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ARTICLES > UNTOUABILITY > Gandhi and Ambedkar: Befriending the Other Respectfully
Gandhi and Ambedkar: Befriending the Other Respectfully1
By A. Pushparajan

As against the emerging trend among the Ambedkarites to project Gandhi as hostile to the Dalit cause merely on the ground of his confrontation with Ambedkar on the issue of the Communal Award, this paper sets the said confrontation against their efforts to befriend each other respectfully. Further, the paper gives an account of the enormous contributions Gandhi made for the eradication of untouchability. Finally, an attempt is made to give certain indications to understand the differences of outlook and approach between the two leaders so that their followers may befriend each other respectfully and collaborate with one another and realize their common cause of Dalit betterment.


Undoubtedly, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948) and Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) are key national leaders with a vision for the emancipation of the oppressed. One is rightly called the 'Father of the Nation' and the other, 'Father of the Constitution.' However, it is true that they both got into conflict with each other on the occasion of the Communal Award during the colonial era.

It is also a fact of history that they proved themselves illustrious exemplars of befriending each other, despite their differences in their perspective, approach and ideology. It is unfortunate that people have not taken note of this aspect of their encounter. Particularly the Dalits, in their eagerness to make Ambedkar into a pan-Indian Dalit icon, seem to project Gandhi as an archenemy of Ambedkar. In the process the real enemy of Dalits' liberation, the Brahminical hegemony, escapes unnoticed and unchallenged.

If one, without sitting in judgement on either of them, makes sense of the diversity of ideas, approaches and standpoints, and learn to go beyond the temporal particularities of their controversies to comprehend the universal elements in their genuine concerns, ideas and approaches,2 then one is sure to find a lot of room for both the Gandhiites and Ambedkarites to befriend each other respectfully. This would not only enhance the scope of their collaboration in promoting Dalits'cause but also will heighten their challenge to the common enemy. Hence, this paper first attempts to set the issue of the confrontation of the two great leaders of modern India against the background of their efforts to befriend each other respectfully.

My further assumption is that the Ambedkarities, in their enthusiasm to praise the greatness of Ambedkar, fail to esteem Gandhi's understanding of Dalit sense of hurt and pain and the enormous contribution he made towards eradication of untouchability. They seem to even poison the minds of young generation with false information about Gandhi. Hence, the second part of the paper proceeds to simply enumerate Gandhi's endeavours to remove the sting of untouchability in the Indian society.

Of course, there is the need to tackle squarely the wider issue of the caste question about which the two leaders had contrary views and approaches. Though the scope of this paper does not allow an elaborate treatment of that issue, yet an attempt is made in the third and final part of this paper to highlight some indications to understand the differences, with the hope that it will pave the way to mutual befriending by the Ambedkarites and Gandhiites for common action against the common enemy.


People seem to focus mainly on the actual confrontation that took place between Gandhi and Ambedkar on the occasion of the Communal Award, granted by the colonialist regime. But it is also a fact that that there were many efforts on their part to befriend each other. It is harmful simply to focus only on their confrontation without situating it in the proper context in which it took place. Hence, in this part an attempt is made to explain the context in which the confrontation took place between the two leaders and expound their subsequent efforts to befriend each other.

1.1. The Context of Confrontation

First of all, it must be borne in mind that the very ground of confrontation of Gandhi and Ambedkar was carved by the colonialists at the crucial moment of mobilization of the whole nation into freedom struggle. Moreover, the question of caste consciousness was itself the "result of the historical relationship between India and the British colonial rule." Dr. Nicholas B. Dirks of Columbia University in his latest book3 argues out powerfully that the British really engaged in manipulation of the caste system for their colonial control of India for 200 years. They did not invent caste, true. The so-called 'castes' were all merely diverse forms of social identity and organization of the Indian society. Caste was neither an unchanged survival of ancient India nor a basic expression of Indian tradition. But it was the British who subsumed them all into a single term caste. And they did it for the benefit of colonialist control. This is the finding of Dr. Dirks, based on substantial evidence he has collected.

Contrastingly, the very same point was perceived by Gandhi already a century ago. "It was a decisive symptom, and with the unerring eye of the physician that I claim to be in such matters, I detected the symptom," said Gandhi.4 He also claimed that untouchability is our problem which we will solve on our own. They need not settle it for us. To put it in his own words:

The Cabinet composed of foreigners, knowing nothing first-hand of the Indian conditions or what untouchability could mean, were labouring under a heavy handicap, and even though some Indians had referred this matter to them, they should have declined the responsibility to which they were wholly unequal.5

The colonialist British were using the divide and rule policy for upkeeping their political supremacy in India, specially trying to dislodge Gandhi from his leadership of the national movement. But Gandhi's objection was based completely on the unity of India. Ambedkar, quite anxious to get a possible institutional mechanism to solve the Dalit problem thought it strategically useful to ask for separate electorate in the Second Round Table Conference. By the way, it should be noted that the purpose of the Round Table Conference itself was to discuss constitutional reforms in India, as per the recommendation by Simon Commission report. It was in that context that Ambedkar was insisting on separate electorate to be included in the would-be-Constitution of India. It was seconded by many of the delegates too. But it must be remembered that they were all nominated by the colonialist Raj. If at all good intention prevailed in them, the separate electorates as well as reservations of constituencies would only be political safeguards. They would not solve the moral problem. It was in this context that Gandhi challenged them thus: "Those who speak of the political rights of 'untouchables' do not know India, and do not know how Indian society is today constructed."6 He even went to the extent of saying: "if I was the only person to resist the thing, I will resist it with my life." Gandhi was never against the representation of the Dalits in the legislature. On the contrary, he was anxious to secure adequate representation for them. He even expressed his readiness under certain conditions to guarantee by statute a specified number of seats to be filled by them. He discussed several alternative proposals instead of separate electorates.

1.2. The Actual Confrontation

Ambedkar's viewpoint was that the untouchables were a separate community different from Hindus, and they should be named as non-caste Hindus, protestant Hindus or non-conformist Hindus. So he put forward this question: "If Raj could provide separate electorates for Sikhs, Muslims and India's Europeans, why not a separate Dalit electorate?" But Gandhi insisted that the untouchables were not a separate community but an integral part of the Hindu society, though a suppressed lot. They are not like the Muslims or Sikhs or the Anglo- Indians. Gandhi's counter question was, "Sikhs may remain in perpetuity, so may Mohamedans, so may Europeans (Anglo-Indians). Will untouchables remain untouchables in perpetuity?"7 In other words, religion formed an essential aspect of one's identity and people take pride in identifying themselves by their religious identity. Accordingly, even a political representation on the basis of the religious identity of the group is quite understandable. On the contrary, caste-oppression is really a moral degeneration within Hinduism. Can anyone be identified by a mark of degradation? Even if a customary practice is there, will it be morally proper to make a degraded practice the hallmark of a group's identity? So Gandhi argued that while the religious groups may be recognised by separate electorate, the so- called untouchables cannot be given legal sanction and a statutory recognition by separate electorate independently.

