Suresh Limbachiya

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Gandhiji address on September 26, 1896, in Bombay on the grievances of South African Indians.

Posted by Suresh Limbachiya on 23/01/2012

Father of the Nation

Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi 

1869 – 1948

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was born on October 2, 1869 at Porbandar. He received his education at Kathiawar High School, London University and Inner Temple. He went to South Africa (1893) as a Muslim firm’s lawyer. He founded the Natal Indian Congress in 1894 and Phoenix Settlement and he came back to India in 1915. In 1920, he started the Non-cooperation and Boycott Movements. He was imprisoned several times. Gandhi was Congress president in 1924.

The Civil Disobedience Movement was inaugurated with the Dandi (Salt) March in 1930. Attended the Round Table Conference in September 1931 but met with failure. He started the Quit India Movement in August 1942. He had held negotiations with Jinnah in 1944 which were unsuccessful. Widespread communal riots impelled him to Naokhali and Bihar in 1946-47. On June 14, 1947, he advised the Congress Working Committee to accept partition. Gandhi was assassinated on January 30, 1948. He is considered a Mahatma (great soul) by millions of Indians and others.A prolific writer and journalist, his autobiography Story of My Experiment with Truth (1927) has been read by millions of Indians and foreigners and has been translated into several languages. His Collected Works runs into a 100 volumes. He also started several journals: Indian Opinion (weekly) in 1903 in South Africa; Young India (1919-32); Harijan (1932-40; 46-48), and also the Gujarati edition of the Harijan as Harijan Bandhu (1933).

Gandhiji delivered the following address on September 26, 1896, in Bombay.

It was on the grievances of South African Indians.

I stand before you today, as representing the signatories to this document, who pose as rep­resentatives of the 100,000 British Indians at present residing in South Africa-a country which has sprung into sudden prominence owing to vast gold fields of Johannesburg and the late Jameson Raid. This is my sole quali­fication. I am a person of few words. The cause, however, for which I am to plead before you this evening, is so great that I venture to think that you all overlook the faults of the speaker or, rather, the reader of this paper.

The interests of 100,000 Indians are closely bound up with the interests of the 300 million of India. The question of the grievances of the Indians in South Africa affects the future well-being and the future immigration of Indians of India. I therefore, humbly venture to think that this question should be, if it is not already, one of the questions of the day in India. With these preliminary remarks, I shall now place before you, as shortly as possible, the whole position of affairs in South Africa as affecting the British Indians in that country. South Africa, for our present purposes, is divided into the following States: the British Colony of the Cape of Good Hope, The British Colony of Natal, The British Colony of Zululand, the Transvaal or the South African Republic, the Orange Free State, The Chartered Territories or Rhodesia, and the Portuguese Territories of Delagoa Bay and Beira. In South Africa, apart from the Portuguese Territories, there are nearly 100,000 Indians, of whom the greater part belongs to the laboring class, drawn from the laboring population of Madras and Bengal, speaking the Tamil or Telugu and the Hindi languages respectively. A small number belongs to the trading class, chiefly drawn from the Bombay Presi­dency.

A general feeling throughout South Africa is that of hatred towards Indians, encouraged by the newspapers and connived at, even countenanced by, the legislators. Every Indian, without exception, is a coolie in the estimation of the general body of the Europeans. Store-keepers are “coolie store-keep­ers”. Indian clerks and school-masters are “coolie clerks” and “coolie school-masters”. Naturally, neither the traders nor the English-educated Indians are treated with any degree of respect. Wealth and abilities in an Indian count for naught in that country except to serve the interests of the European Colonists. We are the “Asian dirt to be heartily cursed.” We are “squalid coolies with truth less tongues.” We are “the real canker that is eating into the very vitals of the community.” We are “parasites, semi – barbarous Asiatic.” “We live upon rice and we are chockfull of vice.” Statute books describe the Indians as belonging to the “aboriginal or semi-barbarous race of Asia,” while, as a matter of fact, there is hardly one Indian in South Africa belonging to the aboriginal stock. The Santhals of Assam will be as useless in South Africa as the natives of that country.

The Pretoria Chamber of Commerce thinks that our “religion teaches us to consider all women as soul­less and Christians a natural prey.” According to the same authority, “the whole community in South Africa is exposed to the dangers engendered by the filthy habits and immoral practices of these people.” Yet, as a matter of fact, there has happened not a single case of leprosy amongst the Indians in South Africa. And Dr. Veale of Pretoria thinks the “lowest class Indians live better and in better habitations with more regard to sanitation than the lowest class Whites, and he, furthermore, puts on record that “while every nationality had one or more of its members at some time in the lazaretto, there was not a single Indian attacked.” In most parts of South Africa, we may not stir out of our houses after 9 p.m.-unless we are armed with passes from our employers.

