Sunday, June 8, 2008

Did Gandhiji support Casteism?

Did Gandhiji support Casteism? The answer could be both yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that it was practiced in his idealistic way, and No to the way it existed then and today. He wanted to preserve the Varnashrama dharma, which is very different from the caste system of today. Varnashrama did not have discrimination or superior and inferior castes. Its classification was based on behavior and work.
Now here goes his version of casteism and how and why it should be preserved, as reported in Navajivan, on 7-6-1925.

I have received a long letter about the struggle that is going on in the Lad community. The writer has made an honest attempt to provide me with lots of information and shown that all possible steps have been taken to reach a compromise. I am prepared to believe that. But my intention is not to write or suggest something about the Lad community but to place the thoughts provoked by it before Hindu society.
On the one hand, unification is going on for the protection of Hinduism, on the other; the weaknesses which have entered Hinduism are corroding it from within. That is to say, just as a worm in the heart of a thick log of wood goes on eating it, and, even if we put a covering on it from above or apply some solution to it, the wood will ultimately be eaten away, similarly if we do not destroy the worm that has entered the heart of Hinduism and is consuming it, no matter how much we protect it from outside, it will surely be destroyed. In the name of preservation of the castes, the castes are being and have been intermingled. The restraints of caste have disappeared, only its excesses have endured. These restraints were intended to preserve religion; these have now become retrograde and are now corroding it. The castes should be four in number but they have become far too many. The castes having become extinct, communities have become divided into sub-castes and, like cattle wandering about in a backyard being forced into a pen, we who are without a master have been caught up in the mesh of sub-castes and are held prisoner there. The castes gave sustenance to the people; the sub-castes have proved destructive to them. Instead of serving the Hindus or India, we have been engaged in protecting our sub-castes, that is, our shackles, and have been draining our intelligence, and our money in solving problems arising there from. A hunter stands in front of the foolish honeybees intent on destroying their honeycomb, while they are arguing about the control of one another’s residence. When the distinction between Visha and Dasha deserves to be obliterated, how can there be any question whether Visha is greater or Dasha is greater? When the need is to unite the Vania community throughout India, how can there be any room for the distinctions and quarrels between Dasha and Visha, Modh and Lad, Halari and Ghoghari?
The castes came into being because of the professions, while the sub-castes subsist on account of the relationship of marriage, etc. As long as I conform to these restrictions, what does it matter if I run a wine shop, bear arms or sell canned beef from foreign lands? In spite of doing all this, I can be an honoured member of the Vania community. Whether I observe the principle of one-man-one-wife or flirt with many damsels is no concern of my community; and regardless of what I do, I can pass as a rich man of the community, can compose new scriptures for it and can win honour from it. It takes note of where I dine or where I marry off my son or daughter, but it will not scrutinize my conduct. As I have now returned from abroad, I cannot enter the sanctorum of the temple of Kanyakumari, but if I have openly been leading an adulterous life, no one can stop me from entering it! There is no exaggeration in this picture. This is no dharma; this is the extreme limit of adharma. This does not mean protection of caste but its annihilation. I who am keen to preserve the caste system shall prove incapable of doing so if adharma is not done away with. In this travesty going by the name of caste, instead of the destruction of the excess, there is danger of caste itself being annihilated. Now let us see how the innumerable castes can be preserved. A religion in which non-violence predominates protects castes by means of violence. A man who has broken the artificial and improper restrictions of caste is not shown his “mistake” but is instantaneously boycotted. Boycott means his harassment in every way; his meals are stopped, no girl is offered to him in marriage, he is denied obsequies and this punishment descends even to the heirs of the boycotted man! This means leading an army to kill an ant or, to speak in the language of this age, Dyerism. By such harassment, communities of a thousand or two thousand people instead of continuing to live will perish. Destruction is desirable but destruction brought about by force is harmful. If this destruction is brought about deliberately, then alone will it provide sustenance to society. The best remedy is that the mahajans of the various small communities should join together and constitute a single caste, and that this big association should merge with other associations and the four castes should become a single caste. But in the present atmosphere of weakness such a reform would be considered impossible. That is to say following dharma is as easy as it is difficult. Just as every organization can promote the growth of dharma, individuals too can do likewise. An individual should be fearless and follow what he regards as dharma and if he is boycotted he should not worry. He should courteously welcome the three punishments of the caste and should regard them as free from compulsion. There is no benefit in giving caste dinners, very often there is in not giving them. I for one regard it a sin to give dinners after a person’s death. Even if a girl cannot be found for a boy or a boy for a girl in the same community, that too need not cause worry, because it is no punishment to one who does not believe in the existence of sub-castes. There will certainly be no difficulty in getting a suitable match from the reformers of other groups if the boy or girl herself is worthy. But if there is difficulty, dharma consists in putting up with it. To a man of character and restraint these are no troubles at all. He bears with them with a composed mind. If he does not receive help from his community at the time of his death, why should it trouble him? There will be others to help. I have already written about a hearse. We can do with little help if it comes into use. And one who cannot command even that little help should engage labourers. One who is so poor as not to afford even labourers is a creature of God and he should be confident that He would send him succour from any quarter. Satyagraha consists in not being bothered by punishment. Just as satyagraha is a golden weapon with which to fight the Government, so it is to fight the caste-organization, because both the ailments are the same and hence the remedy too is the same. The remedy against oppression is satyagraha. Satyagraha alone can preserve Hinduism or any other religion. It is my humble advice to every lover of religion that he should keep clear of the petty squabbles of the communities and should remain devoted to his duty. His duty is to protect his religion and his country. Protection of dharma does not lie in according unjustified protection to small communities, but in leading a life of religion. Protection of religion means protection of every Hindu. The protection of every Hindu consists only in ourselves being men of character. To acquire character means to follow the vows of truth, brahmacharya, ahimsa, etc. To become fearless means to cease to fear any man, to trust in God and fear Him alone, to know that He is witness to all our actions and all our thoughts and to tremble even to entertain evil thoughts, to help every created being, to regard even a follower of another religion as a friend, to pass our time doing good to others, etc., etc. The existence of sub-castes can, at the present time at any rate, be considered as pardonable if their activity on the whole gives sustenance to religion and country. The caste which uses the whole world to promote its own interests will be destroyed. The caste which permits itself to be used in promoting the welfare of the world will live.
[From Gujarati] Navajivan, 7-6-1925
As appearing in :CWMG Vol. 031, Article no. 277, page 445

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