The Curse of Untouchability
There is an ineffaceable blot that Hinduism today carries with it. I have declined to believe that it has been handed down to us from immemorial times. I think that this miserable, wretched, enslaving spirit of ‘untouchableness’ must have come to us when we were at our lowest ebb. This evil has stuck to us and still remains with us, and as long as that curse remains with us, so long, I think sacred land is a proper punishment for the indelible crime that we are committing.
Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, p. 387
Untouchability as it is practiced in Hinduism today is, in my opinion, a sin against God and man and is, there-fore, like a poison slowly eating into the very vitals of Hinduism. In my opinion, it has no sanction whatsoever in the Hindu Shastras taken as a whole. Untouchability of a healthy kind is universal in all religious. It is a rule of sanitation. That will exist to the end of time; but untouchability as we are observing today in India is a hideous think and wears various forms in various provinces, even in districts, it has degraded both the untouchables and the touchables. It has stunted the growth of nearly 40 million human beings. They are denied even the ordinary amenities of life. The sooner, therefore, it is ended, the better for Hinduism, the better for India, and perhaps better for mankind in general.
Swaraj is a meaningless term, if we to keep a fifth of India under perpetual subjection, and deliberately deny to them the fruits of subjection, and deliberately deny to them the fruits of national culture. We are seeking the aid of God in this great purifying movement, but we deny to the most deserving among His creatures the rights of humanity. Inhuman ourselves, we may not plead before the Throne for deliverance from the inhumanity of others.
Young India, 25-5-21
That untouchability is an old institution, nobody has ever denied. But if it is an evil, it cannot be defended on the ground of its antiquity. If the untouchables are the outcastes of the Aryan society, so much the worse for that society. And if the Aryans at some stage in their progress regarded a certain class of people as outcastes by way of punishment, there is no reason why that punishment should descend upon their progeny irrespective of the causes for which their ancestors were punished. That there is untouchability even amongst untouchables merely demonstrates that the evil cannot be confined and that it’s deadening effect is all-pervading. The existence of untouchability amongst untouchables is an additional reason for cultured Hindu society to rid itself of the curse with the quickest dispatch. If the untouchables are so because they kill animals and because they have to do with flesh, blood, bones and night-soil, every nurse and every doctor should become an untouchable and so should Christians and Musalmans and all so-called high-class Hindus who kill animals for food or sacrifice. The argument that because slaughter-houses, toddy-shop, and houses of ill-fame are or should be isolated, untouchables should likewise be isolated betrays gross prejudice. Slaughter houses and toddy-shop are and should be isolated. But neither butchers nor publicans are isolated.
Young India, 29-7-‘26
Placed as we are in the midst of trials and temptations from within, and touched and polluted as we are by all the most untouchable and the vilest thought currents, let us not, in our arrogance, exaggerate the influence of contact with people whom we often ignorantly and more often ignorantly and more often arrogantly consider to be our inferiors. Before the Throne of the Almighty we shall be judged, not by what we have been touched but by whom we have served we have been touched but by whom we have served and how. Inasmuch as we serve a single human being in distress, we shall find favour in the sight of God…. We dare not use abstinence from certain food as a cover for fraud, hypocrisy and worse vices. We dare not refuse to serve a fallen or a dirty brother lest his contact should injure our spiritual growth.
Young India, 5-1-‘22
I have felt for year, that there must be something radically wrong, where scavenging has been made the concern of a separate class in society. We have no historical record of the man, who first assigned the lowest status to this sanitary service. Whoever he was, he by no means did us a good. We should, from our minds that we are all scavengers, and the easiest way of doing so is, for every one who has realized this, to commence bread labour as a scavenger. Scavenging, thus intelligently taken up, will help one to a true appreciation of the equality of man.
From Yeravda Mandir, Chap. IX
In its inception, untouchability was a rule of sanitation and still is in all parts of the world outside India. That is to say, an unclean person or thing is untouchable but immediately his or its uncleanliness is shed, he or it is no longer untouchable. Therefore, persons who are to attend to scavenging, whether a paid bhangi or an unpaid mother, they are unclean until they have washed themselves clean if their unclean work. If instead as a brother and was given an opportunity and even made to become clean after performing an unclean service for society he should be as acceptable as any other member of that society.