The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

Gandhi International Study and Research Institute, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09404955338, 09415777229


Mailing Address- C- 29, Swaraj Nagar, Panki, Kanpur- 208020, Uttar Pradesh, India



Harijan Workers and Mahatma Gandhi 



A Harijan worker writes: This letter has been written with a pure and good intention and it reflects the views of some, though not of many youths; so I publish it. To my mind there is nothing but excitement in this letter. The writer has no proof to justify what he has said about temples. Perhaps he has not visited Kashi Vishwanath, Puri and Guruvayur. Even if some malpractices are prevalent in these temples, the Hindu pilgrims and visitors are unaware of and untouched by them. One gets there what one goes in search of. A father will look upon a woman as his daughter, her husband as his wife, her son as his mother and a sensualist as his victim. Should the father, the husband and the son forsake that woman because of the sensualist? I have been to the temples at both Kashi Vishwanath and Puri. I must admit that I was not inspired by faith to visit them, but I had seen innumerable innocent souls going there with devotion. I did not pity them, but I fell in love with them and I could understand their devotion. These numerous devotees had no idea whatever of the malpractices prevalent in temples. One must bear in mind that wicked acts take place secretly and only a few people have knowledge of them.

Devotees attribute perfection to God. The devotees’ God is full of innocence that of non-devotees full of faults. The Krishna of the innumerable Hindus is a perfect incarnation. To the critics Krishna is immoral, a gambler, a liar and so on. The mind alone is the cause of bondage and of deliverance. The young correspondent must know and understand this eternal truth. Just as human beings cannot think of the atman without the body, similarly they cannot think of religion without temples. The Hindu religion cannot survive without temples. There is corruption in the temples; it may be in some persons but not in all. An idol is a stone to one who merely goes through the ritual of worship, but to a true devotee it is all life. There is room for reform in the temples. It is not proper to demolish them. Demolish the temples and you destroy religion. Moreover, the putrefaction that has set in is not to be found in all temples. It is not there in many temples in villages. The many superstitions prevalent among the villagers have no connection with the temples. Temples are veritable museums of the cultures of different religions. In old times, God dwelt in the temple and godliness too; it housed a school, a dharmashala; and it was the place where the leading people of the locality met together. Such temples are still to be found in many places. Harijans have set their hearts on temples to such an extent that they build their own temples of sorts. We discern their helplessness in these temples. As long as the Harijans cannot enter the temples of caste Hindus, their helplessness will never end, their Hinduism will remain incomplete; in spite of being the sixth finger of Hinduism, they will only remain uncared for.

No Hindu should doubt that the first and all-comprehensive sign of their admission into Hinduism is temple-entry. It is the height of ignorance to believe that the Harijans have fared well by remaining outside the temple. By remaining outside the temples, they have remained outside everything. And even today the attempts made by the sanatanists to keep them out of the temples suggest that they want to perpetuate their exclusion. The letter in question makes sad reading despite the noble views expressed in it. It depicts the pitiable condition of sophisticated modern youth. Young people may perhaps be angry at this statement and may believe that people like me deserve to be pitied. But my experience clearly shows how ignorant they are. I have visited many temples in my childhood. That did not at all have any bad influence on me. Today I see many of my friends going to the temples.

They know nothing of their shortcomings, but they are aware of the vices of the temple-goers. They are quite untouched by those vices. I do not consider it a mark of greatness that I do not visit temples. I feel no need to go to temples; hence I do not visit them. To secure temple-entry for the Harijans does not necessarily mean taking them into a temple. Those will visit it who wishes to. Those who go there will not get a stigma and those who do not may possibly lose something. Now a few words about the law. In the same heat of excitement in which the writer has condemned temples with little or no justification, he has here also exposed his ignorance. In spite of having some acquaintance with me, he did not ponder over the fact that, if I who depend the least on law believe in the necessity of it in respect of temples, there must be some potent reason for it. Now he may understand that reason. Today the law says that not a single temple is open to the Harijans and a trustee who opens it for them is liable to punishment. In the circumstances, if we do not demand a law to do away with such a state of affairs, the temples will never be thrown open to Harijans. The help of the law is indispensable. A bad law can only be abolished by a good law. There is no other way at all. Here we have not sought the interference of law but the doing away of such interference. Those who concede that a law is required even to nullify a bad law can understand that the movement is to get enacted for the Harijans a law of that type. 1 

A Harijan worker puts me the above question. I am not understood because I do not believe in what we today regard as the Varna system. Varnashrama as we see it today implies restrictions as regards untouchability and intermarriage and inter-dining among the varnas. I regard today’s untouchability, in Akha’s language, as an extraneous growth fit to be rejected. It is not the Shastras but only usage that supports the restriction on intermarriage and inter-dining as part of the varnadharma. 2 Our caste-Hindu workers should therefore be volunteers or receiving just maintenance money, and we should find out every available Harijan worker whom we would pay fairly well. He may not give just now very efficient work; I would not worry, but would teach him to do the work. All this can be done only if we have workers religiously-minded, treating this movement as an essentially religious one and approaching it in the religious spirit. Then you will find that we shall have the least opposition to encounter, and no matter what opposition we encounter, the movement must flourish. If we cannot get sufficient hands to work the movement and to work it in that fashion, I, for one, will not hesitate to say that we should cease to be an organization. Without that organization you had your own great work cut out for you, and I have mine. The organization was set up in the belief that it was needed by the people, as I still believe it is, but the test that I have laid down would be the proof of that need. 3

