Sunday, 16 July 2017

Gandhi, untouchability, satyagraha and also Sarabhai

But his own ashramites, and his wife Kasturba, were restive, for into his ashram Gandhi had admitted a young untouchable couple, Dudabhai Dafda and his wife, who belonged to the Gujarati-speaking community of Dheds or Dhedhs that worked with hides. Evidently, Gandhi told Kasturba that if she was unable to live with the Dhed couple ‘she could leave me and we should part good friends’. Kasturba yielded and stayed, but not Santok, Maganlal’s wife, though she had been a satyagrahi in South Africa. Breaking conventions amidst kinsfolk in Ahmedabad was harder.

‘There was a flutter in the ashram.’ Santok fasted in opposition to the admission of Dudabhai and his wife; Gandhi fasted back; Santok and Maganlal packed their bags, said good-bye, and left . Later, however, they returned, having, as Gandhi would say, ‘washed their hearts clean of untouchability’ 

But there was a flutter in the city as well, and in the ashram’s vicinity. Dudabhai and others in the ashram were roundly abused when they tried to take water from a neighbourhood well, and money ceased to flow to the ashram.

Gandhi was thinking of moving the ashram into a Dhed settlement when a young industrialist in his twenties, Ambalal Sarabhai, quietly drove up with a wad of currency, handed Rs 13,000 to Gandhi, and went away. He and Gandhi had met only once before, in the Sarabhai home, to discuss prospects of an ashram in Ahmedabad, but Sarabhai had been impressed by Gandhi’s readiness to address caste inequalities, which young Sarabhai had always found offensive.

The tide soon turned, and Dudabhai and his wife, both showing forbearance, found increasing acceptance from neighbours, visitors and other ashramites. To Gandhi the incident showed ‘the efficacy of passive resistance in social questions’, as he wrote on 23 September to Gokhale’s friend and colleague, V.S. Srinivasa Sastri. In this letter Gandhi also said that he expected his satyagraha enterprise to embrace Swaraj and social questions together

- from Rajmohan Gandhi's "Mohandas A True Story of the Man His People and an Empire"

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