The movement for eradication of untouchability had begun in Bombay and Poona, prior to Gandhi’s return to India. Mahraja Sayajirao Gaikwad was trying to emancipate the downtrodden since 19th century. As soon as he landed in the country, Gandhiji took up the emancipation of untouchables as the goal of his life. It lent the history a new dimension.
The Gujarat Political Conference (Gujarat
Rajkiya Parishad) was convened at Godhara in Nov.1917. On the concluding
day, with Gandhiji’s support, Thakkar Bappa and Mama Phadke worked hard to
arrange a meeting at the settlement for the untouchables. It was to be
attended by the volunteers from Gujarat, the higher caste city dwellers as
well as the untouchables.
The settlement was situated on the road to
crematory. The sweeper brothers and sisters had decked the entrance with
paper flags and the road was also decorated with colourful cotton flags,
tied on the poles, to welcome Gandhiji and the higher caste invitees. Within
no time thousands of people gathered there. It was an unusual sight in
Gujarat that the wealthy people, the advocates, the businessmen, gentlemen
from other walks of life and the untouchables were mixing up. The
untouchables started feeling uneasy as the time of the invitees’ arrival
neared. They thought, let them be the guests but how to touch them? All of
them decided to hop on the roofs of their huts when the guests arrived and
listen to Gandhiji from there. Thakkar Bappa came first. He was delighted to
see the big crowd of the higher caste people there. But he felt amiss not to
notice the chiefs of the untouchables anywhere around. Incidentally, he
glanced above and found all the untouchables sitting on the top of the
houses. He was shocked to see it but was not going to be dissuaded by it.
With a laden heart he earnestly requested them again and again to climb
down. At last he was able to persuade many of them to come down.