Mahatma Gandhi Community Forum

Prof. Dr. Yogendra Yadav

Senior Gandhian Scholar, Professor, Editor and Linguist

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

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Varnadharma – Mahatma Gandhi


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. As against this, the varnas have an intimate relation to one’s profession. The pursuit of one’s calling is one’s dharma. He, who forsakes his, falls from his Varna. He himself is destroyed, his spirit decays. That man causes confusion of varnas and thereby society is harmed and its organization breaks down. When everybody discards his Varna, the malorganization of society grows, chaos reigns and society perishes. If the Brahmin class abjures its work of imparting education, it falls from its pedestal. If a Kshatriya gives up his work of protecting the people, he dishonors his Varna. If a Vaishya discards the earning of money, he falls from his Varna.

If a Shudra abandons serving, he falls. All stay in their places by remaining engrossed in their own duty. He falls who gives up his proper duty. A Shudra who does his appropriate duty is better than a Brahmin who discards his duty. This system of varnas left no scope for privileges. It was merely a duty, an obligation. There is no room at all for feeling of high and low where it is a question of an obligation. Today we see the disappearance of the varnadharma. If one Varna discards its own duty, the whole Varna system declines. Today the Brahmin has discarded the attributes of a Brahmin the Kshatriyas his fighting qualities and the Vaishya his Vaishya character. Some may ask: “Since all are engaged in earning money, what is wrong if one considers that the qualities of a Vaishya still persist?” However, it is not correct to say so. The Vaishyas of today earn wealth only for themselves; hence they would be regarded as thieves in the language of the Gita. It is the Vaishya’s dharma to earn money and, taking out of it only as much as is needed for his livelihood, to utilize the remainder for the benefit of society. One rarely comes across a person who observes such Vaishya dharma. Hence even Vaishya dharma has perished. Now there remains Shudra dharma. How many Shudras are there who observe it? Labour involuntarily rendered is not service. There is no place for coercion in dharma. It is only labour regarded as sheer duty and rendered voluntarily for the betterment of society that can be called service.

Hence we have regretfully to admit that varnadharma has been totally destroyed. By defining a Shudra as a labourer, the commentator has insulted him and has harmed Hinduism. Nevertheless, varnadharma has come to pervade the very being of the Hindu. He may well have connected it, through lack of understanding, with inter-dining and intermarrying and with untouchability. A Hindu cannot be at peace with himself without a concept of varnadharma. Therefore its revival is possible. Without penance religious awakening or revival is improbable. Penance is the only great force whereby religion can be safeguarded and established. Penance without knowledge is no penance but merely self-torture. A blending of penance and knowledge is possible in Brahmin dharma alone. He alone who strives to acquire knowledge of the Brahman is fit to be a Brahmin. If such an endeavour is made today, Hinduism, that is to say, varnadharma will be revived some day. Fortunately, there is a small class engaged in it today. Hence I have an unshakable faith that Hinduism pure sanatana dharma will once again reveal its lustre and point out to the world the way to its good. My Hindu religion is all-embracing.

It does not advocate antipathy towards other beliefs. Religions have been interwoven. One sees a special quality in every one of them. But no one religion is higher than another. All are complementary to one another. Since this is my belief, the specialty of any religion cannot run counter to another, cannot be at variance with universally accepted principles. Examining varnadharma from that point of view, its interpretation can only be what I have put forward. Moreover, history indicates that followers of Hinduism at one time voluntarily observed it. In order to make observance of this varnadharma possible again, all must voluntarily accept Shudra dharma. The Shudras render service mainly through manual labour. This dharma is feasible for all. That is why it is possible for everyone to follow it. Moreover there has been a feeling of contempt for the Shudras. If everyone regarded himself as a Shudra, religion would be well rid of this concept of high and low. Someone may say, ‘If everyone regards himself as a Shudra, why not as a Harijan?’ I would definitely not oppose such insistence, but since there are not five varnas in Hinduism and since untouchability is on the wane, I use the word ‘Shudra’. After the pledge about Hindu awakening was taken in Bombay under the presidentship of Malaviyaji, there is no room for untouchability in Hinduism.

Hence at the time of revival of varnadharma, the talk of regarding all as Harijans will be considered out of place. If Harijans and all others stay as Shudras, all will easily be men of God. But if, with full understanding, all begin to observe the dharma of service and to regard themselves as Shudras, it will certainly not imply that none will learn Brahmavidya. Some people will learn and teach it according to their desire and ability. Some will look after the people, some will earn money. The standard of living of all will be about the same. The condition where one is a millionaire and the others beggars will not subsist. The wealth of the Vaishyas will be regarded as the wealth of the people. All these three forces will be utilized merely for social service. All will be regarded as Shudras only, so that there will be no feeling of high and low. All this will automatically promote the revival of varnadharma. There certainly is room in varnadharma for tradition. Without that there cannot be proper order; therefore, the progeny of those who impart knowledge will observe the same vocation. All cannot all of a sudden become Brahmajnanam. There is no objection if they do. And, to become a Brahmajnanam is to reach the ultimate in service. There is not even a trace of pride or selfishness at all. And if there emerge many such Brahmajnanam, then the Varna system can once again be rehabilitated now a few words about inter-dining and intermarriages. For those who have correctly understood the foregoing portion, there is no need to write more.

No one is obliged to eat in the company of a particular person nor obliged to give his daughter in marriage to anybody in particular. Therefore, all will naturally follow their own practice and traditions in respect of giving their daughters in marriage and inter-dining. I have now thought of only one Varna, and the Harijan is not excluded from it, so it will suffice to say that all will seek alliances according to their convenience and live and move and eat where their soul finds satisfaction. After untouchability has ended, there is no need to say more on this subject. In the end, I shall repeat what I have said many times before. This question of Varna system has no direct concern with the removal of untouchability. The abolition of untouchability is the highest duty of every Hindu. The Harijan Seva Sangh exists for that purpose. It has its sphere defined and I have played the chief role in making it do so. The ideas about varnadharma at present are my own. Even he who does not subscribe to them should not shirk from working for the abolition of untouchability. None need fight shy of it because I happen to be the major participant in it. If the Hindu community does not accept my ideas concerning the system of varnas, they will remain mine alone. I cannot force those on others, nor have I the desire to do so. If those ideas are contrary to Hindu religion I will be thrown out of the Hindu community like an unwanted grain. Observance of the dharma to banish untouchability is certainly the common duty of all Hindus. I do not wish to hide a single idea of mine and thereby deceive anyone.

The question of Varna system has indirect relationship with untouchability; hence it is understandable that my associates and others wish to know my ideas about it. That is why I have to develop those ideas. But there is not the slightest reason for anyone to feel confused because of them. Individuals do not matter at all where the question of religion is concerned. These will come and go. Religion is eternal, it will go on. There have been many ideas about it, and there will be many more. Just as God’s attributes are endless, the frontiers of religion are unending. No one has understood it thoroughly. All should follow it to the extent they understand it, so that the chariot of religion will keep moving forward. Knowing this, and leaving me out of account, all should do research in religion for their own sakes. The conditions of doing that research are well known. He who will observe these conditions will alone know religion to some extent. There are certain rules for getting knowledge of all type. They call for effort. Religious research requires the utmost effort. Therefore, at the very outset of that research, those with experience have suggested the observance of yamaniyamas.



Harijanbandhu, 19-3-1933

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