It was only in 1931 that a face to face meeting of Gandhi with Ambedkar took place in Mumbai. Then it continued in verbal encounters in Round Table Conference in London in 1931, and sustained in 1932 in Yervada Jail in Pune. Afterwards, many exchanges were resumed through the press in the mid-1930s, though the Ambedkar - Gandhi debate was interrupted by Gandhi's frequent imprisonments from 1930-34 and again 1940-44, while Ambedkar was not only never imprisoned by the British but was even included in the Viceroys executive council during 1940-45. This would prove that the British were clearly using Ambedkar's grievance for their divide and rule policy.

The separate electorate was at best certain political safeguards. Gandhi said. 'What I want is eradication of untouchability, root and branch.' It is the caste Hindus who were responsible for the condition of the Dalits. It is precisely they who have to do social justice to Dalits by fully integrating the latter within their fold. This they can do only if the Dalits are elected through a joint electorate. The political participation of the Dalits through separate electorate will help only the top ten divisions among them but it would not help the last of the least. "How can I go out of an express train and jump into an aeroplane? I shall only be falling into my destruction,"8 he exclaimed. Granting separate electorates to Dalits "is equal to killing them." He pointed to the actual Dalits' existence in villages and argued thus: 'They are in the hands of superior classes. They can suppress them completely and wreck vengeance upon the untouchables who are at their mercy. Can every village be divided permanently and be involved in a warlike situation?'

It was foreseeing such circumstances that Gandhi warned the British Government not to take such steps as those that Ambedkar sought. If taken, he said: "If I were the only person to resist the thing I will resist it with my life.”9 But the British Government did not pay any heed to Gandhi's warning. It announced the Communal Award on August 17, 1932. Accordingly, separate electorates were retained for the minority communities like the Muslims and Sikhs. So also, untouchables would be treated as a minority community and so given separate electorate for the 78 seats reserved for the Daits. This was indeed what Ambedkar wanted. Hence it was a victory for him.

However, in the eyes of Gandhi, "separate electorates and separate reservations were not the ways to remove the bar sinister."10 This would only create a division of Hinduism as well as division among the villages. Separate electorates will only ensure that the untouchables are kept in bondage perpetually. So, Gandhi had to declare 'fast unto death,' according to his inner convictions, even though he was in the prison at Yervada. On 20th September 1932, the day he commenced the fast, in an interview with the Press representatives, Gandhi expressed the rationale of his fast, thus:

In attacking untouchability I have gone to the very root of the matter, and therefore, it is an issue of transcendental value, far surpassing Sivaraj in terms of political constitutions, and I would say that such a constitution would be a dead weight if it was not backed by a moral basis... It is only because the English officials cannot possibly see this living side of the picture that in their ignorance and self-satisfaction they dare to sit as judges upon questions that affect the fundamental being of millions of people, and here I mean both caste Hindus and 'untouchables,' that is suppressor and suppressed; and it was in order to wake up even officialdom from its gross ignorance, if I may make use of such an expression without being guilty of offence that I felt impelled by a voice from within to offer resistance with the whole of being.11

One may think that it was a 'political stunt' as Ambedkar himself described it. But if one considers the precarious conditions in which Gandhi was in at a time when the very worst was about to happen, and still he was ready to face it dauntlessly, one will see his sincerity of purpose. On the same day in a letter to a friend Gandhi wrote: "What I am aiming at is a heart understanding between the two, the greatest opportunity of repentance and reparation on the part of the suppressors. I am certain that the moment is ripe for the change of heart among them."12 In another letter Gandhi penned this: "However the aim of my fast is not merely to get the decision changed but to bring about the awakening and self-purification which are bound to result from the effort to get the decision changed. In other words this was an opportunity to strike at the very root of untouchability."13

The religious significance of his fast may be clearly seen from the following words Gandhi uttered in the Press interview:

My fight against untouchability is a fight against the impure in humanity...with a heart - so far as it is possible for a human being to achieve - free of impurity, free of all malice and all anger. You will, therefore, see that my fast is based first of all on faith in my cause, faith in the Hindu community, faith in human nature itself and faith even in the official world. My cry will rise to the throne of the Almighty God."14

Already when Gandhi had announced his decision to go for a fast, the Hindu leaders such as the Congress President C. Rajagopalachari, and many others15 had met in Bombay, making negotiations with Dr. Ambedkar and his colleagues like Dr. Solanki. Gandhi was quite concerned about the outcome of such a meeting. Out of affection for him, they should not arrive at a rough and ready agreement. Expressing this concern he said:

What I want, what I am living for, and what I should delight in dying for, is the eradication of untouchability root and branch. ... My life I count of no consequence. One hundred lives given for this noble cause would, in my opinion, be poor penance done by Hindus for the atrocious wrongs they have heaped upon helpless men and women of their own faith....I, therefore, would urge them not to swerve an inch from the path of strictest justice.16

My fast I want to throw in the scales of justice, and if it wakes up Caste Hindu from their slumber, and if they are roused to a sense of their duty, it will have served its purpose.... My fight against untouchability is a fight against the impure in humanity....You will, therefore, see that my fast is based first of all in the cause of faith in the Hindu community, faith in human nature itself and faith even in the official world.17

On the second day of the fast, Gandhi made it clear about his readiness to accept reservation of seats provided that it was under joint electorate:

My own opinion is quite clear. I would accept any pact that has not a tinge of separate electorate about it. I would with utmost reluctance tolerate reservation of seats under a joint electorate scheme. But I should insist upon what is to me the vital part of the pact, the social and religious reform. And, therefore, whilst if a settlement is arrived at on the joint electorate scheme and separate electorate is withdrawn by the British Government, I will break my fast. I will immediately give notice to millions of Hindus who have flocked around me at the innumerable meetings from one end of India to the other, that if within, say, six months the social reform is not demonstrably achieved, the fast will be taken up again. For if I do not do so I would be guilty of betraying God in whose name I have taken this great fast and the interest of untouchables for whose sake it has been taken.18

1.3. Their Attempts at Befriending Each Other

On the fourth day of the fast, when Ambedkar met Gandhi, on 23rd September 1932, he expressed his grief openly: "You have been very unfair to us." Gandhi replied to him: "It is always my lot to appear to be unfair. I cannot help it." The conversation was protracted. Gandhi lay weak and still in his bed and Ambedkar did most of the talking. The one sentence which everyone overheard more easily than any other was "I want compensation." After a sympathetic listening to Ambedkar, Gandhi not only agreed that Dalits should have seats in proportion to their population. That Gandhi respected Ambedkar's view will be clear if one is aware of Gandhi's earlier position. In a letter he had written on the day of commencement of his fasting, he said:

If you will not resent my saying it, I would like to say that as I am a "touchable" by birth, I am an "untouchable" by choice. ...It is that dual capacity that has compelled the fast. Looking at the matter in this light I must say that I am not in love with the idea of statutory reservation. Whilst it is not open to the same objection that separate electorate is, I have not a shadow of a doubt that it will prevent the natural growth of the supressed classes and will remove the incentive to honourable amends from the suppressors."19

However, after listening to the pleas of Ambedkar, he not only agreed to the reservation of seats, but even agreed to increase the number of parliamentary seats to 148 under the joint electorate, while the Communal Award had prescribed only 71 seats through separate electorates. Accordingly, therefore, in all these Dalit electorates, they will exercise their voting power in two phases. In each of the Dalit constituencies they would elect four candidates separately and constitute a panel. Subsequently, the general electorate would choose one of the four so elected earlier. This agreement was named as the Poona Pact, ratified on 25th September 1932. And it was accepted by the Government, thereby nullifying the Communal Award.

