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Satyagraha and Caste Reform – Mahatma Gandhi

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



Satyagraha and Caste Reform – Mahatma Gandhi


As the principle of Satyagraha comes to be better understood, it is being put to ever new applications. It is used not merely in fighting the Government, but we find it being applied within the family and the caste as well. In a certain community there prevails the inhuman practice of offering girls in marriage for a consideration and a youth has felt the urge to end it. It has been asked what he should do. An easy form of Satyagraha is non-cooperation. The young man wishes to banish this custom from his community. His intention is good but should he start non-co-operation and, if so, how and against whom? It is difficult to give a definite opinion in this particular case. But one can suggest some general rules for all situations of this type. In the first place, one should never embark upon non-cooperation all of a sudden. Evil customs which have prevailed for ages cannot be eradicated in a moment. Reform is one-legged, and so proceeds haltingly. Anyone who loses patience can never become a pure satyagrahi. The first step for a reformer is to educate public opinion. He should meet the wise elders of the community and listen to their points of view. Maybe the reformer is a poor man, no one knows him and the elders will not listen to him. What should he do then? A poor person like this should know that he is not destined to be an instrument of reform. We may all wish that untruth may disappear from the world, but who will bring round the liars? Here is an essential reform, and yet how patiently we mark time! The thing is that a reformer should be free from egotism. Why should we assume responsibility for ending all evils? We should be content with speaking the truth ourselves and acting truthfully. Likewise, in regard to the evil practices in the community, we should see that our own attitude and conduct are blameless and maintain a neutral attitude towards others. To think “I do this, I do that” is ignorance, like that of the dog who thought that the cart was being drawn by him. We should learn these lines by heart and, as they suggest, remain free from pride. If, even then, we feel that the responsibility is ours, an especial duty devolves upon us. For example, the elders of the community cannot, professing to be humble, condone the prevailing evils, for, by accepting the position of elders, they have made themselves the guardians of its moral conduct. Even if only one girl is given away in marriage for money, the curse of that innocent girl will fall upon them. If, however, the leaders of the community do nothing to stop evil practices and themselves follow this one of accepting money for a daughter given in marriage, what should this poor member of the community do? He has made his own life above reproach, and has met all the leading men of the community. All of them have treated him insultingly and driven him away as they might a dog. Abuse has been showered on him. Dispirited, tired and sad, he has returned home. He sees no shelter save the sky above and no support save the earth below. Now, will God hear his prayer for help? But this is only the first step. He has been tested, as he had to be, before he could be fit for tapascharya. Now he can hear his inner voice. He asks the God within him: “Though insulted, do I yet love my brethren? Am I ready to serve them? Shall I be able to submit even to blows and kicks with their shoes?” If the in-dwelling God answers all these questions in the affirmative, then he is fit to take the second step. Now he may start non-co-operation in the spirit of love. Such non-co-operation means giving up all rights-but not duties. What are the rights of this poor servant as a member of his community to be invited to community dinners and to be eligible for marriage within its circle? He should, with humility, give up both these rights, and then he will have done his duty. If the elders of the community cast him off like a thorn saying in the arrogance of their authority, “One invitee less at dinners, one prospective bridegroom less,” strike his name off the register, the poor servant, instead of despairing, should have confidence that from the pure seed sown by him will grow a huge tree after fulfilling his duty not before may he sings: To work I have the right, never to the fruit thereof. This poor man of God is now a dweller in a forest. If an unmarried man, he takes a stern pledge that he would remain so until the evil had disappeared from the community and, if married, that he would live with his wife as her friend and not as a husband. If he has children, he would teach them also to observe brahmacharya. That he may not have to seek the help of the community or others, he would have the fewest possessions. To live thus like a sannyasi is what living in a forest means for him. In non-co-operation imbued with love there is no room at all for licence. Self-restraint alone can give it beauty. The seed which has been sown needs to be watered with self-restraint. One who thinks, “If my children do not get partners in my community, I shall find partners for them in another and will enjoy the pleasures of feasting elsewhere”, is neither a man of restraint nor a non-co-operator, but a hypocrite. A non-co-operator who is a man of restraint will do tapascharya, living in the village of his community. It is said that in the presence of love, hatred vanishes. Living in the Himalayas, this man of God cannot claim to practice non-violence towards the community’s leaders and hope to melt their hearts thereby. If the leaders of the community have disregarded him, one reason may be that they have taken him to be a thoughtless, unmannerly young man. He has yet to prove that, though poor and young, he is neither devoid of thought nor unmannerly, but is humble and thoughtful. Working in such a spirit and serving the members of his community on occasions demanding his service and yet not hoping for a return, he will find others joining the movement for reform Even though they may not be offering non-co-operation against the community, their sympathy will be with him. As proud of our sacrifices and in the arrogance of our views, we abuse our friends who co-operate with the Government; this self-controlled young man will not abuse his caste-fellows because they are not with him, or express agreement with his ideas but do not go beyond that and join him in non-co-operation. He will show nothing but love for them and win their hearts. It will be his experience every day that love is the philosopher’s stone. But even if he does not have this experience immediately, he will not be impatient, but will keep up his faith that the seed of love can produce nothing but the abundant fruit of love. In the letter that I have received, I have been asked whether, when our non-co-operating man of God lets go the privilege of attending community dinners, he should also refrain from attending such dinners arranged by his friends in the community. In fact, what is likely to happen is that, on receiving his notice of non-participation in the community dinners, headmen of the caste will excommunicate him and pronounce a punishment on any member of the community who may drink water or eat in his company or enter into marriage tie with him. That is to say, the question of his refraining from dinners given by particular individuals will not arise at all. If he is thus declared to be an outcaste, it will be the special duty of our man of self-restraint not to attend dinners given by his friends even if they invite him, openly or secretly. If, however, some caste-fellow joins him purposely in his non-co-operation, he may by all means accept an invitation by such a person. Such a thing may very well happen. But, in general, one can say that he will have no occasion at all to decline invitations to dinners given by his friends. If, however, such an occasion does arise, he need not decline the invitation. Of course, he will never agree to accept an invitation from anyone who approves of the custom of accepting money for offering a girl in marriage. We have noted from this that:

