Social Reform

In referring to the universality of Satyagraha, I have time and again observed in these columns that it is capable of application in the social no less than in the political field. It may equally be employed against Government, society, or one’s own family, father, mother, husband or wife, as the case may be. For, it is the beauty of this spiritual weapon that when it is completely free from the taint of himsa and its use is actuated purely and solely by love it may be used with absolute impunity in any connection and in any circumstances whatever. A concrete instance of its use against evil was furnished by the brave and spirited students of Dharmaj (in Kheda District) a few days back. The facts as gleaned from the various communications about the incident received by me were as follows:

A gentleman of Dharmaj, some days back, gave a caste dinner in connection with the twelfth day cere­mony of the death of his mother. It was preceded by a keen controversy about the subject among the young men of the place who shared with a number of other local inhabitants their strong dislike of this custom. They felt that on this occasion something must be done. Accordingly, most of them took all or some of the following three vows:

1. Not to join their elders at the dinner or otherwise partake of the food served on that occasion.

2. To observe fast on the day of the dinner as an emphatic protest against this practice.

3. To bear patiently and cheerfully any harsh. treat­ment that might be accorded to them by their elders for taking this step.

In pursuance of this decision quite a large number of students, including some children of tender age, fasted on the day on which the dinner was given and took upon themselves the wrath of their so-called elders. Nor was the step free from the dangers of serious pecuniary consequences to the students. The  'elders’ threatened to stop the allowances of their boys and even to withdraw any financial aid that they were giving to local institutions, but the boys stood firm. But we may safely take it that if they do not let their vigilance go to sleep, no shethia will again dare to give a post-mortem dinner. A chronic and long standing social evil  cannot be swept away at a stroke , it always requires patience and perseverance.  As many as two hundred and eighty-five students thus refused to take part in the caste dinner, and most of them fasted.

I tender my congratulations to these boys and hope that everywhere students will take a prominent part in effecting social reform. They hold in their pocket, as it were, the key to social reform and the protection of their religion, just as they have in their possession the key to Swaraj - though they may not be aware of it owing to their negligence or carelessness. But I hope that the example set by the students of Dharmaj will awaken them to a sense of their power. In my opinion the true shraddha of the deceased lady was performed by these young men fasting on that day, while those who gave the dinner wasted good money and set a bad example to the poor. The rich, moneyed class ought to use their God­given wealth for philanthropic purposes. They should understand that the poor cannot afford to give caste dinners on wedding or on funeral ceremonies. These bad practices have proved to be the ruin of many a poor man. If the money that was spent in Dharmaj on the caste dinner had been used for helping poor students, or poor widows, or for Khadi or cow-protection, or the amelioration of the’ untouchables’, it would have borne fruit and brought peace to the departed soul. But as it is, the dinner has already been forgotten, it has profited nobody and it has caused pain to the students and the sensible section of the Dharmaj public.

Let no one imagine that the Satyagraha has gone in vain, because it did not succeed in preventing the dinner in question from taking place. The students themselves knew that there was little possibility of their Satyagraha producing any immediate tangible result. But we may safely take it that if they do not let their vigilance go to long­standing social evil cannot be swept away at a stroke, it always requires patience and perseverance.

A correspondent invites me towarn those who care against turning during the forthcoming Divali (festival of Hindus) holidays good money into fireworks, bad sweets and unhygienic illuminations. I heartily respond. If I had my way I should have people to do house cleaning and heart cleaning and provide innocent and instructive amusements for children during these days. Fireworks, I know, are the delight of children, but they are so because we the elders have habituated them to fireworks. I have not known the untutored African children wanting or appreciating fireworks. They have dances instead. What can be better or healthier for children than sports and picnics to which they will take not bazar-made sweets of doubtful value but fresh and dried fruit? Children both rich and poor may also be trained to do house cleaning and whitewashing themselves. It will be something if they are coaxed to recognize the dignity of labour if only during holidays to begin with. But the point I wish to emphasize is that at least a part, if not the whole, of the money saved by doing away with fireworks etc., should be given to the cause of Khadi or if that is anathema, then to any other cause in which the poorest are served. There cannot be greater joy to men and women and young and old than that they think of and associate the poorest of the land with them in their holiday.

Young India, 25-10-’28

himsa - violence

shethia - a member of a merchant class

shraddha -  rite or ceremony performed in honour of the departed spirits of dead relatives

bazar - market