This was certainly a positive step on the part of Gandhi towards befriending Ambedkar. The man who had objected to separate electorates and statutory reservations came down to accept the idea of statutory reservation of seats for Dalits, after listening to Ambedkar.

On his side, Ambedkar agreed to give up what he had gained from the Communal Award, where only Dalits would have voted for Dalit candidates, to save Gandhi's life. The government accepted the joint proposal, and Gandhi broke his fast. The essence of this pact was subsequently enshrined in free India's Constitution.20 Though it could be argued that Ambedkar agreed to this pact under duress, yet his acceptance of the reserved constituencies in the Constitution cannot be construed as an outcome of a conspiracy of Congress or a surrender by Ambedkar.

In fact, Ambedkar, after conversing with Gandhi in the jail, had expressed great appreciation for his sympathetic understanding of the Dalit issue and also on his readiness to compromise on his stand. Though Ambedkar had to lose the immediate political gain he had achieved from the communal award, he manifested great humanity and readiness to befriend the other21 as it is evident from the following words of his:

No man was placed in a greater and graver dilemma than I was then. It was a baffling situation. I had to make a choice between two different alternatives. There was before me the duty, which I owed as a part of common humanity, to save Gandhi from sure death. There was before me the problem of saving for the untouchables the political rights which the Prime Minister had given them. I responded to the call of humanity and saved the life of Mr. Gandhi by agreeing to alter the Communal Award in a manner satisfactory to Mr. Gandhi.22

When the settlement was arrived at, Gandhi also acknowledged that it was a "generous gesture on all sides." He accredited that "it is a meeting of hearts."23 Referring to Dr. Ambedkar, Rao Bahadur Srinivasan and their party on the one hand, and Rao Bahadur M.C. Rajah on the other, he gratefully wrote these words:

They could have taken up an uncompromising and defiant attitude by way of punishment to the so-called caste Hindus for the sins of generations. If they had done so, I at least could not have resented their attitude and my death would have been but a trifling price exacted for the tortures that the outcastes of Hinduism have been going through for unknown generations. But they chose a nobler path and have thus shown that they have followed the precept of forgiveness enjoined by all religions.24

It was not merely a politeness that impelled Gandhi to utter the words mentioned above. He brought out the implications by reminding the caste Hindus of their immediate duty: "Let me hope that the caste Hindus will prove themselves worthy of this forgiveness and carry out to the letter and spirit every clause of the settlement with all its implications". Gandhi even gave evidence to show that he esteemed the Pact as well as the friendship of Ambedkar.

The settlement is but the beginning of the end. The political part of it, very important though, it no doubt is, occupies but a small space in the vast field of reform that has to be tackled by caste Hindus during the coming days...I should be guilty of a breach of trust if I did not warn fellow reformers and caste Hindus in general that the breaking of the fast carried with it a sure promise of a resumption of it, if this reform is not relentlessly pursued and achieved within a measurable period.25

The confrontation between the two leaders was purely based upon the differences in the way they perceived the problems, the type of solution they offered, and the methods they adopted in rooting out the evil of untouchability. The differences did not mean that they were enemies to each other, as it is made out by the supporters of Ambedkar. There is sufficient evidence to show that they respected each other.

Gandhi is known to have had deep affection for Ambedkar which was also reciprocated by Ambedkar. Even while ruthlessly attacking Gandhi on his viewpoints, Ambedkar never denied Gandhi the credit he deserved. Shortly after signing the pact, Ambedkar said he was "surprised, immensely surprised" to find "so much in common" between Gandhi and himself. He frankly told Gandhi: "If you devoted yourself entirely to the welfare of the Depressed Classes you would become our hero."26

The great respect Gandhi developed for Ambedkar was also clear from the recognition he expressed on the occasion of 'ill-treatment' of Ambedkar meted out by a Lahore-based Brahmin Society. The organizing committee of the Jat-Pat Todak Mandal (Society for the Abolition of Caste system) had extended an invitation to Ambedkar to deliver a speech at their annual conference in 1936. Ambedkar also readily consented to it and prepared the text of his speech well in advance, and sent it under the title "Annihilation of Caste." But they found objections to those portions that dealt with his intellectual assault on the Vedas and Shastras, and asked Ambedkar to delete them. But Ambedkar declared that he "would not change a comma." This resulted in their withdrawal of the invitation. Thus, Ambedkar was denied the opportunity of delivering his speech in that conference. When Gandhi came to know about it, he published his comments in his weekly Harijan, thus:

The committee appears to have deprived the public of an opportunity of listening to the original views of a man, who has carved out for himself a unique position in society. Whatever label he wears in future, Dr. Ambedkar is not the man to allow himself to be forgotten...No reformer can ignore the address. The orthodox will gain by reading it.27

It is indeed remarkable that the Communal Award confrontation resulted in Gandhi's partnership with Ambedkar in the final phase of his life. Gandhi's attitude of befriending Ambedkar was definitely a factor that gave him an entry into the Constituent Assembly, although Ambedkar was defeated in the elections to the Constituent Assembly. It was thanks to Gandhi's befriending attitude towards Ambedkar that Nehru was prompted to invite Ambedkar to be the Minister of Law in his cabinet. Again, it was Gandhi who made Congress people recognise the worth of Ambedkar, so as to make him the Chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution. Everyone knows of the amazing results that followed Ambedkar's induction into the Constitution-making exercise. A brilliant and passionate human being as he was able to draft a Constitution that ensured equal rights to all in a society that had treated the depressed castes as inferior and untouchable for centuries. Further, if an elected Constituent Assembly in which a large majority were caste Hindus, were able to welcome and adopt such a Constitution, it was mainly because Gandhi had prepared their conscience to accept the attitude of befriending Ambedkar respectfully.

On the part of Ambedkar also it was his befriending attitude that compelled him to accept the opportunities provided to him, because he thought it would give him the scope for serving the Dalits, the goal for which he had been living all through his political career. He also recognized that he got that opportunity mainly because of Gandhi. This is clear from the glorious tribute Ambedkar paid while addressing the Rajya Sabha in 1954, in the fag end of his political career, that 'he knew of no other person who had done so much for the untouchable.'28

In sum, therefore, it is in respect of this quality of befriending each other that Gandhi and Ambedkar proved to be great leaders of humanity. Although they were quite contrary to each other in their personality traits, perspectives on the problem of the untouchables and approach towards its solution, yet they could go beyond these contingent aspects and befriend each other for the sake of the interest of the nation and the cause of humanity.


From the foregoing it is clear that Gandhi and Ambedkar, despite their confrontation on the concrete instance of Communal Award, were able to befriend each other because of the common cause of the nation in particular and of humanity in general. More than that, if only people knew the enormous contributions Gandhi made to the removal of the sting of untouchability in Indian society, they will not indulge in mudslinging at Gandhi. Hence, this part of the paper is devoted to giving an account of Gandhi's efforts for Dalit liberation.

