When can we truly repay the Mahatma's debt?

Wednesday 26th September 2018 07:31 EDT

“A man is but the product of his thoughts; what he thinks, he becomes.” 

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi 

In 1893, a 23 year old young barrister Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi left for South Africa, only to return a 'Mahatma' in 1915.

Not only India and the Indian community, but the world will celebrate Gandhi Jayanti on October 2, next Tuesday. A frail man with a determination strong enough to affect a colonial power, Mahatma's ideologies are not only studied across countries, but also followed by many. An international figure, he was born on October 2, 1869, 149 years from now, in Porbandar. Gandhiji not only stood for Indians, but also for peace, brotherhood, and universal equality. I find it amusing that leader of the British colony, last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten too had eventually begun addressing Gandhiji as 'Bapu'. Such was his emminence and influence. 

While there is confusion and serious arguments on how and when he was given the title, there is definitely no disagreement on whether he deserves to be called so. 

Hari Ka Jan (Man of God) 

Friends, hundreds of movements and ideologies Gandhi has vehemently supported and worked on. His devotion towards abolishing the practice of untouchability. Averse to the idea of suppression of a certain community owing to their caste, Gandhiji began his official movement against untouchability in 1933. He protest fasted in July and August that year, and in November 1933, he left on a tour of the entire country fighting against the casteist bias. Refusing to call the minority caste 'Dalits', which has for ages been referred as an abusive term, Gandhi gave a whole new name to the group, calling them “Harijans”- meaning Persons of God. 

Gandhi's Harijan Yatra brought him face to face with several opposing forces, but he continued for their rights of being treated as a human being. In 1915 well-known Indian social worker, Amritlal Thakkar, popularly called Thakkar Bapa, wrote a letter to him citing, “A humble request, an untouchable family wishes to join your ashram. Would you permit their stay?” Perplexed by the request, Gandhi wrote in his autobiography 'The Story of My Experiments with Truth', that the letter placed him in a moral dilemma. He knew bringing the family into the ashram would affect those who already lived there. However, after giving it a long thought, he made a decision. If the ashram housed Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishnavs, why not Dalits? 

As was his wish, the Dalit family- a husband, wife, and their daughter arrived, and no one said a word. However, it was made apparent that there was bitterness amongst others who did not like the judgment. Once, the Dalit woman went to pull water from the Ashram's well, she was stopped. Several ashram members said that if she drinks from the well, they will stop touching the water. 

When Gandhiji came to know about the incident, he became very upset. He announced that if the Dalit family is not stopped from using the well, he will stop drinking water altogether. He said that doors of the ashram were open for everyone, and there was no place for caste bias. While the other members bowed to his decision then, wind of a Dalit family soon blew across Ahmedabad, and within just three months of starting the ashram, money was pulled back out by sponsors, Gandhi's ashram had fallen in financial trouble. 

While he did find aid eventually, this incident can be counted as a pivotal incident that inspired his movement and fight against untouchability. Gandhiji adopted the community in a true sense. And in the remainder of his life, he continued to speak up on the topic and address it whenever he could. 

Dear readers, our beloved Gandhiji is no more, and despite his relentless fight against inequality, our country has failed him. Celebrations on a large scale are being conducted to observe his birthday, I can't help but wonder with what right are we celebrating a man, whose ideologies only appeal to us on paper? Why do we keep differentiating and creating barriers based on a system that was created generations ago? If we consider ourselves as a Sanatan Hindu, does the prevailing situation really appeal to us? 

I believe it is time we repay Gandhiji's prodigious debt on us, and put an end to this broken and bitter society that we have created after him. Like all of us, the Dalit community too is a product of India, born in the same soil as we all were. Only when we accept this truth will Gandhiji's sacrifice for independence will bears fruits.

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