An exception, however, is made in favor of those Indians who wear the Memon costume. Hotels shut their doors against us. We cannot make use of the tram­cars unmolested. The coaches are not for us. Between Barberton and Pretoria in the Transvaal, and Johannesburg and Charlestown, when the latter were not connected by railway, the Indians, as a rule, were not allowed to sit inside the coaches, but are and were compelled to take their seats by the side of the driver. This, on a frosty morning in the Transvaal, where winter is very severe, is a sore trial apart from the indignity which it involves. The coach-travelling involves long journeys and, at stated intervals, accommodation and food are provided for passengers. No Indian is allowed accommodation or a seat at the dining table in these places; at the most, he can purchase food from behind the kitchen ­room and manage the best way he can. Instances of untold miseries suffered by the Indians can be quoted by hundreds. Public baths are not for the Indians. The High Schools are not open to the Indians. A fortnight before I left Natal, an Indian student applied for admission to the Durban High School and his application was rejected. Even the primary schools are not quite open to the Indians. An Indian Missionary school­master was driven out of an English Church in Verulam, a small village in Natal.

The Government of Natal have been pining to hold a “coolie conference”, as it has been officially called, in order to secure uniformity in Indian legislation throughout South Africa, and in order to present a united front against the blandishments of the Home Government on behalf of the Indians. Such is the general feeling against the Indians in South Africa, except the Portuguese Territories, where he is respected and has no grievance apart from the general population. You can easily imagine how difficult it must be for a respectable Indian to exist in such a country. I am sure, Gentlemen, that if our president went to South Africa, he would find it, to use a colloquial phrase, “mighty hard” to secure accommodation in a hotel, and he would not feel very comfortable in a first-class railway carriage in Natal, and after reaching Volksrust, he would be put out unceremo­niously from his first-class compartment and accommodated in a tin compartment where Kaffirs are packed like sheep.

I may, however, assure him that if he ever came to South Africa, and we wish our great men did come to these un­comfortable quarters, if only to see and realize the plight in which their fellow-countrymen are, we shall more than make up for these inconveniences, which we cannot help, by according him a right royal welcome, so united, so enthusiastic we are, at any rate for the present. Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness. The aim of the Christian Governments, so we read, is to raise people whom they come in contact with or whom they control. It is otherwise in South Africa. There, the deliberately expressed object is not to allow the Indian to rise higher in the scale of civilization but to lower him to the position of the Kaffir; in the words of the Attorney General of Natal, “to keep him forever a hewer of wood and drawer of water,” “not to let him form part of South African nation what is going to be built.” In the words of another legislator in Natal, “to make the Indian’s life more comfortable in his native land than in the Colony of Natal.” The struggle against such degradation is so severe that our whole energy is spent in resistance.

Consequently, we have very little left in us to attempt to make any reforms from within. I must now come to the particular States and show how the governments in the different States have combined with the masses to persecute the Indian to make “the British Indian an impossibility.” The Colony of Natal, which is a, self – governing British Colony with a Legislative Assembly consisting of 37 members elected by the voters, and a Legislative Council consisting of twelve members nominated by the Governor, who comes from England as the Queen’s representative, has a European population of 50,000, a native or Zulu population of 400,000 and an Indian population of 51,000. Assisted immigration of Indians was decided upon in 1860, when, in the words of a member of the Legislative Assembly of Natal, “the progress and almost the existence of the Colony hung in the balance,” and when the Zulu was found to be too indolent to work. Now the chief industries and sanitation· of the whole Colony of Natal are entirely dependent upon Indian labour.

The Indians have made Natal “the garden of South Africa.” In the words of another eminent Natalian, “Indian immigration brought prosperity, prices rose, people were no longer content to grow or sell produce for a song.” Of the 51, 000 Indians, 30,000 are those that have served out their indenture and are now variously engaged as free laborers, gardeners, hawkers, fruiterers, or petty traders. A few have, also, by their industry, educated themselves into fitness for the posts of school-masters, interpreters and general clerks in spite of adverse circumstances; 16,000 are at present serving their indenture, and about 5,000 are traders and merchants or their assistants who came first on their own means. These latter belong to the Bombay Presidency and most of them are Memon Mohammedans. A few are Parsees also, notable among whom is Mr. Rustomjee of Durban who in his generosity would do credit to Sir Dinshaw. No poor man goes to his doors without having his inner man satisfied. No Parsee lands on the Durban shores but is sumptuously treated by Mr. Rustomjee. And even he is not free from molestation. Even he is a “coolie”. Two gentlemen are ship owners and large land proprietors. But they are “coolie ship owners” and their ships are called “coolie-ships.” Apart from the common interest that every Indian feels in every other Indian, the three chief Presidencies are especially interested in this question.If the Bombay Presidency has not sent equally large number of her sons to South Africa, she makes up for that by the greater influence and wealth of her sons who have really constituted themselves the guardians of the interests of their less fortunate brethren from the sister Presidencies. And it may be that in India also, Bombay will lead in endeavoring to help the Indians in South Africa out of their hardships. The preamble of the Bill of 1894 stated that Asiatics were not accustomed to representative institutions.