  1. Even as a boy, Gandhi felt an instinctive revulsion at the practice of untouchability that was common in those days. A scavenger named Uka used to attend to the cleaning of latrines in his house. If Mohan had accidently touched Uka, he was asked to perform a ritual ablution by his mother. As a very dutiful and obedient child, he obeyed her in so far as it was consistent with respect for parents. But it was "not without smilingly protesting that untouchability was not sanctioned by religion and that it was impossible for it to be so."29 He had even tussles with his mother on this point. He would tell her that 'she was entirely wrong in considering physical contact with Uka was sinful.'30
  2. As a young man Gandhi thought of the sin of untouchability as satanic. A Brahman by named Ladha Maharaj was stricken with leprosy. However, he was confident of getting cured by regularly reading Ramayana. Later, he was actually cured of the disease. At this instance, the young Gandhi told himself 'how can the Ramayana countenance the idea of any human beings being untouchable on the ground that they were polluted souls?' because he knew that the same Ramayana reports that Rama carried across the Ganga in a boat an untouchable. Later he emphatically told the orthodox Hindus that it would be a sin for them to regard anyone born in Hinduism as polluted or untouchable especially as they address Rama as "the Purifier of the Polluted."31
  3. When Gandhi came to know of the Mahabharata story of Krishna honouring Sudama in his rags. To those who thought untouchability was sanctioned in the Shastras, Gandhi's retort was that if they accepted Cita's teachings of equality of all human beings, they could not claim that the Smritis sanction untouchability.
  4. Later, Gandhi became convinced that the members of all the four varnas should be treated on an equal basis. True, he said, it does not prescribe the same dharma for the Brahmana as for the Bhangi, but it insists that Bhangi will be entitled to the same measure of consideration and esteem as the Brahmin with all the superior learning.
  5. Gandhi gratefully acknowledged that Ramba, an old servant of the family, belonging to the Dalit community was his spiritual guru. When he was young he was tormented with fear of ghosts and spirits. It was she who taught him the value of namajapa, (repetition of Ramanama) as a remedy for it. The good seed that was sown by this good woman, Ramba proved "an infallible remedy" for Gandhi.32 Another occasion when he gratefully remembered her was when he was in London. When a friend was arguing with him relentlessly against vegetarianism, Gandhi became uncompromising and would pray for God's protection daily. "That faith was sown by the good nurse Ramba," said Gandhi."33
  6. The prolonged liberation struggle that Gandhi had to lead in South Africa was meant to secure justice for the indentured labourers of India, and to do away with racial discrimination. But most of those labourers were from the untouchable classes. So it was to uplift the plight of Dalits in South Africa that Gandhi took a lot of risk to spend 21 years of his early adulthood in South Africa, although he originally went there for employment on a one-year contract.
  7. More specifically, when a leper came to his door for begging, Gandhi had not the heart to dismiss him with just a meal. On the contrary, he offered the untouchable shelter, dressed his wounds and began to look after him, in his house. All this humanitarian service he did, knowing fully that the benefactor was an untouchable.34
  8. Again, during his stay in South Africa, Gandhi had made it a rule that he and his household would personally attend to the cleaning of the closet instead of asking or expecting the servant to do it, though the municipal sweeper removed the night soil. In fact, the servant himself lived with them as a member of the family and his children used to help him with his work.35
  9. Gandhi's office clerks stayed with him at his residence in Durban. One of them was a Christian born of Panchama parents. Each room had a chamber pot which was supposed to be cleaned by his wife or himself. Usually, the clerks would clean their own pots, but the Christian clerk who was a newcomer did not know the custom and it was the duty of others to attend to his bedroom. Kasturba managed the pots of the others, but she could not mentally prepare herself for cleaning the pots used by the untouchables. She was reluctant to treat the clerk on an equal footing, since he belonged to the pariah class. But Gandhi regarding himself as a teacher of hers, insisted on her doing it cheerfully. He was so infuriated at her reluctance that he went to the extent of pushing her out of the house. Only when she began to shout: "Let us not be found to create scenes like these," he came to the senses and established peace with her, and yet without giving up his principles.36
  10. Gandhi allowed Mr. West to stay in Phoenix settlement, the first Ashram-kind of experiment he had initiated in South Africa. A little later, West came after marrying a daughter of a leather worker. Shoemaking was clearly an untouchable's job from the Indian standpoint. So his wife as well as her family belonged to untouchable family. However, Gandhi made arrangements for such 'untouchables' (Mr. West's wife and his mother-in-law) also to stay with him freely in the Ashram.37 Moreover, Gandhi himself learnt the job of the cobbler supposed to be an untouchable's job.
  11. On his return to India, he founded the Satyagraha Ashram in Kochrab, in Ahmedabad. When an untouchable family applied to become members of his Ashram, there was so much resistance from the owner of the house that he asked Gandhi to vacate. Even at that risky point Gandhi could conscientize the fellow ashramites to such an extent that they all came to the decision that they "would rather go and stay in the untouchable quarters and live on whatever they get by manual labour"38 rather than denying admission to that untouchable family. This shows Gandhi's uncompromising attitude to giving equality to untouchables even when he had to face the loss of financial support to the Ashram.
  12. Still later, Gandhi adopted the daughter of that untouchable family, Laxmi, as his own.
  13. Gandhi prescribed 'Removal of Untouchability' as one of the Eleven Vows for the ashramites. They were expected not only to observe this vow but also to repeat at prayer every day. Their resolve to rid their mind of all traces of belief in untouchability and to fight against it.
  14. Gandhi never entertained celebration of marriage in Sabarmati Ashram, because the observance of celibacy was one of the Ashram vows. However, Gandhi blessed marriages that were solemnised between caste Hindus and Harijans at the Ashram. He presided over only such marriages in the Ashram.
  15. The Gujarat Vidyapith, which he founded in 1920, took a historic decision not to recognise schools that excluded untouchables. When there was so much uproar among the orthodox Hindus that they even threatened Gandhi that if the decision was not revoked they would oppose his movement against the Raj. But Gandhi published his uncompromising stand that he would even be ready to reject that freedom which would be won by abandoning the untouchables. To put it in his words:
  16. The advice I receive from one and all is that if I do not exclude Antyajas (the dalits) from the national schools, the movement for Swaraj will end in smoke. If I have even a little of the true Vaishnava in me God will also vouchsafe me the strength to reject the Swaraj which may be won by abandoning the Antyajas.39
  • Already in 1924, Gandhi, even while remaining in jail, directed Vykom Satyagraha offered by Dalits to open the roads leading to the temple. Still later he campaigned for the temple entry programmes. Gandhi fought against the belief of the Sanatana Hindus that the temple as well as the consecrated idol of the temple would be desecrated by the polluted souls of Dalits. He started a temple entry movement too.
  • In 1932, Gandhi endangered his life by taking up the 'epic fast' to oppose the Communal Award of the British giving the untouchables separate electorates and thereby "leaving a baneful legacy of poisoned relations, group antagonisms and separatist ideologies... discriminatory treatment and political rivalry in the legislatures, inflaming popular prejudices against the Depressed Classes."'40
