Skip to main content

Only Gandhi "engaged" with untouchability, not Tagore, Nehru, Patel, Aurobindo or Jinnah: Senior expert

By Our Representative
Senior Gandhi expert Tridip Suhrud feels that “among the many things we have chosen to forget about Gandhi is his lifelong work with leather and his desire to shod every feet with leather chappals.” Recalling that this “attraction” and “fondness” for leather began South Africa, he regrets, instead, “we would prefer Gandhi the spinner of fine, ‘pure’ yarn.”
The Ahmedabad-based scholar, who recently authored the first annotated critical edition of the autobiography of the Mahatma, asserts that there is yet another image of Gandhi which we have chosen to forget: One who cared for patients of leprosy, “one of the oldest infectious diseases in human history has created for all cultures its ‘untouchables’.”
Revealing this and more on the Gandhi Jayanti in an article and an interview, Suhrud believes, “The leper and the leather worker are subject to the most enduring – albeit from different grounds – forms of exclusion and humiliation”.
Suggesting that efforts to undermine Gandhi don’t just come from the right, but also from the left, Suhrud, who was till recently involved in setting up Gandhi Heritage Portal during his stint at Sabarmati Ashram, says, “Criticism that Gandhi didn’t understand untouchability enough is fair”, but the question is, “Does he make an honest attempt to understand it? Does he make a life-long attempt? Does he move away from his early positions?”
Insisting that the “answer to all of this is ‘yes’,” Suhrud wonders, “Why he doesn’t go far enough is probably because of his cognition. Among modern Indians – and I would include Tagore, Nehru, Patel, Aurobindo and Jinnah among them – who else engages with untouchability with the sense of having committed a sin other than Gandhi?”
According to Suhrud, Gandhi “engaging with the subject was crucial. At least thanks to him, a large number of Indians not born Dalit began to comprehend better how dehumanising untouchability is. They did not think much about it before.”
Looking at the Ambedkar-Gandhi debate in this context, Suhrud calls it “one of the greatest” and “ennobling” debates of modern India, lamenting, neither Gandhians nor Ambedkarites are able to recognize what Ambedkar could teach Gandhi.
He says, thanks to his engagement with Ambedkar, Gandhi began to understand a fundamental category of life: humiliation. "Gandhi had understood humiliation only in the racial context, as a subject of the Empire, but not from the viewpoint of a lower-caste person.”
Pointing out that Gandhi talked of untouchability only as a sin, Suhrud says, “Ambedkar taught him that there is a category more fundamental than sin: humiliation. That actually broadens Gandhi’s vision. He becomes a better human being and a thinker afterwards.”
Asserting that he does not go as far as Ambedkar would have liked him to go, and there is certainly a “failing” and a “shortcoming” here, Suhrud says, “Both Gandhi and Dr Ambedkar become larger than themselves through their encounter.”
Suhrud says, “Ambedkar was a towering intellect and perhaps the most gifted intellectual in Nehru’s Cabinet. Some of the roles he played in Independent India came to him because of who he was, and some others because Gandhi insisted there can be no Government without Dr Ambedkar.”
Noting “it was not a concession”, Suhrud says, “It was, in fact, a recognition that this man has a lot to contribute to the country – the framing of the Constitution being just one of them.”
“Pitting Gandhi against Ambedkar is not going to serve the cause of fighting either against untouchability or all forms of humiliation. Gandhi and Ambedkar put together make for a far greater force than one can comprehend”, believes Suhrud, adding, “After all, theirs were not personal fights but ideological divergences that kept altering. They were a formidable force as allies as they forged ahead with the task of rebuilding a just and modern India.”

Comments

Prasad Chacko said…
Excellent article...
Proza28 said…
Very analytical and enlightening

TRENDING

Green revolution "not sustainable", Bt cotton a failure in India: MS Swaminathan

Counterview Desk
In a recent paper in the journal “Current Science”, distinguished scientist PC Kesaven and his colleague MS Swaminathan, widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution, have argued that Bt insecticidal cotton, widely regarded as the continuation of the Green Revolution, has been a failure in India and has not provided livelihood security for mainly resource-poor, small and marginal farmers.
Sharply taking on Green Revolution, the authors say, it has not been sustainable largely because of adverse environmental and social impacts, insisting on the need to move away from the simplistic output-yield paradigm that dominates much thinking. Seeking to address the concerns about local food security and sovereignty as well as on-farm and off-farm social and ecological issues associated with the Green Revolution, they argue in favour of what they call sustainable ‘Evergreen Revolution’, based on a ‘systems approach’ and ‘ecoagriculture’.
Pointing out that Evergreen Revol…