The real object of the Bill, however, was not to disfranchise Indians because they were not fit, but because the European Colonists wanted to degrade the Indians and to assert their right to enter into class legislation, to accord a treatment to the Indians different from that accorded to the Europeans. This was patent not only from the speeches made by the members on the second reading of the Bill but also from the newspapers. They also said it was expedient to disfranchise the Indian under the plea that the Indian vote might swamp the European. But even this plea is and was untenable. In 1891, there were only 251 Indian voters as against nearly 10,000 European voters.

The majority of Indians are too poor to command property qualifications. And the Indians in Natal have never meddled in politics and do not want political power. All these facts are admitted by The Natal Mercury, which is the Government organ in Natal. I must refer to you my little pamphlet published in India for corroborative extracts. We memorialized the local Parliament and showed that the Indians were not unacquainted with the representative institutions. We were, however, unsuccessful. We then memorialized Lord Ripon, the then Secretary of State for the Colonies, After two years’ correspondence, the Bill of 1894 was withdrawn this year and has been replaced by another which, while not so bad as the one repealed” is bad enough. It provides that “the natives or descendants, in the male line, of natives of countries which have not hitherto possessed elective representative institution founded on the parliamentary franchise, shall not be placed on any Voters’ List unless they shall first obtain an order from the Governor-in-Council exempting them from the operation of the Act.” It also exempts from its operation those persons that are rightly contained in any Voters’ List.

This Bill was submitted to Mr. Chamberlain for approval before being introduced in the Legislative Assembly. In the papers published, Mr. Chamberlain seems to be of the opinion that India does not possess elective representative institutions founded on the parliamentary franchise. With the great deference to these views, we submitted to Mr. Chamberlain in a memorial, for we did not succeed before the Natal Parliament, that for the purposes of the Bill that is, legally speaking, India did and do possess elective representative institutions founded on the parliamentary franchise. Such is the opinion expressed by the London Times, such is the opinion of the newspapers in Natal and such is also the opinion of the members who voted for the Bill, as also of an able jurist in Natal. We are very anxious to know the opinion of the legal luminaries here.

The object in passing such a Bill is to play a game of ‘Toss up’ to harass the Indian community. Many members of the Natal Assembly, otherwise hostile to the Indian thought that the Bill would involve the Indian community in endless litigation and cause ferment among them. The Government organ says in effect: “We can have this Bill and no other. If we succeed, that is, if India is declared a country not possessing the institutions referred to in the Bill, well and good. If not, then, too, we lose nothing. We shall try another; we shall raise the property qualification and impose an educational test. If such a Bill is objected to, even then we need not be afraid, for, where is the cause? We know that the Indians can never swamp us.” If I had the time, I could give you the exact words which are much stronger. Those who take a special interest can look them up from the Green Pamphlet.

Thus then, ‘we are a proper subject for vivisection under the Natal Pasteur’s deadly scalpel and knife.The only difference is that the Paris Pasteur did it with a view to do good. Our Natal Pasteur does for the sake of amusement to be derived from the operation out of sheer wantonness. This memorial is now under consideration by Mr. Chamberlain. I cannot lay too much stress on the fact that the position in India is entirely different from the position in Natal. Eminent men in India have asked me the question, “Why do you want the franchise in Natal when you have only a visionary franchise in India, if at all?” Our humble reply is that in Natal it is not we who want the franchise, it is the Europeans who want to deprive us of the right we have been enjoying in Natal. That makes all the difference. The deprivation will involve degradation. There is no such thing in India. The representative institutions in India are slowly, but surely, being liberalized. Such institutions are being gradually closed against us in Natal. Again, as the London Times puts it,

“The Indian in India has precisely the same franchise as the Englishman enjoys.” ‘Not so in Natal. What is sauce for the European goose is not sauce for the Indian gander there. Moreover, the disfranchising in Natal is not a political move but a merely commercial policy-a policy adopted to check the immigration of the respectable Indian. Being a British subject, he should be able to claim the same privileges as the other British subjects enjoy in a certain British State or Colony, just as an Indian going to England would be able to avail himself of the Institutions of England to as full an extent as any Englishman. The fact, however, is that there is no fear of the Indian vote swamping the European; what they want is class legislation. The class legislation with regard to franchise is only the thin end of the wedge. They contemplate depriving the Indians of the Municipal franchise also.