  • But again in April, 1933 Gandhi undertook twenty-one days fast to call attention to the situation of the untouchables. Despite almost unanimous medical opinion that he could not stand such a strain, he upheld his 21 days fast from May 8 to May 29. In both the fasts Gandhi staked his life for the cause of untouchables. No one can voluntarily invite slow and painful death, unless one believes that the issue at stake was a life-and-death issue for him. Both the fasts were 'intended to sting Hindu conscience for right religious action and to root out untouchability from their minds and to make prayachita in ending all discriminatory practices and prejudices.’41
  • Still a State prisoner, Gandhi founded Harijan Sevak Sangh in September 1932, an all India organization for the uplift of the Dalits, with Birla as the chairman and Takkar Bapa as secretary to organize the work. The volunteers of this Association were dedicated to the service of Dalits, improving their housing, sanitary facilities, drinking water, education and so on. He made scavenging compulsory for all, disproving thereby the belief that one who does scavenging becomes untouchable himself. Rabindaranath Tagore, addressing a public meeting, said in support of Gandhi's mission: "Today in our determined effort, let us all join Mahatmaji in his noble task of removing the burden of the ages, the burden of disrespect upon the bent back of those who have been stigmatized for the accident of their birth...(Thus), we are not only casting off the chain of India's moral enslavement but indicating the path for all humanity."42
  • An 'Untouchability Abolition Week' was observed throughout India during September 27th - October 2nd 1932. A statement to the Press was issued by Sri C. Rajagopalachari and Rajendra Prasad describing the ways of celebrating the week: "Each locality may devise its own programme but with a joint prayer every day to be a principal feature. Prayer meetings should include men and women of the so- called Depressed Classes be held in the precincts of temples. Processions to be organised by caste people into the Dalit quarters and vice versa, celebrating the heart changes and also proclaiming the glad tidings of the settlement. Throughout the week individuals should invite the Dalits to their houses for pan supari. Bhajan parties and Sankirtans and Kathas to be organized to which Dalits to be particularly invited. Appeals be made by literature, meetings and placards to end the untouchability. The minutes were be formally prepared and a report to be finally sent to Pandit Madan Mohan Malaviya."43
  • Gandhi identified himself totally with the untouchables. He told the Dalit leaders that he was an untouchable by choice while they were untouchables due to accident by birth. The degree of Gandhi's identification was so intense that he declared that though he desired Moksha, 'if he were to be reborn, he would be like to be reborn as an untouchable, so that he could share the sufferings and miseries and indignities that were heaped on them, and struggle for the end of all inequality in order that he may endeavour to free himself and them from that miserable condition.'44
  • While in Delhi, Gandhi insisted on living in the Bhangi colony, where all the dignitaries of British India had to go and meet him and where momentous meetings of the Working Committee of the Congress were held.
  • Gandhi christened the Dalits with the name Harijan (people of God or Children of God). Thereby he wanted "to purge the common vocabulary of the derisive terms and to emphasise the human dignity and equality and thus to make them realise the fraternity." Gandhi clearly claimed that the so-called untouchables were as much entitled to dignity as others because they were as much "sparks of the Divine" as others were. In this way he wanted to make the caste Hindus realise that the depressed sections of the humanity are as much the children of God as they themselves were.
  • In February 1933, Gandhi started publishing Harijan, a weekly paper to promote the anti-untouchability campaign. It carried articles from his pen, exposing the shameful and humiliating status of Dalits, and repudiating the arguments of orthodox Hindus and establishing that untouchability was not an essential part of Hinduism.
  • Removal of untouchability was one of Constructive Programmes that Gandhi chalked out for the liberated India. By the way, Gandhi coined the term 'Constructive Programme' in order to indicate the "liberation for" which we must achieve before we become eligible for demanding "liberation from" the British. These programmes were described by Gandhi as the plans of self- improvement of the community by building structures, systems, processes, and resources that are alternatives to oppression and promote self-sufficiency. They were all necessary so that we will be worthy of receiving 'Poorna Swaraj or complete independence.'45 So, referring to untouchability, Gandhi said that it was the ugliest manifestation of violence in the social life of the Hindus. Hence, Gandhi rightly felt that "they who denied justice to those who suffered injustice at their hands had no right to demand justice for themselves from their oppressors."46
  • Gandhi insisted upon this idea that removal of untouchability was to be pursued as religious practice. It meant that the so-called caste Hindus had to overcome their superstitious belief in untouchability namely the idea of pollution by the touch of a person by reason of his birth, and that they must allow the temple entry to the 'untouchables.' Moreover, the reforms such as opening of the roads, temples, public wells, and public schools to the 'untouchables' equally with the caste Hindus"47? must be carried out with a religious fervour and for a religious goal namely to root out untouchability from their minds, and to make penitential amends, "prayachitta because those whom they had subjected to discrimination and indignities were as much sparks of the divine as they themselves were."48 As for himself, he confessed:
  • I would not exploit you for gaining Swaraj. I am anxious to see an end put to untouchability because for me it is an expiation and a penance. Hinduism has committed a great sin in giving sanction to this evil and I am anxious if such a thing as vicarious penance is possible to purify it of that sin by expiating for it in my own person.'49
  • In framing the Congress Constitution, Gandhi made it a condition precedent for anybody joining the national organization that he declare himself against untouchability. This was also incorporated in the annual pledge that every congressman had to take.50 "If Hindu Congressmen take up the cause for its own sake, (i.e. not merely as a political necessity but as indispensable for the very existence of Hinduism) they will influence the so-called Sanatanists far more extensively than they have hitherto done.51 They should approach them not in a militant spirit but, as befits their non­violence, in a spirit of friendliness.
  • Gandhi devoted nearly a year to the Harijan Tour52 only for the uplift of the Dalits. He addressed hundreds of meetings exhorting the Hindus to take to Harijan uplift in expiation of their sin of oppression and exploitation of their brethren for centuries. He repudiated their ideas of people being high or low by birth. At every place he appealed to the rich and poor to donate their mite, himself stretching out his hand for contributions. The magic appeal was so touching that women and girls who came to attend the meetings parted with their ornaments too. The orthodox Hindus were no doubt infuriated by this new movement. They raised a lot of controversies in dailies, accusing him of heresy. They tried to provoke violence and thereby discredit the 'apostle of nonviolence.' Bombs were thrown.53 But the undaunted Gandhi said: "I am not aching for martyrdom, but if it comes in my way in the prosecution of what I consider to be the supreme duty in defence of the faith I hold in common with millions of Hindus, I shall have well-earned it."54
  • Gandhi could take all these steps because for him his whole political involvement was an expression of his deepest sense of religion. This religious aspect came out at the time of the Epic Fast he carried out in the Yeravada Jail. When an American journalist had sent a cable to Gandhi saying that American opinion was profoundly be fuddled by his fast. They could not understand his willfully throwing away his 'undisputed political leadership of Indian nationalism by starving to death." To this, Gandhi sent a long cable in which he has brought out his religious dimension much more pointedly:

