The Gandhi-King Community

For Global Peace with Social Justice in a Sustainable Environment

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Gandhian Scholar

Gandhi Research Foundation, Jalgaon, Maharashtra, India

Contact No. – 09415777229, 094055338

E-mail- dr.yogendragandhi@gmail.com;dr.yadav.yogendra@gandhifoundation.net

 

 

 

VAIKOM SATYAGRAHA

 

 

Vaikom Satyagraha has attracted such wide public attention and, though restricted to a small area, presents so many problems for solution that I offer no apology to the reader for constantly engaging his attention for it. I have received several important and well-thought-out letters protesting against my countenancing it in any way whatsoever. One such letter even urges me to use whatever influence I may have for stopping it altogether. I am sorry that I am unable to publish all these letters. But I hope to cover all the points raised in these letters or otherwise brought to my notice. The first may be cleared at once. Exception has been taken to Mr. George Joseph Christian having been allowed to replace Mr. Menon as leader and organizer. In my humble opinion the exception is perfectly valid. As soon as I heard that Mr. Joseph was ‘invited to take the lead’ and he contemplated taking it, I wrote to him as follows on 6th April: As to Vaikom, I think that you shall let the Hindus do the work. It is they who have to purify themselves.

You can help by your sympathy and by your pen, but not by organizing the movement and certainly not by offering Satyagraha. If you refer to the Congress resolution of Nagpur, it calls upon the Hindu members to remove the curse of untouchability. I was surprised to learn from Mr. Andrews that the disease had infected even the Syrian Christians. Unfortunately, before the letter could reach him, Mr. Menon was arrested and Mr. George Joseph had taken his place. But he had nothing to expiate, as every Hindu has in the matter of untouchability as countenanced by the Hindus. His sacrifice cannot be appropriated by the Hindus in general as expiation made, say, by Malaviyaji would be. Untouchability is the sin of the Hindus. They must suffer for it, they must purify themselves, they must pay the debt they owe their suppressed brothers and sisters. Theirs is the shame and theirs must be the glory when they have purged themselves of the black sin. The silent, loving suffering of one single pure Hindu as such will be enough to melt the hearts of millions of Hindus; but the sufferings of thousands of non-Hindus in behalf of the untouchables will leave the Hindus unmoved. Their blind eyes will not be opened by outside interference, however well-intentioned and generous it may be; for it will not bring home to them the sense of guilt. On the contrary, they would probably hug the sin all the more for such interference. All reform to be sincere and lasting must come from within. But why may the Vaikom satyagrahis not receive monetary aid from outside, especially if it be from Hindus? So far as non-Hindu assistance is concerned, I am as clear about such pecuniary help as I am about such personal help. I may not build my Hindu temple with non-Hindu money. If I desire a place of worship I must pay for it.

This removal of untouchability is much more than building a temple of brick and mortar. Hindus must bleed for it, must pay for it. They must be prepared to forsake wife, children and all for the sake of removing the curse. As for accepting assistance from Hindus from outside, such acceptance would betray uneasiness on the part of the local Hindus for the reform. If the satyagrahis have the sympathy of the local Hindus they must get locally all the money they may need. If they have not, the very few who may offer Satyagraha must be content to starve. If they are not, it is clear that they will evoke no sympathy among the local Hindus whom they want to convert. Satyagraha is a process of conversion. The reformers, I am sure, do not seek to force their views upon the community; they strive to touch its heart. Outside pecuniary help must interfere with the love process if I may so describe the method of Satyagraha. Thus viewed, the proposed Sikh free kitchen I can only regard as a menace to the frightened Hindus of Vaikom. There is no doubt in my mind about it that the orthodox Hindus, who still think that worship of God is inconsistent with touching a portion of their own co-religionists and that a religious life is summed up in ablutions and avoidance of physical pollutions merely, are alarmed at the development of the movement at Vaikom.

They believe that their religion is in danger. It behoves the organizers, therefore, to set even the most orthodox and the most bigoted at ease and to assure them that they do not seek to bring about the reform by compulsion. The Vaikom satyagrahis must stoop to conquer. They must submit to insults and worse at the hands of the bigoted and yet love them, if they will change their hearts. But a telegram says in effect, ‘the authorities are barricading the roads; may we not break or scale the fences? May we not fast? For we find that fasting is effective.’ My answer is, if we are satyagrahis we dare not scale or break fences. Breaking or scaling fences will certainly bring about the imprisonment, but the breaking will not be civil disobedience. It will be essentially in civil and criminal. Nor may we fast. I observe that my letter to Mr. Joseph with references of fasting has been misunderstood. For the sake of ready reference, I reproduce below the relevant part: ‘Omit fasting but stand or squat in relays with quiet submission till arrested.’ The above is the wire sent to you in reply to yours.

