My contact and conversation with Gandhiji not only confirmed me in atheism but turned my thoughts more towards practical programmes. Hitherto, for the removal of untouchability, my programme had consisted of only cosmopolitan dinners. I thought I should go a step further. There should be inter-marriages. Only inter-marriages will efface the differences of caste, creed, and colour.
My atheistic outlook does not recognize differences of caste or creed. But that is not enough. Those labels are extant in society at large. I should take them as they are and mix them up in marriage alliances. So I discussed my idea with my wife and with my eldest daughter (Manorama). They accepted my programme. My daughter agreed to marry an ‘untouchable’.
I informed Bapuji of the decision of my family and of the atheistic way of thinking that led to the decision. The following is a translation into English of his reply in Hindustani:
Bhai Ramachandra Rao
I have your letter. I like it. I am also glad that you have resolved to marry Manorama to a Harijan. But your inference in favor of atheism is not correct; or as I believe, your atheism takes the shape of theism.
I am prepared to get the marriage performed in the Sevagram Ashram; and I shall keep the same ceremony as I did for Tendulkar and the priest who will perform the ceremony under my supervision will be a Harijan. You are welcome to make any suggestions in this respect. One more thing — Manorama is 17 years old, perhaps I remember her also. I suggest that she should wait for at least two years. If your idea is that the ceremony might be performed now, but the girl should stay with the husband, on attaining the age of 19, my advice is that you should perform the marriage when she becomes fit to stay with her husband. In the meantime they should get themselves trained in such other things as they should know. At least they might learn Hindustani in both the scripts; and the charkha with the ancillary processes.
(The body of the letter is in the hand of Shri Kanu Gandhi; the portion in italics is in Bapu’s own handwriting.)
The next month Bapuji came to Madras to preside over the Jubilee Celebrations of the Hindustani Prechar Sabha. I met him at Madras for elucidation of the points raised in his letter.
I expressed my thankfulness to Bapuji for agreeing to celebrate my daughter’s marriage in the Ashram. I also saw the desirability of postponing, according to his suggestion, of the solemnization for two years and of training up my son-in-law (Arjun Rao) during those two years in the Ashram. Regarding the details, I said, “Perhaps, in the course of the marriage ceremony, you will invoke divine blessings for the couple, or say the words: ‘in the name of God’. My daughter and my son-in-law are atheistically minded. They will not be parties to such implied belief in god.
Gandhiji: In the case of your daughter’s marriage, I will say ‘in the name of Truth’ instead of ‘in the name of God’. Atheists also respect truth.
I: Yes. Atheists regard truthfulness as a social necessity. Truth binds man to man in association. Without truth there can be no social organization.
G: Not only that. Truth means existence; the existence of that we know and of that we do not know. The sum total of all existence is absolute truth or the Truth. (Gandhiji spoke at length on the subject of the absolute truth.)
I: I think, truth is only relative to human experience. The concept of the absolute truth which is beyond human experience is but a hypothesis formulated by man for the convenience of his thought process. Any absolute, like the infinite, is only an imaginary something.
G: The concepts of truth may differ. But all admit and respect truth. That truth I call God. For sometime I was saying, ‘God is Truth,’ but that did not satisfy me. So now I say, ‘Truth is God.’
I: If truth is god, then why don’t you say ‘Satyam … ‘ instead of ‘Raghupati Raghava’? ‘Raghupati Raghava’ conveys to others a meaning very different from what it conveys to you.
G: Do you think I am superstitious? I am a super-atheist.
There was visible emphasis in these words.
I felt that this matter must be thrashed out fully some time. But that was not the proper occasion for it. The topic before us was the form of my daughter’s marriage and I thought I had better confine myself to it just then.
As it was agreed that in the form of the ceremony there would be mention of ‘truth’ instead of ‘god’, I passed on to the next point.
I: While I was in the Ashram, I was not attending the prayers. But my stay in the Ashram has been hitherto short and broken. Now Arjun Rao will be in the Ashram for two years. There must be a clear understanding about the discipline. What shall be his position in relation to attendance at the prayers, Bapu?
G: Let him attend the prayers as a matter of discipline of the Ashram. But let him not recite the verses if he does not believe in them.
I was very much impressed by his spirit of accommodation. He showed me by example how to give practical shape to principles.
He continued, “Suppose in the two years that Arjun Rao sits regularly at the prayers, he turns towards theism?”
I: I will be very happy, Bapu. I do not want any one to be an atheist with closed mind. He should be an atheist out of conviction. If he takes to theism out of conviction, I welcome such a change in him.
G: Oh, yes. I know you are not a fanatic. Instead of Arjun Rao taking to theism, it looks as if both of you will carry this old man into your camp! (He returned the complement and laughed heartily. His large-heartedness was evident at every turn.)
In February, 1946, Arjun Rao accompanied Gandhiji to Sevagram. There he stayed for two years. He was attending the prayers but he was not reciting the verses.
Towards the end of 1947, Bapuji intimated to me that the marriage would be performed in April 1948. But he was assassinated in January 1948. The ashramites who knew the details of Bapuji’s promise, solemnized the marriage of my daughter, Manorama, with Arjun Rao in the Ashram on 13-3-’48. All references to god were scrupulously avoided in the form of that ceremony. Thus Bapuji’s promise was fulfilled and my atheistic requirements too were fully respected.
Gandhi’s advice to Arjun Rao
At Sevagram Gandhi told Arjun, “You should become like Ambedkar. You should work for the removal of untouchability and caste. Untouchability must go at any cost.”