A statement to that effect was made by the Attorney-General, in reply to the suggestion made by a member that the Indians should be deprived of the Municipal franchise; too, at the same time the first Franchise Bill was introduced. Another member sug­gested that, while they were dealing with the Indian question, Civil Service should be closed to the Indians. In the Cape Colony also, which has a government exactly similar to Natal’s, the condition of the Indians is growing worse. Lately, the Cape Parliament has passed a Bill which authorizes the East London Municipality to frame by-laws prohibiting Indians from walking on the footpaths and com­pelling them to live in specific locations which, as a rule, are unhealthy swamps unfit for human habitation and certainly useless for purposes of trade. In Zululand, a Crown Colony and therefore, directly under the control of the Home Government, regulations have been passed with regard to the townships of Nondweni and Eshowe to the effect that the Indians cannot own or acquire land in those townships, although, in that of Melmoth in the same country, the Indians own property worth £2,000. In the Transvaal, which is a Dutch Republic, the seat of Jameson Raid and the EI Dorado of the gold-hunters of the Western World, there are over 5,000 Indians, many of whom are merchants and store-keepers. Others are hawkers, waiters, and household servants.

The Convention between the Home Government and the Transvaal Government secures the trading and property rights of “all persons other than natives” and under it the Indians were trading freely up to 1885. In that year, however, after some correspondence with the Home Government, the Transvaal Volksraad passed a law which took away from the Indians the right of trading, except in specified locations, and owning landed property, and imposed a registration fee of £3 on every Indian intending to settle in that country. I must again beg to refer the curious to the Green Pamphlet for the whole history of the protracted negotiations which culminated in the matter being entrusted to an arbitrator. The decision of the arbitrator being virtually against the Indians, a memorial was addressed to the Right Honorable, the Secretary of the State for the Colonies, with the result that the award of the arbitrator has been accepted, though the justice of the complaint of the Indians has been fully admitted. The system of passes prevails in the Transvaal in a very cruel form.

While, in other parts of South Africa, it is the railway officials who make the lot of the 1st and 2nd class passengers on the railways intolerable, the Transvaal people have gone one better in that there the law prohibits the Indians from travelling in 1st or 2nd class. They are, irrespective of position, huddled together in the same com­partment with the natives of South Africa. The Gold Mining law made it criminal for the Indians to buy native gold. And if the Transvaal Government are allowed to have their own way, they would, while treating them as mere chattels,’ compel the Indians to render military service. The thing is monstrous on the face of it, for, as the London Times puts it, “We might now see a levy of British Indians subjects driven at the point of the Transvaal bayonets against the bayonets of British troops.” The Orange Free State, the other Dutch Republic in South Africa, beats the record in showing its hatred towards Indians. It has, to put in the words of its chief organ, simply made the “British Indians an impos­sibility by classing him with the Kaffir.” It denies the Indian the right not only to trade, farm or own landed property, but even to reside there, except under special, insulting circumstances. Such, very shortly, is the position of the Indians in the various States in South Africa. The same Indian, who is so much hated in the various States above-mentioned, is very much liked and respected only 300 miles from Natal, i.e. in Delagoa Bay. The real cause of all this prejudice may be expressed in the words of the leading organ in South Africa, namely, the Cape Times, when it was under the editorship of the prince of South African journalists,
Mr. St. Leger: “It is the position of these merchants which is productive of no little hostility to this day. And it is in considering their position that their rivals in trade have sought to inflict upon them, through the medium of the State, what looks, on the face of it, something very like an injustice for the benefit of self.”
Continues the same organ:

“The injustice to the Indians is so glaring that one is almost ashamed of one’s countrymen in wishing to have these men treated as natives, (i.e. of South Africa), simply because of their success in trade. The very reason that they have been so successful against the dominant race is sufficient to raise them above that degrading level.”
If this was true in 1889, when the above was written, it is undoubtedly so now, because the Legislatures of South Africa have shown phenomenal activity in passing measures restricting the liberty of the Queen’s Indian subjects. To stem the tide of this opposition against us, we have formed an organization on a humble scale so that we may take the necessary steps to have our grievances removed. We believe that much of the ill-feeling is due to want of proper knowledge about the Indians in India. We, therefore, endeav­our, so far as the populace is concerned, to educate public opinion by imparting the necessary information with regard to the legal opinion in England and the public opinion here by placing our position before them. As you know, both the Conservatives and the Liberals have supported us in England without distinction.