Fasting in Satyagraha has well-defined limits. You cannot fast against a tyrant, for it will be a species of violence done to him. You invite penalty from him for disobedience of his orders, but you cannot inflict on yourselves penalties when he refuses to punish and renders it impossible for you to disobey his orders so as to compel infliction of penalty. Fasting can only be resorted to against a lover, not to extort rights but to reform him, as when a son fasts for a father who drinks. My fast at Bombay and then at Bardoli was of that character. I fasted to reform those who loved me. But I will not fast to reform, say General Dyer, who not only does not love me but who regards himself as my enemy. Am I quite clear? It need not be pointed out that the above remarks are of a general character. The words ‘tyrant’ and ‘lover’ have also a general application. The one who does an injustice is styled ‘tyrant’. The one who is in sympathy with you is the ‘lover’. In my opinion, in the Vaikom movement, opponents of the reform are the ‘tyrant’. The state may or may not be that.

In this connection, I have considered the State as merely the police striving to keep the peace. In no case is the State or the opponents in the position of ‘lover’. The supporters of Vaikom satyagrahis enjoy that status. There are two conditions attached to a satyagrahi fast. It should be against the lover and for his reform, not for extorting rights from him. The only possible case in the Vaikom movement when a fast will be justified would be when the local supporters go back upon their promise to suffer. I can fast against my father to cure him of a vice, but I may not in order to get from him an inheritance. The beggars of India who sometimes fast against those who do not satisfy them are no more satyagrahis than children who fast against a parent for a fine dress. The former are impudent, the latter are childish. My Bardoli fast was against fellow workers who ignited the Chauri Chaura spark and for the sake of reforming them. If the Vaikom satyagrahis fast because the authorities will not arrest them, it will be, I must say in all humility, the beggar’s fast described above. If it proves effective, it shows the goodness of the authorities, not that of the cause or of the actors. A satyagrahis first concern is not the effect of his action. It must always be its propriety. He must have faith enough in his cause and his means, and know that success will be achieved in the end.

Some of my correspondents object altogether to Satyagraha in an Indian State. In this matter, too, let me quote the remaining portion of my foregoing letter to Mr. Joseph: You may be patient. You are in an Indian State. Therefore, you may wait in deputation on the Diwan and the Maharaja. Get up a monster petition by the orthodox Hindus who may be well-disposed towards the movement. See also those who are opposing. You can support the gentle direct action in a variety of ways. You have already drawn public attention to the matter by preliminary Satyagraha. Above all, see to it that it neither dies nor by impatience becomes violent. Satyagraha in an Indian State by the Congress for the attainment of its object is, I think, clearly forbidden. But Satyagraha in an Indian State in connection with local abuses may be legitimately taken up at any time provided the other necessary conditions are fulfilled. As, in an Indian State, there can be no question of non-co-operation, the way of petitions and deputations is not only always open, but it is obligatory. But, say some of my correspondents, the conditions for lawful Satyagraha do not exist in Vaikom. They ask:

 1. Is inapproachability exclusively observed at Vaikom or is it general throughout Kerala?

 2. If it is general, then what is the special reason for selecting Vaikom in preference to places within the British territory in Kerala?

3. Did the satyagrahis petition the Maharaja, the local Assembly, etc.?

4. Did they consult the orthodox sections?

5. Is not the use of the road the thin end of the wedge, is it not a step towards the abolition of caste altogether?

6. Is not the road a private road? The first two questions are irrelevant. Inapproachability and untouchability have to be tackled wherever they exist. Wherever the workers consider a place or time suitable, it is their duty to start work, whether by Satyagraha or other legitimate means. My information goes to show that the method of petition, etc. was tried not once but often. They did consult the orthodox people and thought that they had the latter’s support. I am assured that the use of the road is the final goal of the satyagrahis. It is, however, not to be denied that the present movement throughout India is to throw open to the suppressed classes all the public roads, public schools, public wells and public temples which are accessible to non-Brahmins.

It is, in fact, a movement to purify caste by ridding it of its most pernicious result. I personally believe in Varnashrama, though it is true that I have my own meaning for it. Anyway, anti-untouchability movement does not aim at inter-dining or inter-marrying. Those who mix up the touch and the last two things together are doing harm to the cause of the suppressed classes as also to that of inter-dining and intermarriage. I have letters which protest that the road in question is a public road. In fact, my informants tell me, it was some years ago even accessible to the unapproachable as to other non-Brahmins. In my opinion, therefore, there is a just cause for the Vaikom Satyagraha and so far as it is kept within proper limits and conducted with the strictest regard to non-violence and truth, it deserves full public sympathy.

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