“My Varnashrama” – Gandhi


Letter to Khushalchand Gandhi (August 31, 1918)

In the Ashram, however, from the beginning, it has been our rule not to observe the Varnavyavastha(The traditional Indian social system based on birth and hereditary occupation) because the position of the Ashram is different from that of the society outside. When you were here on a visit, the same practice was followed. Dudhabhai, his wife and Lakshmi all three lived with me at Kocharab and had their meals with me. Dudhabhai’s wife used to enter the kitchen, too. There was also another antyaj boy. What we are doing at present is not new.


varnashrama-dharmaSpeech at Public Meeting,Cuddalore September 10, 1927

Fight by all means the monster that passes for varnashrama today, and you will find me working side by side with you. My varnashrama enables me to dine with anybody who will give me clean food, be he Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Parsi whatever he is. My varnashrama accommodates a pariah girl under my own roof as my own daughter. My varnashrama accomodates many Panchama families with whom I dine with the greatest pleasure —to dine with whom is a privilege. My varnashramarefuses to bow the head before the greatest potentate on earth but my varnashrama compels me to bow my head in all humilitybe fore knowledge,before purity,before every person where I see God face to face. Young India, 22-9-1927

Speech at Tanjore September 16, 1927

I had hoped on coming to Tanjore today to discuss the Brahmin-non-Brahmin question here and I had the pleasure of having a brief discussion with some of the friends this afternoon. I am not free nor is it necessary for me to discuss and place before you the contents of our discussion. But I was exceedingly glad of this discussion. I now understand the movement perhaps a little better than I did before the discussion. I have placed my humble view before those friends, of which they are at liberty to make what use they like. But throughout the discussion I saw a note of one thing which seemed to oppress these friends. They seemed to think that I had identified myself with the notion of inherited superiority and inferiority. assured them that nothing was farther from my thought and told them that I would gladly explain my meaning of varnashrama more fully than I have done in order to remove the slightest misunderstanding as to this question of superiority. In my opinion there is no such thing as inherited or acquired superiority. I believe in the rock-bottom doctrine of Advaita and my interpretation of Advaita excludes totally any idea of superiority at any stage whatsoever. I believe implicitly that all men are born equal. All—whether born in India or in England or America or in any circums tances whatsoever—have the same soul as any other. And it is because I believe in this inherent equality of all men that I fight the doctrine of superiority which many of our rulers arrogate to themselves. I have fought this doctrine of superiority in South Africa inch by inch, and it is because of that inherent belief that I delight in calling myself a scavenger, a spinner, a weaver, a farmer and a labourer. And I have fought against the Brahmins themselves wherever they have claimed any superiority for themselves either by reason of their birth or by reason of their subsequently acquired knowledge. I consider that it is unmanly for any person to claim superiority over a fellow-being. And there is the amplest warrant for the belief that I am enunciating in the Bhagavad Gita,and I am therefore through and through with every non-Brahmin when he fights this monster of superiority, whether it is claimed by a Brahmin or by anybody else. He who claims superiority at once forfeits his claim to be called a man. That is my opinion.
Young India, 29-9-1927

February 14, 1933
I have most carefully read Dr. Ambedkar’s statement for which I cannot conceal my sorrow, but I must also confess he has a perfect right to make a statement as he has done. Harijans have labored under grievous wrongs for ages, and Dr. Ambedkar and other educated Harijans are fully conscious of these wrongs. The marvel to me is that they are not more bitter and more resentful than they are.
Having therefore excused their position, I cannot travel the same length that Dr. Ambedkar would have me do. He has asked me a straight question, and is entitled to an equally straight answer from me.
I have described myself as a Harijan by adoption and in order to qualify myself for the privilege that it is to me, I have endeavoured to enter the very depths of their feelings. I have lived with them, dined with them, and they have always claimed the first place in my thoughts and my prayers. I have done so not to do any favour to them, but as a matter of religious duty.
I am a Hindu not merely because I was born in the Hindu fold but I am one by conviction and choice. As I know it and interpret it, it gives me all the solace I need, both here and hereafter. It solves for me many riddles of life. But it also contains, as it is practised today, the big blot of untouchability in the sense in which it is understood today, that is, distinction between man and man, one occupying the topmost rung of the ladder and another the lowest. If this doctrine of utmost superiority and utmost inferiority, descending from father to son for eternity, is an integral part of Hinduism without the slightest prospect of a change, then I no more want to belong to it than does Dr. Ambedkar. But I am convinced that this doctrine of eternal damnation is a thing utterly foreign to the spirit of Hinduism and the Shastras as I have understood them. There is no superiority or inferiority in the Hinduism of my conception. Therefore I should go the whole length with Dr. Ambedkar in fighting the arrogation of superiority on the part of any individual or class over any other. My fight against untouchability is a fight against this horrid doctrine. If untouchability goes from the heart of Hindus, superiority and inferiority are also gone.
But when Dr. Ambedkar wants to fight varnashrama itself I cannot be in his camp, because I believe varnashrama to be an integral part of Hinduism. It is quite evident that the varnashrama of Dr. Ambedkar’s conception is being practised today, but that is not my conception of varnashrama. In my opinion, at present both varnadharma and ashramadharma are in abeyance, and if I were asked what varna is in operation at present, I would say Shudra varna, not because it is the lowest, but because it is the only thing that remains, for the divine knowledge, the power behind it and wealth for the support of this knowledge and power are gone. Knowledge, power and wealth there certainly are in a way. But in the religious conception of varnadharma, these three have to be used not for personal ends, but for spiritual and social advance. The only thing that remains open for all today is service, also included in the scheme of varnashramadharma, for a spiritual end. Out of that spirit of service, it is possible to revive spiritual knowledge, the power to defend it and the wealth to sustain both. Then, those who are in possession of that knowledge, and will use it for society will be Brahmins, those who use that power for the benefit of society will be Kshatriyas, and those who gain wealth and use wealth, also for society, are Vaishyas. They will all depend for their very existence on Shudras, the embodiments of real service. For me that is true varnashrama, and there is no question of superiority or inferiority in this conception.
The Hindu, 15-2-1933; also The Hindustan Times, 15-2-1933

If we must classify all Hindus according to varnas, there is today no varna other than the Shudra. And the ultimate good of Hindus-ociety lies in admitting this state of affairs. If we admitted this the distinctions of higher and lower varnas would cease to exist without our having to do anything about it. Not that after this no one may endeavour to pursue spiritual knowledge or any other branch of learning; none the less it does mean that all shall earn their bread by their own effort and through body labour and shall apply their other talents in the service of the masses. True, we have not seen varnadharma of this kind being practised; I have however no doubt that it must have been followed in what Hinduism regarded as Satyayuga.
Harijanbandhu, 26-3-1933

Related :: You cannot accuse me of placing a wrong emphasis on varnashrama dharma – Gandhi

Changes in Mahatma Gandhi’s views on caste and intermarriage – Mark Lindley

Gandhi’s Now Little-Known Critique of the Four-Fold Varna Order – AnilNauriya


2 thoughts on ““My Varnashrama” – Gandhi

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