The London Times has given eight leading articles to our cause in the very sympathetic spirit. This alone has raised us a step higher in the estimation of the Europeans in South Africa, and has considerably affected for the better the tone of the newspapers there. I may state our position a little more clearly as to our demands. We are aware that the insults and indignities, that we are subjected to at the hands of the populace, cannot be directly removed by the intervention of the Home Gov­ernment. We do not appeal to it for any such intervention. We bring them to the notice of the public, so that the fair-minded of all communities and the press may, by expressing their disapproval, materially reduce their rigors and, possibly, eradicate them ultimately. But we certainly do appeal, and we hope not vainly, to the Home Government for protection against reproduction of such ill-feeling in Colonial legislation.

We certainly beseech the Home Government to disallow all the acts of the Legislative bodies of the Colonies restricting our freedom in any shape or form. And this brings me to the question, namely, how far can the Home Government interfere with such action on the part of the Colonies and the allied States. As for Zululand, there can be no question, since it is a Crown Colony directly governed from Downing Street through a Governor. It is not a self-governing or responsibly-governed Colony as the Colonies of Natal and the Cape of Good Hope are. With regard to the latter, clause 7 of the Constitution Act of Natal enacts that Her Majesty may disallow any Act of the local Parliament within two years, even after it has become law having received the Governor’s assent. That is one safeguard against oppressive measures by the Colonies. The Royal instructions to the Governor enumerate certain Bills which cannot be assented by the Governor without her Majesty’s previous sanction. Among such are Bills which have for their subject class legislation.

I shall venture to give an instance in point. The Immigration Law Amendment Bill referred to above has been assented to by the Governor, but it can come into force only after Her Majesty has sanctioned it. It has not yet been sanctioned. Thus, then, it will be noticed that Her Majesty’s intervention is direct and precise. While it is true that the Home Government is slow to interfere with the Acts of the Colonial Legislatures, there are instances where it has not hesitated to put its foot down on occasions less urgent than the present one. As you are aware, the repeal of the first Franchise Bill was due to such wholesome intervention. What is more, Colonists are ever afraid of it. And as a result of sympathy expressed in England and the sympathetic answers given by Mr. Chamberlain to the deputation that awaited on him some months ago, most of the papers in South Africa, at any rate in Natal, have veered round or think that the Immigration and other such Bills will not receive the Royal assent. As to the Transvaal, there is the Convention. As to the Orange Free State, I can only say that it is an unfriendly act on the part of a friendly State to shut her doors against any portion of Her Majesty’s subjects. And as such, I humbly think it can be effectively checked. Gentlemen, the latest advices from South Africa show that the Europeans are actively canvassing the ruin of the Indians. They are agitating against the introduction of Indian artisans and what not. All this should serve as a warning and an impetus. We are hemmed in on all sides in South Africa. We are yet infants. We have a right to appeal to you for protection. We place our position before you, and now the responsibility will rest to a very great extent on your shoulders, if the yoke of oppression is not removed from our necks. Being under it we can only cry out in anguish. It is for you, our elder and freer brethren, to remove it. I am sure we shall not have cried out in vain.

(Speech at Weavers’ Conference, Nagpur on December 25, 1920)

Though I am extremely busy with other work, I could not refuse the invitation to preside over this Conference. True, I am not a weaver by profession, but I regard myself as a farmer-weaver. In the court also I have stated this as my profession. I think that the regeneration of India will be difficult, if not impossible, without the uplift of its weavers. And the subject, therefore, came up for discussion at the last Congress. At the time that India passed into subjection, there was no other country in the world which produced cloth in the same quantity and of the same quality as it did. All this cloth was being produced when there was not a single mill here. From khadi to Dacca muslin, every variety of cloth was available then. There was enough to meet the country’s requirements of cloth and leave a surplus which was exported. Foreigners were drawn to this country as visitors. The man who invented the sacred spinning-wheel had shown a greater genius than Hargreaves (inventor of the spinning-jenny), and greater than anyone else in the country ever did. In the days of our pros­perity, there was a spinning-mill in every home.Brahma saw that if India was to remain free her women should be persuaded to look upon it as their sacred duty to produce some yam (everyday). That is why it happened that he did not create a distinct community whose function would be to spin but made that obligatory on all women. Our downfall began with the coming of the East India Company.