Rejoinder: Inescapable to have Central Water Commission as strong technical body in India

By BN Navalawala*
This is with reference to Counterview Blog (December 5, 2018), "Modi govt 'shelves' water reforms report, shows 'no interest' in its recommendations", below mentioned are my comments/observations thereon:
A committee was constituted under the Chairmanship of Dr. Mihir Shah, Former Member, Planning Commission, for restructuring of Central Water Commission (CWC) and Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) for optimal development of water resources in the country in the backdrop of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM).

Some Hindu bodies in US defending BJP-RSS' divisive, violent activities: Agnivesh

Counterview Desk Last week, Washington DC saw speakers at a religious freedom roundtable, chaired by the US Ambassador for Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, express concern over "eroding" space for religious freedom in India. Dr Mike Ghouse, executive director, of the Center for Pluralism in Washington DC, referring to the roundtable, said in an email alert that Indian-Americans have "a moral duty to prevent India from being labeled as a Country of Particular Concern by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)".

Karnataka: NGO Akshay Patra "not sensitive" to nutrition demands of school children

Counterview Desk
Well-known civil rights organizations, Right to Food Campaign and Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, have sent a letter to the Union minister of human resource development, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, other concerned ministers and officials of the state expressing concerns regarding the mid-day meal (MDM) to school children, insisting, all contracts to the Akshay Patra for supply of MDM should be immediately terminated.

Preventing childhood deaths: India performs worse than Bangladesh, "equals" Pakistan

By Rajiv Shah
A just-released study, “The Pneumonia and Diarrhea Progress Report 2018”, prepared by the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has identified India among 15 other countries which are still far off the mark in achieving the targets of the Global Action Plan for the Prevention of Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD).

Rejoinder: Worldwide anxiety post-Fukishima is fading, slowly and steadily

By Dr KS Parthasarathy* 
EAS Sarma, former Secretary, Government of India (GoI) in a letter addressed to Secretary, Department of Atomic Energy (DAE), GoI, stated that, there has been "worldwide anxiety about the consequences of catastrophic nuclear accidents, either due to manual lapses or natural calamities" (Counterview, December 2, 2018)."In the recent years, globally, the pace of growth of nuclear power has escalated in leaps and bounds, causing a great deal of public concern and apprehension."

India's rewritten textbooks talk of demerits of democracy, praise Hitler, underrate Mughals

Counterview Desk
A detailed, 3,800-word review of the books rewritten under directions of the BJP rulers across India since Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power in May 2014 has suggested that one of aims of the books is to instill a sense of doubt about India’s democratic polity among the country’s young minds. Reviewed in the prestigious US journal, “The New York Review of Books”, in its latest issue (December 6, 2018) by Alex Traub, the scrutiny insists, the effort has also been to paint Indian history from the angle of “Hindu triumphalism”, even as creating “Islamophobia”.

Four children die after poor UP Dalit, Muslim families forced to flee to forest area: PVCHR

Counterview Desk
Peoples’ Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) has said that the forest department police’s crackdown, allegedly without any prior notice, on Dalit and Muslim households in Dakhin Tola, Churk Bazaar, Sonbhadra district, Uttar Pradesh, beating up “children and old people, women, and men in an inhuman way”, has led to “forced displacement, starvation and discrimination”. This has reportedly affected about 350 people.

Modi's PRO, who served previous Congress, BJP CMs in Gujarat with "equal" competence

By Rajiv Shah
A public relations officer (PRO), even as maintaining anonymity, is supposed to “manage” reputation of his or her client, reflecting the client’s views in order to influence opinion and behaviour. A PRO is also known to use, the world over, media and communication to build, maintain, manage and plan publicity strategies and campaigns, even as dealing with enquiries from the public, particularly media, organising promotional events such as press conferences, open days, exhibitions, tours and visits. A PRO is also supposed to final touches to press statements for his or client.

World Bank clarifies: Its 26th rank to India not for universal access to power but for ease of doing business

By Our Representative
In a major embarrassment to the Government of India, the World Bank has reportedly clarified that it has not ranked India 26th out of 130 countries for providing power to its population. The top international banker’s clarification comes following Union Power Minister Piyush Goyal’s claim that India has “improved to 26 position from 99” in access to electricity in just one year.