    Americans should know that my politics are derived from my religion. If God had ordained death by starvation I know that it will set last seal on my political leadership. Nationalism will be stronger for sacrificial death. Vast majority of Indian community has instinctively realized correctness and implications of this fast. I am convinced that real self-government has been advanced by this penance and if God gives me strength to see this fast through without mind or body wavering, advancement will be still greater. Hence, every day well passed in equilibrium brings swaraj nearer as it can by no other steps. This preparation for death for untouchability is veritable preparation for death for whole of India. For me removal of untouchability is integral part of swaraj. I would reject swaraj that excluded meanest sinfullest Indians from its health giving balm. For me religion is one in essence. But it has many branches and if I the Hindu branch fail in my duty to the parent trunk I am an unworthy follower of that one invisible religion. According to this reasoning my sacrifice promotes deliverance of humanity from untouchability in every shape or form55 and therefore it served all religious groups.56

    Thanks to the massive effort he organized, Gandhi felt that orthodoxy was losing ground. However, he also felt the difficulty implied in this venture. To Nehru, Gandhi wrote these words: "The abuses they are hurling at me are wonderfully refreshing. I am all that is bad and corrupt on this earth. But the storm will subside ... It is the death dance of the moth round a lamp."57 It is no wonder that just as he expected, so did some sanatanists make a few attempts on his life. An attempt was made to kill Gandhi in Jasidih in Bihar. In 1934, a bomb was thrown at Gandhi as he was proceeding to the Municipal Hall in Pune. Then on January 20, 1948, when Gandhi was conducting the prayer meeting in the garden in Birla House, in New Delhi, a youth by name Madan Lai, a refugee from West Punjab, a member of a gang which plotted Gandhi's death threw a bomb at Gandhi, but missed the target. The final one was by Nathu Ram Godse, Madan Lai's fellow conspirator from Pune, a primary membership holder of RSS. He came to Gandhi's prayer meeting in the garden of Birla House on 30"' January and shot at him from a distance of three feet. This shows that Gandhi gave his life for the cause of Dalit liberation, fighting against the Hindu oxthodoxy.

    It is worth quoting the following words of Gandhi to grasp what he really did for removal of untouchability:

    Harijan service will be always after my heart and will be the breath of life for me, more precious than the daily bread. I can live for some days at least without the daily bread, but I cannot live without Harijan service for one single minute. It is a constant prayer to the Almighty that this blot of untouchability may be removed in its entirety from Hindustan... My life is a dedication to this cause and I shall consider no penance too great for the vindication of this Truth.58

    Can anyone doubt the sincerity of the person and question the veracity of the words quoted above? Ambedkar for one never denied Gandhi's sincerity of purpose in his efforts to uplift Dalits. That is why he could give a glorious tribute to Gandhi that 'he knew of no other person who had done so much for the untouchable' while addressing the Rajya Sabha in 1954, in the evening of his life.59 Unfortunately the so-called Ambedkarites have forgotten their own master's estimation of Gandhi.


    There is no gainsaying of the major cleavage of ideas Gandhi and Ambedkar on the caste question. Ambedkar thought that caste was embedded in the Hindu Society and that it was sanctioned by the Hindu Shastras and that it was all the manipulation of the Brahminic hegemony, and hence Ambedkar was decisive in his opinion that untouchability cannot be removed unless the caste system as a whole is annihilated in Hinduism.60

    In July 1936, Gandhi wrote articles under the title "A Vindication of Caste" in his weekly journal Harijan, in which he made comments on Ambedkar's views. With his replies to Gandhi's comments, Ambedkar brought out a second edition in 1937, with a new title: Annihilation of Caste: With a Reply to Mahatma Gandhi. Later in 1944, Ambedkar published a third edition, incorporating into it another essay of his "Castes in India, their Origin and their Mechanism," which appeared in the issue of the Indian Antiquary Journal of May 1917. Finally, he also declared in a meeting of the suppressed classes his decision for conversion too: "Because we have the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus, we are treated thus. ... However, it is not my fault; but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power."

    It is impossible to deal with the whole controversy within the limited scope of this paper. But at least a few indicators may be given in understanding the caste question. Herein, I would like to give a few comments at three levels: (a) Gandhi's personal viewpoint about Scriptural authority (b) about the distinction between Varna and caste and (c) the personality differences.

    3.1. Gandhi's Personal Viewpoint on Scriptural Authority

    First of all, it must be borne in mind that Gandhi was talking to his  Hindu fellow believers rather than addressing Ambedkar directly. Hence, his differing views need not be taken as directed against Ambedkar.

    Secondly, we must note that though he accepted the Shastras, he did not accept any statement just because it appeared in them. Very pointedly he said: "I accept no authority or Shastra as an infallible guide."61 For, there are bound to be many interpolations, Gandhi said. The only way to find out whether it is an interpolation or not can be understood on the basis of the following criteria:

    1. It should satisfy trained reason.
    2. It should satisfy the canons of morality, i.e. Truth and Non¬violence,
    3. It should not be repugnant to the conscience of a spiritually disciplined person.

    Now, applying these tests, Gandhi rejected all those statements which sanctioned untouchability. There were many reformers who, right from the time of Buddha, have attacked untouchability. Hindu reformers in the middle Ages also tried to abolish it through systematic campaigns against this inhuman custom. The Sikh Gurus have always emphasised the equality of all human beings so much that even the so called untouchables have been recognized as Guru. The sects of Sant Mat from about the 13th century and Kabir from 15th century were all opposed to the qualitative distinctions of the Hindu caste system, and to those between Hindus and Muslims and advocated egalitarian system of society. But they were all appealing to religious sentiments only.

    However, there was none before Gandhi who succeeded in shaking the very foundations of belief in untouchability. Challenging the pandits and achariyas on their understanding and interpretations of Hindu beliefs and practices, Gandhi said:

    • Let us not deceive ourselves with the belief that everything that is written in Sanskrit and printed in Shastras has any binding effect upon us. That which is opposed to the fundamental maxims of morality, that which is opposed to trained reason, cannot be claimed as Shastras no matter how ancient it may be.62
    • I have no hesitation in rejecting the scriptural authority of a doubtful character in order to support a sinful institution (the untouchability).63
    • I hold manusmrithi as part of scfshtras but that does not mean, that I swear by every word that is printed in the book described as manusmrithi. There are so many contradictions in the printed volume that, if you accept one part, you are bound to reject those parts that are wholly inconsistent with it.64
    • I accept no authority or Shastra as an infallible guide.65

    3.2. Distinction Between Class and Caste

    Next, coming to the more controversial issue of caste system, Gandhi makes a distinction between caste and varna. Claiming himself to be a Sana tana Hindu, Gandhi does not want to throw overboard the age- old varnashrama system as a general framework of Hindu society that has kept it safe for centuries. But he readily agreed that 'there were some anomalies and shibboleths that have been used by the dominant sections to exploit the weaker sections of society.'66 He does not accept caste system in a general frame work of classes which are purely profession-based.

    In this light, then, Gandhi's emphasis was on the abolition of 'oppression of caste'rather than the 'abolition of caste system' in the sense of varna. He looks at caste as providing an occupation-based sustenance of society, but he voiced from house top that untouchability be removed by all means. The so-called caste oppression is the distortion of Varna System rather than itself being defective in its very nature.

    Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin 1 do not know and do not need to know for the satisfaction of my spiritual hunger. But I do not know that it is harmful both to spiritual and national growth.67

    It may be significant to note that the famous Greek philosopher Plato in his Republic has talked about the fourfold class structure of society as a necessary framework of the peaceful life in society: the service class, the trader-class, the warrior-class, and the class of philosopher-king. It is almost in parallel lines that one can see the chaturvana of Indian categories of society: Shudras, Vaisyas, Kshatriyas and the Brahmins.