From that time, weavers and spinners started giving up their profession. As in Champaran the people were obliged to part with their indigo crop, so [in those times] they were pressed to give yam, so much so that in sheer desperation people cut off their fingers. After this, started the imports from Lancashire. If you wish to bring about regeneration of dharma, you should atone for the past and revive the old professions of spinning and weaving. Be­cause we have forsaken the path of dharma, we have been doing evil things in the name of Swadeshi. I, therefore, ask people to produce more yarn and more cloth so that they may protect dharma. If they do not do this, we shall certainly have to import cloth from outside. Shri Fazalbhoy and Shri Wadia tell us that for fifty years more we shall not be in a position to produce all the cloth we need. Shri Gokhale had argued that this would be impossible for a hundred years. They are mistaken. They do not know that every home in the country can have a spinning-wheel and a loom. So long as spinning and weaving have not been taken up, it is no service to the country to open Swadeshi stores; it is actually a sin to do so. The handkerchief given to me} is made with foreign yarn. I see a very small number of weavers here. Of the three classes of them, I do not see any members of the untouchable communities. A gentleman wrote to inform me that such members would not be admitted. I told him that in that case I also would leave the place.

The next time you hold a conference, invite weavers of this class. Your manner of carrying on your profession is not the right one. If you follow it for the benefit of the country, you should produce additional yam, or have it produced by others, and weave that. You will find it difficult to weave this yam, but you should not mind it. If young boys and girls spin daily for one hour, all the cotton we produce can be turned into yam. It would not be right for me to ask you to produce fine cloth for the country at this time. A fire of sorrow is raging at present and I want, if I can, to bum the men and women of India to ashes in this fire. I must tell the weavers that it is a matter of grief that the cloth which they wear is not produced by them.

(Speech at “Antyaj” Conference, Nagpur, December 25, 1920)

I feel very happy in taking the chair at this meeting. I am very glad to see present here such a large number of people belonging to non-Antyaj communities. I have been studying the conditions of the Antyaj com­munities for many years now. On this matter, I differ from our great reformers. I do not follow the same method of work as they do. I have been thinking over their method of work ever since my return to India, but I have not felt that the work I have been doing is inadequate or that the work of others is better than mine. It is possible, of course that my work is inadequate, but my faith is that it is not. My method of work is this. The practice of untouchability IS a sin and should be eradicated. I look upon it as my duty to eradicate this sin; it is, however, to be eradicated on the initiative of the other Hindus, not the Antyajas. The practice of untouchability is an excrescence on Hinduism. I said once in Madras that I saw terrible Satanism in our Empire and that, if I could not mend it, I wanted to end it; likewise, I believe that the practice of untouchability is a great Satanism in Hinduism.

The late Mr. Gokhale, on being acquainted with all the facts about our position in South Africa, asked why it should surprise us that our condition was so miserable. Just as we look upon the Antyajas as untouchables, so the Europeans look upon all of us, Hindus and Muslims, as untouchables. We may not reside in their midst, nor enjoy the rights which they do. The whites of South Africa have reduced Indians to the same miserable plight to which we Hindus have reduced the Antyajas. In the Colonies of the Empire, outside India, the conduct of the whites [towards Indians] is exactly like that of the Hindus towards the Antyajas. It was this which prompted Shri Gokhale to say that we were tasting the fruit of the Satanism practiced by Hindu society, that it had committed a great sin, had been guilty of extreme Satanism, and that this was the reason for our wretched plight in South Africa. I immediately agreed. What he said was perfectly right. My subsequent experience has confirmed it. I am a Hindu myself and I claim to be an orthodox one. It is my further claim that I am a sanatani Hindu. At present I am engaged in a great dispute with the Hindus in Gujarat. They, especially the Vaishnavas, reject my claim to be called a sanatani Hindu, but I cling to it and assert that I am one.

This is one great evil in Hindu society. There are many others, but those you may eradicate, if not today, after a thousand years and the delay may be forgiven. This practice, however, of regarding the Antyajas as untouchables is intolerable to me. I cannot endure it. The Hindus owe it as a duty to make a determined effort to purify Hinduism and eradicate this practice of untouchability. I have said to the Hindus, and say it again today, that till Hindu .society is purged of this sin, and Swaraj is impossibility. If you trust my words, I tell you that I am more pained by this evil being a part of the Hindus’ religion than the Antyajas are by their being treated as untouchables. While the practice remains in Hindu society, I feel ashamed and feel unhappy even to call myself a Hindu. The speakers, who preceded me and spoke to you in Marathi, made a kind of attack [on me]. I would be [they said] worthy of the title [Mahatma] which the country has conferred on me – but which I have not accepted-only when Hinduism was purged of the evil of untouchability. When I am pouring out my heart, please do not interrupt me with applause. I ask you, tell me if you can, and am there any method of work by following which one individual may end a very old practice? If anyone could show me such a way, I would end the thing today. But it is a difficult task to get Hindu society to admit its error and correct it. I put into practice what I say.