1. Many steps will have to be taken for educating public opinion before starting non-co-operation.

2. A non co-operator should have the strength to put up with abuse, etc., without losing his temper.

3. There should be nothing but love in non-co-operation.

4. After starting non-co-operation, one should not leave one’s town or village.

5. A non-co-operator should observe rigid self-restraint.

6. A non-co-operator should have full faith in the means which he adopts.

7. A non-co-operator should remain indifferent towards the fruits of his labours.

8. There should be judgment, thoughtfulness and humility in every step that a non-co-operator takes.

9. Everyone does not have the right or the obligation to start non-co-operation. Non-co-operation started by those who have no right to do so will fail in its aim. If some or most people feel that the observance of these rules is almost impossible, they will be right. Pure non-co-operation is impossible without rigid self-restraint. Moreover, in the case which we have considered, that man of God is himself the doer and the beneficiary, the commander and the soldier. If there is anything wanting in him, we may take it that he has only disappointment in store for him. For anyone, therefore, who intends starting non-co-operation in such independent fashion, the first sign of wisdom is to refrain from taking any such step. But once he has taken it, he cannot give up his ideal even if that means laying down his life. The other question that arises is, with all this self-restraint, what reform do we hope to bring about in an exclusive institution like caste? Others, moreover, may say that when we want to abolish the caste system itself, why should we fix our attention on particular evils such as the offering of girls in marriage for money? This question is out of place here. Our reformer’s question concerns his community alone. If non-co-operation within the family is regarded as proper, we must consider non-co-operation towards caste also as justified as long as castes exist.




Navajivan, 13-4-1924

Views: 139


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