    We do not know whether Gandhi had studied Plato or not. However, his acceptance of varna system as a profession-based division comes close to Plato's position. The untouchables, considered as Avarnas, is certainly specific to India alone. It might have originated because of various reasons of morality and purity of lifestyle. Whatever was the real reason, Gandhi vehemently opposed the practice of untouchability in all aspects. He said:

    I have frequently said that I do not believe in caste in the modern sense. It is an excrescence and a handicap on progress. Nor do I believe in inequalities between human beings. We are all absolutely equal. We need to think of, and to assert, equality because we see great inequalities in the physical world. Assumption of superiority by any person over any other is a sin against Cod and man.68

    Gandhi was convinced that once the untouchability went, the process of abolition of caste would have begun. Hence, Gandhi was pragmatically working almost exclusively for the removal of untouchability. Eight years after Gandhi's death, Nehru would tell a European journalist by name Tibor Mende:

    I asked [Gandhi] repeatedly: why don't you hit out at the caste system directly? He said, 'I am undermining it completely by tackling untouchability.'... [Gandhi's] genius lay in finding the weakest point of tine enemy, the breaking of his front.69

    3.3. The Diverse Personality Traits of Gandhi and Ambedkar

    Finally, it may be beneficial to glean the differences in the personalities of Gandhi and Ambedkar.

    Dr. Ambedkar was a systematically trained academic, bent upon scientific style of writing and argumentation. Whenever he wrote anything, he devoted himself fully to present his arguments cogently and convincingly. On the contrary, Gandhi was more an activist, rather than a systematic writer. He had neither time nor the temperament for a systematic and legalistic presentation of arguments. All his writings were non-academic in style, fragmentary in nature and oriented to a context.

    Further, Gandhi being a spiritualist in outlook and approach, often took recourse to spiritual approaches towards the analysis of problems. He was interested in making moral and normative appeals to people in solving the problems. But Ambedkar had too little appreciation for such an approach to life. He was interested in solving the problems somehow, and in finding practical and concrete ways of solutions rather than appealing to people's moral sense. To win the interests of Dalits, it was important for him to pursue different kinds of strategies, whether it meant negotiating with foreign rulers or ensuring Constitutional provisions in Independent India.

    Besides, the standpoints of the two leaders were diametrically opposed to each other. Gandhi claimed to represent the Indian people as a whole, rather than any segment. This was "an inevitable aspect of the construction of the Indian Nation," and therefore it was an impossibility for Gandhi to claim an Indian nation and at the same time to cede ground to different communities as separate political communities.70 On the contrary, Ambedkar clearly and firmly showed himself as the leader of the Dalits only. To bring about their emancipation from the caste Hindus, the Brahminic hegemony, Ambedkar experimented with protests, marches etc. and finally thought of getting political power from the British by negotiating with them for separate electorates, just like the Sikhs and Muslims.

    If, in the light of their common national interest and quest for achieving better humanity for all, their diversity of approaches are studied, we will be able to make better sense of their ideas, approaches and standpoints, going beyond the temporal particularities. Again for Gandhi, the change of heart among caste Hindus was a crucial element of anti-untouchability programme. As against Ambedkar's view that the untouchability was a stigma which the Dalits need to get rid of, Gandhi held that it was the sin of the caste Hindus, which they need to accept and purify themselves from as well make repentance for.

    Ambedkar was depending upon the political strategies only. But Gandhi was making use of both political and religious platforms to make a thorough eradication of the evil of untouchability.

    To remove untouchability is a penance that caste Hindu owe to Hinduism and to themselves. The purification required is not of 'untouchables' but of the so-called superior castes. There is no vice that is special to the 'untouchability,' not even dirt and insanitation. It is our arrogance which blinds us, superior Hindus, to our own blemishes and which magnifies those of our downtrodden brethren whom we have suppressed and whom we keep under suppression.71

    Gandhi's position revealed that untouchability could not be removed by force or law. He was convinced that the Dalits' salvation could come not through the machinery of law, but through intensive social reform of caste prejudice and custom, which was more powerful than the law. The mere award of separate electorate, on the other hand, would make the bar a group emblem and prompt then to organize 'untouchability' into a powerful vested interest. It would never deal with a baneful legacy of poisoned relations, group antagonism and separatist ideologies. It might even end with creating a bigger, vaster edition of the American Negro problem in India.72

    3.4. The Common Enemy of the Dalits and Gandhi

    Thus, the two great minds were keen on tackling the one evil of Hinduism, but each from a different perspective. The discussion in this part reveals that the whole controversy is traced to a wrong association that Ambedkar made between Hinduism and Brahmanism, Casteist oppression as intrinsic to Hinduism on the one hand and misconstruing Gandhi as an ardent advocate of Hinduism on the other. It is true that Gandhi claimed himself to be a 'sanatana Hindu,’ yet he reinterpreted Hinduism in such a way as to openly denounce Brahminism for causing untouchability, not necessarily the caste framework of Hinduism. Though he accepted varnarshrama dharma as an ideal framework of society, he severely condemned untouchability as sinful, satanic, and without the sanction of the Shastras.

    n this process the common enemy was identified by both the leaders correctly: the Brahminic hegemony. In fact he openly said, the untouchability was the fruit of the "selfish Brahmindom." The difference between Gandhi and Ambedkar is that Gandhi identifies himself with Hinduism devoid of Brahminism and distortions like untouchability. On the contrary, Ambedkar identified whole of Hinduism with Brahminism, being the cause of Casteism, as well as untouchability.

    If the Ambedkarites forget this commonality between their leader and Gandhi and if in their effort to making Ambedkar as the sole icon of Dalit liberation, and in the process they are keen on disparaging Gandhi or even ignoring the efforts that Gandhi made to emancipate the Dalits through his eradication of untouchability, then there arises the risk of ignoring the common enemy and getting involved in the tussle between the two camps, both of which had Dalit emancipation as the only goal. Today, therefore, there is a greater urgency on the part of both the camps (Gandhiites and Ambedkarites) to befriend each other, to empower each other and to confront the common enemy, rather than indulge in mutual bickering.


    Gandhi did not think that individual or group mobilisation and mobility would solve the problem. What he aimed at was fundamental changes in the attitudes of the caste Hindus, and the need to absorb the untouchables into the main fabric of Hinduism. While the British, at least some of them, were determined to divide India along caste and religious lines, Gandhi was quick to perceive it and decided to put an end to such a plot of the colonizers, and made it clear to them that we would decide our future. And in fact Art.17 of the Constitution abolishes untouchability. If both the Ambedkarite and Gandhian groups come to acknowledge the fact that both Gandhi and Ambedkar had the same goal although the path to achieving it only differed, there is greater possibility of appreciating their complementarity in the cause of Dalit liberation.