I have had to suffer much in trying to carry my wife with me in what I have been doing. By referring to my ordeals I want to show to you, Antyajas and Hindus, that this is a task full of great dif­ficulties. I don’t wish to suggest that we should on that account give it up. Only we should take thought about the method of work. This is my reason for not approving of your resolutions. You want to pass a resolution to the effect that the Antyajas should be free to enter all the temples. How is this possible? So long as Varnashram – dharma occupies the central place in Hinduism, it is in vain that you ask that every Hindu should be free to enter a temple right now. It is impossible to get society to accept this. It is not prepared for this yet.

I know from experience that there are many temples which some other communities besides the Antyajas are also forbidden to enter. Some of the temples in Madras are not open even to me. I don’t feel unhappy about this. I am not even prepared to say that this betrays the Hindus’ narrow outlook or that it is a wrong they are committing. Maybe it is, but we should consider the line of thinking behind it. If their action is inspired by consideration of discipline, I would not say that everyone should be free to go into any temple. There are a variety of sects in India and I do not want to see them wiped out. Hindu society has not fallen because of sects or on account of Varnashram. It has fallen because we have forgotten the beauty and the discipline which lie behind Varnashram. You should understand that Varnashram-dharma has nothing to do with the practice of untouchability. To say that the former is evil, that it is a sin, is to apply Western standards, and I do not accept them. It is by accepting them that India has fallen. I do not want to have the blessings and the goodwill of the Antyajas for what I have not done and, therefore, I wish to make it plain to you on this occasion that I have associated myself with these proceedings most reluctantly.

For I am with the Antyajas and the reformers in wanting to eradicate the evil of untouchability, but I do not go along with them in the other things which you and they want to be done. I cannot tell a Hindu-for I do not believe in it – which he may freely eat and drink in the company of any other Hindus or that all Hindus should freely intermarry. This is not necessary. A man who refrains from these things, I say, may be a man of self-control or he may even be a man of license. I believe that it is with a view to self-control that people refrain from them. I myself eat and drink in the company of Antyajas. I have adopted the daughter of an Antyaj family and she is dearer to me than my very life. I should not, however, tell Hindu society that it might abandon its self-control. I believe that society has a place even for one like me. It has a place for anyone who lives as I do, without being a Sanayasis. Just as I would eat something offered by a Muslim, if it was otherwise acceptable, so I would accept anything offered by an Antyaj. But I should not like to compel other Hindus to do likewise, for it would mean their casting off self-control, the self-control which protects Hindu society.

To abolish Varnashram or the restrictions about eating and drinking and to eradicate the evil of untouchability – these two are not quite the same thing. One is Satanism, the other means self – control. I am a student and I have been studying this matter. If, therefore, I ever feel that I have been mistaken, I will forthwith admit my error; at the moment, however, I am ready to declare that I see nothing but hypocrisy, nothing but Satanism, in those who have been defending the practice of untouchability. It is Satanism which they are defending. I have explained my limitations and the task to which I have addressed myself, as also my method of work. I do not believe that by working among the Antyajas and educating them, the reformers will succeed in eradicating the practice of untouchability. I know quite a few people who speak much on platforms but hang back when the occasion may require them to touch [an AntyajJ. This method is not mine and I want to tell you that it is not the way to bring about reforms. On the other hand, those who argue that they will change their practice when Hindu society has corrected its error also weary me with their talk. I have been telling the Antyajas that I for one would most certainly offer non-co­operation against a sin of this kind.

I may tell all those other than Antyajas present here that, should all our efforts to eradicate this evil fail, it may even be that, alone, I shall offer non-co-operation against this sin of society-against Hindu society. I don’t think it so difficult to end the Satanism of the Empire. That Satanism is of a worldly nature. The Satanism of untouchability has taken on the colour of religion. Hindus are convinced that it is a sin to touch the Antyajas. It is a difficult task to make them see reason. We are so much in the grip of lethargy and inertia, so deeply sunk in misery that we can’t even think. Our religious heads, too, are so deeply sunk in ignorance that it is impossible to explain things to them. Eradicating the evil of untouchability means in fact persuading Hindu society of its need. It will be impossible for the Antyajas to destroy the crores of Hindus and end the evil of untouchability. If the practice is enjoined in the Vedas or the Manusmriti, they ought to be replaced. But where are the men who will write new scriptures?

I am a man of shortcomings myself, how can I lay down a moral and ethical code for the Hindus? I may only persuade them to do what I want by making myself worthy of their compassion. The task· is full of difficulties. However, if our reformers only realize that to seek to eradicate this evil by destroying Hindu society is a futile attempt, they will be convinced that they will achieve their purpose only by being patient. I tell you, my Antyaj friends; you are as much Hindus as I am, as much entitled to the privileges of Hinduism as I am. If you understand it properly, you have in your own hands the weapons you need, much as we have in our own hands the weapons we need to see an end of the Empire. Just as begging will not avail us for this purpose, so also the means of ending the practice of untouchability is in the hands of the Antyajas themselves. If they ask me to teach them non-co-operation, I am ready to start this very evening. Non-co-operation is a process of self – purification. India is different from other lands and, therefore, we do not seek to get what we want by making things hot for the British. What, then, is the way to purify ourselves? Hindus say that the Antyajas drink, that they eat anything and everything, that they do not observe rules of personal cleanliness, that they kill cows.

