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51. A Historical Meeting
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.