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Removal of Untouchability
This too is a new observance, like control of the palate, and may even appear a little strange. But it is of vital importance. Untouchability means pollution by the touch of certain persons by reason of their birth in a particular state or family. In the words of Akha, it is an excrescence. In the guise of religion, it is always in the way, and corrupts religion.
None can be born untouchable, as all are sparks of one and the same Fire. It is wrong to treat certain human beings as untouchables from birth. It is also wrong to entertain false scruples about touching, a dead body, which should be an object of pity and respect. It is only out of considerations of health, that we bathe after handling a dead body, or after an application of oil, or a shave. A man who does not bathe in such cases may be looked upon as dirty, but surely not as a sinner. A mother may be 'untouchable' so long as she has not bathed, or washed her hands and feet, after cleaning up her child's mess, but if a child happened to touch her, it would not be polluted by the touch.
But Bhangis, Dhedhs, Chamars and the like are contemptuously looked down upon as untouchables from birth. They may bathe for years with any amount of soap, dress well and wear the marks of Vaishnavas, read the Gita every day and follow a learned profession, and yet they remain untouchables. This is rank irreligion fit only to be destroyed. By treating removal of untouchability as an Ashram observance, we assert our belief, that untouchability is not only not a part and parcel of Hinduism, but a plague, which it is the bounden duty of every Hindu to combat. Every Hindu, therefore, who considers it a sin, should atone for it by fraternizing with untouchables, associating with them in a spirit of love and service, deeming himself purified by such acts, redressing their grievances, helping them patiently to overcome ignorance and other evils due to the slavery of ages, and inspiring other Hindus to do likewise.
When one visualizes the removal of untouchability from this spiritual standpoint, its material and political results sink into insignificance, and we befriend the so-called untouchables, regardless of such results. Seekers after Truth will never waste a thought on the material consequences of their quest, which is not a matter of policy with them, but something interwoven with the very texture of their lives.
When we have realized the supreme importance of this observance, we shall discover, that the evil it seeks to combat is not restricted in its operation to the suppressed classes. Evil, no bigger than a mustard seed in the first instance, soon assumes gigantic proportions, and in the long run destroys that upon which it settles. Thus this evil has now assailed all departments of life. We have hardly enough time even to look after ourselves, thanks to the never ending ablutions, and exclusive preparation of food necessitated by false notions of untouchability. While pretending to pray to God, we offer worship not to God, but to ourselves.
This observance, therefore, is not fulfilled, merely by making friends with 'untouchables', but by loving all life as our own selves. Removal of untouchability means love for, and service of, the whole world, and thus merges into ahimsa. Removal of untouchability spells the breaking down of barriers between man and man, and between the various orders of Being. We find such barriers erected everywhere in the world, but here we have been mainly concerned with the untouchability which has received religious sanction in India, and reduced lakhs and crores of human beings to a state bordering on slavery.