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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

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