I do not need any scheme. I want a person who would act. What purpose would a scheme serve without a person to carry it out? What can we do with a scheme if we did not have the capacity to implement it? You are planning to take up leather work. I like leather work very much. But you have not learnt it. It is not enough that you can make slippers. We have also to take up the work of tanning. If you have that ability, your work and mine would become easy. We do not want to set up big factories. We have to see how better tanning of leather could be done in the villages. What did Madhusudan Das do? He gathered the tanners of Utkal and studied how they did their tanning. He was not satisfied with it, and he went to Germany and learnt leather work there. He brought a German [expert] with him and set up a factory. It is in Cuttack. It is no longer under him. I do not know its present condition. Many Harijans learnt the work during the days of Madhusudan Das. Like Madhusudan Das you too should first master the craft. It cannot be done in one month’s time. You can do very well, if you learn it properly. I can make arrangements for your training. 4

My way of service is altogether different. Anyone who wishes to do first-class work, anyone who wishes to be a pure, true servant, needs must acquire the ability. Ordinarily one may do any work one chooses. Who is there to stop him? But the reason why our work does not make rapid progress is that the workers take it up without training themselves for it. So much expenditure for so little work! Take whatever vocational training is available here. Then we may think of going abroad. And, anyway, how many persons can be sent abroad? Please let me know what social service I can do. This includes everything. Cannot one serve while learning to do it? You must acquire the ability. You will not have what you want unless you are worthy of it. There is any number of people rushing about in the name of service; but have they been doing any good to the community? Anyone who wishes to do constructive work, to render true pure service to his community, acts in a different way altogether. If you want people to build up their character, you must acquire the necessary strength.

If you cannot settle down to business, take up some employment and do your job honestly. You can serve the community in this manner also. You would have served your community even by creating an impression that no one can be purer than you. Is it a small matter if people could say about a person that his honesty is unlimited? I can cite some instances of honest servants who have been in charge of the management of their employers’ establishments. Employers worship such servants. I do not want to earn money. It is not a question of earning money. If you acquire so much prestige that the Hindu community can look upon you as the ideal of an honest Harijan, it will not be a matter of small importance. I have got to say that there have been saints like Nanda among Harijans. Four or five centuries have passed since Nanda’s time, but they still sing his praise. Why can such a person not be born among Harijans today? If it could happen in his age, it can as well happen now. We can attain the goal we seek only if Harijans become like Nanda. As for me, I am carrying on the campaign among caste Hindus for the eradication of untouchability and at the same time telling Harijans what their dharma is. 5

One who describes himself as a Harijan worker writes a long letter of which I give the following substance: With the Chairman of the local Harijan Seva Sangh and a sister I went the other day to a village. We were in a bullock-cart. On the way the Chairman and the sister were engaged in conversation exchanging jokes. The sister seemed to be fatigued and lay in the Chairman’s lap. This familiarity somewhat startled me. On returning we were to take the train to the city from which we had started. We had to wait for a few hours at the station. The Chairman and the sister occupied a bench. I sat on the platform ground. It was a moonlight night. I had a mind to test them, for I thought that there was something wrong with them. I, therefore, pretended that I would sleep and told the Chairman: ‘We have yet to wait for some time. If you don’t mind I would sleep for a while. I am tired. Will you wake me up when the train arrives?’ Hearing this, the Chairman seemed to be delighted over my proposal and he readily permitted me to sleep. I lay down and pretended that I was in deep sleep.

In order to make sure that I was asleep he called out. Not having any response from me he felt free to take what liberties he liked with the sister. They quietly went into a cluster of trees nearby. After some time they returned and when the time for the train drew near, he woke me up. I did not like this indecency between the Chairman and the sister. I recalled your 21 days’ fast and the reasons which you had given for it. I took some of the co-workers into confidence. They tackled the Chairman, but he put on a bold front and not only denied the charge of indecency but charged me with jealousy and designs upon the Chairmanship of the local organization. What am I to do in the circumstance? I have omitted unnecessary details from the letter. Let not the reader try to guess the names of the actors and the scene of the tragedy. Idle curiosity should be avoided. I am drawing public attention to my correspondent’s letter to serve as a warning to all Harijan workers. Let us, therefore, examine it. In the first instance, the correspondent did wrong in wishing to test his companions and exposing them to temptation. It is always a bad business to become detectives over co-workers; and if, without wishing it, we discover any moral or other lapses on their part, our business should be not to gossip about them, but immediately to draw, in a gentle manner, the companions’ attention to them. Had my correspondent, when he first scented danger, put the Chairman on his guard, he would have saved him from the lapse, assuming, of course, that the correspondent has given a true version of the tragedy. But, instead of taking the straight course, he adopted the crooked course of testing the couple. We are all fallible human beings ever exposed to temptations.

