste publisher, and there is no secret about it, Oza, who has translated what all Gandhiji believed straight from Gujarati, insists, “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.” Oza particularly extensively cites references from Gandhiji’s personal secretary Mahadev Desai’s diary.
Mahadev Desai’s diary quotes Gandhiji in Pune at a mammoth sabha in 1921 as saying: “I request the non-Brahmins that they should not spread any lies in my name… 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…”
Gandhiji praises Brahmins in the following words, “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… 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…”
On the other hand, at another place, Gandhiji advises the scavengers, protesting against poor houses offered to them by a municipal government: “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…”
Gandhiji speech at the Asprushyata Nivaran Parishad (untouchability removal convention) in 1924 has the following reference: “…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 …” In 1933, Gandhiji added, “Removal of untouchability does not include inter-dining unless untouchables are excluded on the ground of their being born so, when others are not.”
Further: “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 vyavhar 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…”
After the visit to Rajgopalachari’s ashram, while addressing the village people, Gandhji explained the objectives of the Ashram as follows: “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.”
Gandhiji is also quoted as saying: “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…”

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