    1. A revised paper presented in the International Conference on "Befriending the Other" on the occasion of the Diamond jubilee Celebrations of Jnana Deepa Vidyapeet, Pune, November 24-28, 2015.
    2. Suhas Palshikar, "Ambedkar and Gandhi: Limits of Divergence and Possibilities of Conversation," in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. L, No.15, April 11, 2015.
    3. Nicholas B. Dirks, Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India, Paperback edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001)
    4. Pyarelal, The Epic Fast. Reprint (New Delhi: Akhil Bharat Anusuchit Jati Parishad, 1984), p. 121.
    5. "Message to Great Britain" dated Sep.25, 1932, first published in The Daily Herald of London, See Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 51, p.140. Hereafter CWMG.
    6. CWMG, Vol.48,p.298.
    7. Ibid., pp. 297-98.
    8. Ibid., p. 258 (The whole speech delivered by Gandhi at Friends House in London, on Oct.31,1931 may be worth reading and be pondered) Cf.Ibid., pp. 254-260.
    9. Young India, Nov. 26, 1931.
    10. W.N Kuber, B.R. Ambedkar: Builders of Modern India (New Delhi: Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1978), p. 42.
    11. Pyerelal, The Epic Fast, op.cit p.122. Hereafter Pyerelal, The Epic Fast
    12. Letter to P.N. Rajbhoj dated 20th Sep. 1932, please see, CWMG, Vol. 51, p. 111.
    13. Letter to Kedarnath Kulkarni, dated 20th Sep. 1932, please see, Ibid., p. 114.
    14. Pyarelal, The Epic Fast, p. 41.
    15. Pandit Malaviya, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, Sir Chunilal Mehta, Sir Purushottamdas Thakurdas, Ghanshyamdas Birla, Jayakar, Dr. Moonje, T. Prakasam, Babu Rajendra Prasad.
    16. Pyarelal, The Epic Fast, pp. 120-121.
    17. Pyarelal, The Epic Fast,pp. 121-122.
    18. Interview to S.M.Mate, P.N. Rajbhoj and Limaye, Sep.21, 1932, CWMG, Vol. 51, p. 126.
    19. Letter to P.N. Rajbhoj dated 20,h Sep. 1932, please see, Ibid., p. Ill,
    20. Rajmohan Gandhi, “Independence and Social Justice: The Ambedkar-Gandhi Debate" in The Economic & Political Weekly, Vol. L No. 15, April 11, 2015
    21. Gandhi as well as the Caste Hindus
    22. As quoted in Dr. Murugu Dorai, "Gandhi & Dalits,", accessed on 31 Oct. 2015.
    23. "Statement to the Press," published in The Hindu 27.9.1932, reprinted in CWMG, Vol. 51, p. 143.
    24. Ibid., pp. 143-45.
    25. Ibid.,
    26. Pyareial, Epic Fast, p.59.
    27. Harijan, August 15, 1936.
    28. Surendra Mohan, "Gandhiji's Strivings Against Untouchability" in journal of Gandhi Smriti & Dharshan Samiti, Special Number on Gandhi and the Dalit Issue, Vol. 1 No. 1, January 1996, p.93.
    29. From a speech, reported in Young India, 27.4. 1921. For easy access, M.K. Gandhi, The Removal of Untouchability, Compiled and Ed., Bharathan Kumarappa (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publications, 1954), Reprint 1959, pp. 3-4.
    30. This is further corroborated in the words of Gandhi himself. In one of his letters to C.F. Andrews, Gandhi wrote these words: "I was conscious of the sin of the untouchability before I came under other Christian influences in South Africa. The truth came to me while I was yet a child. I used to laugh at my dear mother for making us bathe if we brothers touched any pariah" as cited by N. Radhakrishnan, "Again the Gandhi -Ambedkar Debate Controversy," in journal of Gandhi Smriti & Dharshan Samithi, Jan 1996, Vol. 1, No. 1, p. 58.
    31. Young India, 27 A. 1921, For an easy accessible source, Compiled and Ed., Bharathan Kumarappa, The Removal of Untouchability, op.cit., p. 5.
    32. MK Gandhi, An Autobiography or the Story of My Experiments with Truth (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1927), Reprint 1976, p. 23, Hereafter Auto.
    33. Auto. p. 34.
    34. Auto., p 151.
    35. Auto., p. 233.
    36. Auto., pp. 207 - 208.
    37. Auto., p.232.
    38. Auto., p. 299.
    39. Navajivan, Dec. 5, 1920.
    40. Pyarelal, Epic Fast, p. 15.
    41. Ravindra Varma, Gandhi and Untouchability (New Delhi: Gandhi Peace Foundation, 1995), p. 5.
    42. J.B. Kripalani, Gandhi: His Life and Thought (Delhi: Publication Division, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India, 1970), Revised edition 1991, p.149.
    43. Pyarelal, Epic Fast, pp.208-209.
    44. "From a speech at the Suppressed Classes Conference" in Ahemedabad, cited by Ed. Bharathan Kumarappa, op.cit., p. 3.
    45. M.K. Gandhi, Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1941), p.5
    46. J. B. Kriplani, op.cit. p. 383.
    47. Young India, April 2, 1925.
    48. Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p. 5.
    49. Young India Jan.22, 1925. For an easy access see All Are Equal, p.36.
    50. J.B. Kripalani, op.cit. p.384.
    51. M.K. Gandhi, Constructive Programme: Its Meaning and Place (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1941), p.8.
    52. Gandhi's Harijan Tour began on Nov. 7, 1933 and ended in August 1934, Cf. J.B. Kripalani, pp. 154-155.
    53. For instance, when Gandhi was marching towards the Municipal Hall in Pune, a bomb was thrown in which his party members were injured.
    54. As quoted in J.B. Kripalani, op.cit. p.155.
    55. The phrase with an added emphasis here may be understood as the 'vicarious suffering.'
    56. CWMG, vol. 51, pp. 128-129.
    57. CWMG, 15 February 1933, Vol. 53, pp., 309-10, emphasis added.
    58. Harijan, August 26, 1933 p.11. For an easy access see All Are Equal in the Eyes of God (New Delhi: Publication Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Government of India, 1964), Reprint 1994. p. 11.
    59. Surendra Mohan, "Gandhiji's Strivings Against Untouchability" in journal of Gandhi Smriti & Dharshan Samiti, Special Number on Gandhi and the Dalit Issue, Vol. 1 No.l, January 1996, p.93.
    60. In 2014, an annotated edition was released by Navayana, a New Delhi-based publishing house, with an introduction by Arundhati Roy titled The Doctor and the Saint.
    61. Young India, September 29, 1927, as cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p,7.
    62. Young India, December 20, 1927,as cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p .7.
    63. Young India, December 8,1920, as cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit., p.7.
    64. Harijan, April 6, 1934,as cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p.8
    65. Young India, 29 Sep.1927.
    66. Sudhir Kumar, "Gandhi and the Dalit Question" in in journal of Gandhi Smriti & Dharshan Samiti, Special Number on Gandhi and the Dalit Issue, Vol 1, No.1, January 1996, p.84.
    67. Harijan, July 18, 1936 as cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p. 8.
    68. As cited by Ravindra Varma, op.cit. p.8.
    69. As cited by Mende himself, 1958.
    70. It was also understandable because it was he who changed the elitist party of the Congress into the mass movement of India, and it was he who mobilized the whole of the country to rise against the foreign rule. It was not only thanks to his charisma but also to his total identification with the poorest of the poor in every respect that he made the cause of freedom from the foreign rule as cry of the masses. Again it was his inspiration that the subcontinent, even after the partition of Pakistan, could remain India rather than becoming Hindustan.
    71. as quoted in J.B. Kripalani, op.cit. p. 184.
    72. Pyarelal, op.cit., p.15.
    Courtesy: Gandhi Marg, Volume 38, Number 3&4, October-December 2016 & January-March 2017

    DR A. PUSHPARAJAN was Professor and Head of the Department of Interreligious Relations, Madurai Kamaraj University. He was a Charles Wallace Fellow in the UK during 1995-96. He lives at "VR Japalaya", #60-61, Vindhya Homes, II Main, II Cross, Shantipura, Huskur Post, Bangalore- 560099.