By Chandi Sinnathurai
27 March, 2007
No self-respecting Untouchable
worth the name will be proud of this land- B.R. Ambedkar
said, most accurately, that none learns from history. We sadly therefore
are bound to witness history repeating itself. It has boggled this writer’s
mind, how on earth the so-called rational and even highly ‘educated’
and religious individuals could subscribe to a tyrannical system where
by one is given “spiritual sanction” to exclude other human
beings from temple entry, purely on the basis of ritual purity. Furthermore,
in society, deny their fundamental human rights, civil liberties and
not afford the “other” their rightful opportunities, advancements
in life, primarily on the basis of caste. The appalling tragedy is that
such humans are not just considered less equal; but in fact, they are
considered not humans at all. Akin to the slave trade days of old, such
precious humans are considered to be mere commodities, not humans.
Nazism was based on racial
purity and superiority. The system of Casteism determines a human’s
destiny purely on the basis of caste. If Nazism and slavery were abolished,
why then Casteism cannot be demolished and its evils uprooted?
In the democratic India,
even today, highly qualified Dalits are still unemployed. Some have
returned to the jobs of their fathers – usually manual labour,
paid mere pittance. Dalits face much physical violence from wider community.
Even education is unable to lift the Dalits out of their misery. Tragically
education is refusing to bring enlightenment to the so-called high castes.
For centuries, neither high
spirituality, nor great philosophies have managed to shed light on the
sin of the nation. Casteism some how have managed to convince the masses
that it is here to stay, and some even have the audacity to reason that
it is divinely organised “a good thing” – an obnoxious
fatalistic acquiescence. If education is only a means to economic advancement
then it has miserably failed in such societies to uproot its predominant
dehumanising evil because the state education has been massaged and
hijacked in such a way by the upper classes as to not address the conscience
of the nation – And hence attitudinal shift - even one iota, is
not the result. There are of course some, a very few exceptions, to
the general rule. This writer even wonders, whether intellectuals have
simply gone with the might torrential flow – even to the extent
of studied silence (?).
It is appropriate here to
quote a conversation  between the “two-Mahatmas”: MK
Gandhi and BR Amebdkar. It is worthy to note here that the latter found
intellectual and spiritual appeal in Buddhism. He turned his back on
Hinduism and the thraldom of Casteism:
GANDHI: Well, Doctor, what have you to say in the matter?
called me to hear your views. Please tell me what you have to say. Or
you may please ask me some questions and I shall answer.
I understand that you have got some grievances against me and the Congress.
I may tell you that I have been thinking over the problem of Untouchables
ever since my school days--when you were not even born. You may perhaps
be knowing what enormous amount of efforts I had put in to incorporate
this problem in the programme of the Congress and make it a plank of
the Congress platform. The Congress leaders opposed it on the plea that
it was a religious and social question and as such it should not be
mixed with political ones. This is not all. The Congress has spent not
less than rupees twenty lakhs on the uplift of the Untouchables. And
it is really surprising that men like you should offer opposition to
me and to the Congress. If you have to say anything to justify your
stand, you are free to do so.
It is true, Mahatmaji, that you started to think about the problem of
Untouchables before I was born. All old and elderly persons always like
to emphasize the point of age. It is also true that because of you the
Congress Party gave recognition to the problem. But let me tell you
frankly that Congress did nothing beyond giving formal recognition to
this problem. You say the Congress spent more than rupees twenty lakhs
on the uplift of the Untouchables. I say it was all waste. With such
a backing I could have effected an astounding change in the outlook
and economic conditions of my people. And in that event it would have
been imperative for you to see me long before. But I tell you that the
Congress is not sincere about its professions. Had it been sincere,
it would have surely made the removal of untouchability a condition,
like the wearing of khaddar, for becoming a member of the Congress.
No person who did not employ untouchable women or men in his house,
or rear up an untouchable student, or take food at home with an untouchable
student at least once a week, should have been allowed to be a member
of the Congress. Had there been such a condition, you could have avoided
the ridiculous sight where the President of the District Congress Committee
was seen opposing the temple entry of the Untouchables!
You might say that Congress
wanted [=lacked] strength, and therefore it was unwise to lay down such
a condition. Then my point is that Congress cares more for strength
than for principles. This is my charge against you and the Congress.
You say the British Government does not show a change of heart. I also
say that the Hindus have not shown a change of heart in regard to our
problem, and so long as they remain adamant, we would believe neither
the Congress nor the Hindus. We believe in self-help and self-respect.
We are not prepared to have faith in great leaders and Mahatmas. Let
me be brutally frank about it. History tells that Mahatmas, like fleeting
phantoms, raise dust, but raise no level. Why should the congressmen
oppose our movement and dub me a traitor?
Gandhiji, I have no homeland.
You have got a homeland, and from the reports that have reached me of
your work at the Round Table Conference, I know you are a patriot of
You say I have got a homeland, but still I repeat that I am without
it. How can I call this land my own homeland and this religion my own,
wherein we are treated worse than cats and dogs, wherein we cannot get
water to drink? No self-respecting Untouchable worth the name will be
proud of this land. The injustice and sufferings inflicted upon us by
this land are so enormous that if knowingly or unknowingly we fall a
prey to disloyalty to this country, the responsibility for that act
would be solely hers. I do not feel sorry for being branded as a traitor;
for the responsibilities of our action lie with the land that dubs me
a traitor. If at all I have rendered any national service as you say,
helpful or beneficial, to the patriotic cause of this country, it is
due to my unsullied conscience and not due to any patriotic feelings
in me. If in my endeavour to secure human rights for my people, who
have been trampled upon in this country for ages, I do any disservice
to this country, it would not be a sin; and if any harm does not come
to this country through my action, it may be due to my conscience. Owing
to the promptings of my conscience, I have been striving to win human
rights for my people without meaning or doing any harm to this country.
Everybody knows that the
Muslims and the Sikhs are socially, politically, and economically more
advanced than the Untouchables. The first session of the Round Table
Conference has given political recognition to the Muslim demands and
has recommended political safeguards for them. The Congress has agreed
to their demands. The first session has also given recognition to the
political rights of the Depressed Classes and has recommended for them
political safeguards and adequate representation. According to us that
is beneficial to the Depressed Classes. What is your opinion?
I am against the political separation of the Untouchables from the Hindus.
That would be absolutely suicidal.
I thank you for your frank opinion. It is good that I know now where
we stand as regards this vital problem. I take leave of you.
Fr Chandi Sinnathurai
is a peasant-priest. This piece is written on the day of celebration
of the 200th year Anniversary of the abolishment of Trans-Atlantic slave
 THE MEETING BETWEEN GANDHI
AND AMBEDKAR ON AUGUST 14, 1931 at Manibhavan, Malabar Hill, Bombay
(transcripts of Gandhi's talks were routinely made by his secretaries)
Slightly edited from Dhananjay
Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971
, pp. 164-167.
here to comment
on this article