Fortunately for us, ‘there’s many a slip ’twixt the cup and the lip’. Very few are saved from succumbing to temptations, if there is no external interruption. There is no certainty that the correspondent himself, exposed to the same temptation, might not have fallen as the Chairman is said by him to have fallen. Indeed, had he been a little thoughtful, a little considerate towards his companions, he could have prevented their complete fall, by giving up the pretence of sleeping and gently pulling them up. I know cases in which such warnings have proved the saving of people. Thus, it seems to me that this Harijan worker signally failed in his duty towards his friends and fellow-workers. He has, however, asked the question, what he could do. I do not propose to answer the question from his standpoint. Evidently he is anxious to know, not how the parties can be brought to repentance, but how they can be exposed, and the charges against him disproved. It is none of his business to expose his companions, as it was none of his business to tempt them to fall but his business now is undoubtedly to give a private notice to the chairman that he would have to undertake a fast till the Chairman confesses his guilt, or if that is beyond his capacity, to undertake a fairly prolonged fast, so as to bring home the guilt to the parties. Such a fast cannot be taken publicly. It is highly likely that the Chairman and the sister will realize the grievousness of their guilt, but it is not at all unlikely that they might harden their hearts and ignore the fast. That ought not to be a matter of any concern for my correspondent.

He will have done his penance for having made himself a detective over his friend and it will be some relief to him from the oppression of the charge brought against him of jealousy and ambition to become the Chairman of the local Seva Sangh. It is hardly necessary to emphasize the obvious truth that the fast, if it is at all taken, should be taken only if the Harijan worker believes in its necessity and efficacy and if he can take it with a clean heart. It may be that the parties charged by my correspondent have not erred. Let us hope that they have not. But I know that such errors have occurred before now. Let the incident described here serve as a warning to all workers. It furnishes, in my opinion, a clear case for fasting. Harijan service is no sinecure; it is a movement for bringing about a revolutionary change in the mentality of millions of human beings. It is like walking on the edge of a sword and, therefore, requires the greatest vigilance over self on the part of the workers. 6

Bhai Gokuldas Khimji of Mandvi, Kutch, is a well-known social and Harijan worker. Writing about him a gentleman says that when I had gone to Kutch I had compared him to the docile cow. I remember that occasion. Gokuldas is indeed humble. He serves wherever he can. He just would not hurt anyone. He has written to Bhai Parikshitlal, Secretary, Gujarat Anti-untouchability League, as follows: In this case, victory lies with the person who has been beaten up and not with those who beat him up. The beating up of such humble workers as Gokuldas will generate a spiritual energy which will melt the core of caste Hindus and release the Harijans from bondage. The saner sanatanist Hindus of Kutch ought to make efforts to stop such rowdyism. Even if untouchability were dharma, it can be protected by spiritual strength. I do not know if it was ever safeguarded by brute force. 7 Bhai Ramnarayan was already well established in the field of social service when I came to know him. Even at that first meeting, I did not see frankness or innocence in his eyes or on his face. But Thakkar Bapa had recommended him so strongly that disregarding the impression he had made on me I gave him my blessings. After that, however, I too like Thakkar Bapa became an admirer of Shri Ramnarayan. When I wanted to give an instance of an ideal Harijan worker I often cited the name of Shri Ramnarayan. Just as I regard many young men and women as my sons and daughters, even so did I regard Shri Ramnarayan as my son? As for Narmada, she may be said to have come to me while still an infant. I became her father and also her mother, as she needed a mother’s affection as well. 8

There is, I know, a section who says that political freedom must be won first and social reform would follow later. It is a wrong idea, and certainly inconsistent with one whom would win swaraj by nonviolent means. But the Harijan worker has to educate both the orthodox and exclusively political-minded people. Let him not judge others, but by selfless self-effacing service set an example to them. 9 Experience shows that propaganda among caste Hindus can only be successfully carried out by influential persons whose word carried weight with the general public. Such persons are hard to find. But it is within the capacity of every Harijan worker to carry on mute propaganda. Our caste-Hindu workers are often satisfied with mere uplift work among the Harijans, which is not sufficient. Many workers, while they do not observe untouchability themselves, are unable even to convert their own families. How then can they influence the outside world? Moreover it is my confirmed opinion that every Harijan worker has to make it a point to beg for even one pice for Harijans from those caste Hindus with whom he comes in contact. If all devoted themselves, heart and soul, to this task, very good results would ensue. 10





  1. 1.      Harijanbandhu, 19-3-1933
  2. 2.      Harijanbandhu, 19-3-1933
  3. 3.      Letter to Amritlal V. Thakkar, March 19, 1933
  4. 4.      Harijanbandhu, 3-9-1933  
  5. 5.      Harijanbandhu, 17-9-1933 
  6. 6.      Harijan, 27-10-1933 
  7. 7.      Harijanbandhu, 5-11-1933 
  8. 8.      Harijanbandhu, 13-12-1936
  9. 9.      Harijan, 1-2-1942 
  10. 10.  Harijan, 10-5-1942





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