I do not believe that all this is true. No one who claims to be a Hindu can eat beef. If the Antyajas want to employ non-co-operation, they should give up drinking and eating beef or, at any rate, killing cows. I do not ask the tanners to give up their work. Englishmen do this work but we don’t mind saluting them. These days even Brahmins do it. I see no unclean in doing sanitary work. I have myself done that work for a long time and I like doing it. My mother taught me that it is holy work. Though it means handling unclean things, the work itself is holy. Anyone who does it and looks upon it as holy work will go to heaven. You can remain in the Hindu fold without giving it up. If anyone offers you left­over food or cooked food, you should refuse to accept it and ask him to give you grains instead. Be clean in your habits. When you have finished your work of cleaning latrines, change your dress. Though doing this work, you should observe as much cleanliness as my mother did. You will ask me how you are to get clothes into which you may change; you should, in that case, tell the Hindus that you will not work unless you get Rs. 15 or 20 or 30, whatever you think you need, you can tell them that you perform an essential service for society, in the same way that carpenters and blacksmiths do. Make yourselves fearless. I know the Antyajas of Gujarat, know their nature. I teach them this same thing, that they should end the evil of untouchability by their own strength, that they should live as thorough – going Hindus so that other Hindus may honor them instead of despising them.

I want to get the thing done through you or through Hindu society itself. I ask you to make yourselves fit for the rights which you demand. By saying so, I do not wish to suggest that you are not already fit. When I ask the country to be fit for Swaraj, I do not imply that it is unfit. I only ask it to be fitter than it is. I tell the Antyajas, likewise, that they have a right to be free, to be the equals of any other Hindu; I ask them, however, to do tapashcharya and be fitter for these things. Speaking of tapashcharya, I should like to tell you of two incidents in my life. After I had started the Satyagraha Ashram in Ahmedabad, I admitted to it an Antyaj friend, named Dudhabhai, and his wife. How did our Hindus behave at the time? Dudhabhai’s wife was not allowed to draw water from the well which we had been using. I told them that, in that case, I, too, would not avail myself of that well. I had a share in the use of that well. But I let it go.

How did Dudhabhai behave? He remained perfectly calm, bearing the abuse in silence. With this tapashcharya, the difficulty was overcome in three days, the people having realized that Dudhabhai, too, was free to draw water from that well. This same Dudhabhai’s daughter, Lakshmi, lives in my house, moving like [Goddess] Lakshmi indeed. If all of you learnt to do the tapashcharya which Dudhabhai did, your suffering would be over this very day. And now I address myself to Hindus other than Antyajas and tell them that they should be brave and get rid of this sin of theirs. I believe that I am a religious man. You may even say that I am superstitious. I believe that so long as you have not rid yourselves of this sin, have not begged forgiveness of the Antyajas, you will be visited with no end of misfortunes. Know that the practice of untouchability is a sin. If you can, by your own voluntary effort, purge yourselves of the evils in you, you will have freedom for the asking. I will cite another instance to show the flexibility of Hinduism. When I returned from South Africa, I had, accompanying me, a boy named Naidu belonging to the Panchama community. Shri Natesan is a sincere worker in the cause of the Antyajas.

Once I was to stay in his house when I was in Madras on my way to Ahmedabad. Many friends asked me if I knew what I was doing. Natesan’s mother [they said] was so orthodox in her ideas that it would be the death of the old lady to know that I was accompanied by an Antyaj boy. I told them that I would prefer to avoid Natesan’s house rather than send away the boy elsewhere. Natesan, however, is a straightforward man. He went to his mother and told her the real fact. She said the boy was welcome. She had understood that a boy accompanying me could not lack cleanliness. I, too, had seen that he did not. We stayed in his house and drew our water from the very same well which the lady was using. What does this incident prove? That like Natesan, other caste Hindus can succeed, by the purity of their character and their straightforwardness, in winning over their mothers and sisters. The point is that this problem can be solved only through the sincerity of caste Hindus and the tapashcharya of the Antyajas. I pray to God to give wisdom and patience to the Antyajas so that they may not turn away from the path of dharma. On behalf of the Hindus, I pray to God that He may save Hindu society from this sin, from this Satanism.

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One Response to “Gandhiji address on September 26, 1896, in Bombay on the grievances of South African Indians.”

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