The story of Mahatma Gandhi we are taught in school and we are made to believe is a lie and it’s time we faced up to it

Click on the image to watch the video of Arundhati Roy’s speech

Reproduced below is well-known novelist Arundhati Roy’s Mahatma Ayyankali lecture at the Kerala University, Trivandrum, on July 17, where she sought to contrast Ayyankali’s contributions to society to those of a “false” Mahatma, Gandhiji. The speech has gone controversial, with Kerala Assembly speaker G Karthikeyan calling Roy’s views on Gandhiji as hurting “anyone who is born in India”. Meanwhile, the police sought the transcript of her speech and the video. The speech and the video have now been released by Delhi-based anti-caste publishing house Navayana:

My comrades on the dais and friends, I’m a little nervous because I wasn’t expecting that I would have to speak to such a large audience. I told Dr Suresh [Jnaneswaran Director, Mahatma Ayyankali Chair] when I was coming that I’m just going to come and make a few informal remarks. I thought there will be hundred people. Thank you so much for coming. I’m going to try and… please forgive me if I disturb the comfort level here because that is what I do. First of all I’m here not as an academic or a scholar but as a storyteller. We all know that every society needs heroes, and in India we are not short of heroes except that I think the ones we celebrate are mostly the wrong ones.

When we look at the life of someone like Mahatma Ayyankali … as a novelist, as a person who has written screenplays, I wonder how is it possible that we do not have a really amazing mainstream film about a man who is a hero. He doesn’t need a scriptwriter. You know he doesn’t need us to add things or exaggerate things about him. He had everything that should make us so proud as a people, as a country and yet so little is known about him outside of Kerala and even inside Kerala among the elites so little is known about a person who, as many speakers have said, even before the Russian revolution—many years before the Russian revolution—had organized peasants against landlords and successfully.

Ambedkar at the Round Table Conference, the First Round Table Conference [in 1930], was trying to make a legislation about social boycotts in rural areas… but years before that Ayyankali was fighting it on the ground. What a story! And what a political conspiracy it is to keep this person, this absolutely amazing man, away from the popular imagination. I did say that sometimes we celebrate the wrong heroes. In 1904 he (Ayyankali) started a movement to ask that his people, the Pulaya people, Pulaya children, be admitted to schools. We come from a nation that suffers a great ill health. The caste system is… it’s not just that it has oppressed Dalits or oppressed, the lower caste as they call them, the subordinated castes—but it has made the dominant classes a sick people. So it’s not just an act of charity for people to think of the annihilation of caste… it is for everyone, for our society as a whole, because we can forget about being like China or being like America as long as we have this disease in our souls.

While I’m talking about changing our heroes, I just want to read you something. In 1904, when here in Kerala there was a movement led by Ayyankali that was fighting for the rights of Dalits to be educated, the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi was in South Africa. What is the legend of Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa? That he fought caste, that he fought race in South Africa… when he came back from South Africa in 1913, he was already being called a Mahatma. Let me tell you that the story of Mahatma Gandhi that we are taught in school and that we are made to believe is a lie and it’s time we faced up to it. It is time we unveiled some real truths here because we cannot be basing our ideas of ourselves as a nation on a lie.

"True" Mahatma Ayyankali
“True” Mahatma Ayyankali

So, while Mahatma Ayyankali was fighting for education of Dalit children here, Gandhi was in South Africa and I want to read to you what he said about Dalit peoples in South Africa. In South Africa at that time there were two kinds of Indians. One were the Passenger Indians who went there to do business, and the other was indentured labour who mostly came from subordinated classes and caste and here is what Gandhi said about the bonded labour:

“Whether they are Hindus or Mahommedans, they are absolutely without any moral or religious instruction worthy of the name. They have not learned enough to educate themselves without any outside help. Placed thus, they are apt to yield to the slightest temptation to tell a lie. After some time, lying with them becomes a habit and a disease. They would lie without any reason, without any proper… prospect of bettering themselves materially, indeed, without knowing what they are doing. They reach a stage in life when their moral faculties have completely collapsed owing to neglect.” (CWMG 1,200)

Now this goes on, this same tone is used about black African people… when Gandhi was in jail he talks about Africans in the most horrible way. Here is a passage written by Gandhi about [sharing] jails with Kaffirs, black people:

“We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the natives seemed to be too much to put up with. I then felt that Indians had not launched our passive resistance too soon. Here was further proof that the obnoxious law was meant to emasculate Indians… Apart from whether or not this implies degradation, I must say it’s rather dangerous. Kaffirs as a rule are uncivilized, the convicts even more so. They are troublesome, and dirty and live like animals. Then he goes on to call them savages… and I have resolved in my mind on an agitation to ensure that Indian prisoners are not lodged with kaffirs or others. We cannot ignore the fact that there is no common ground between them and us and whoever wants to sleep in the same room as them have ulterior motives for doing so.” (CWMG 9, 256-7)

I have followed Gandhi’s writings in South Africa. I started out with looking at the debates between Gandhi and Ambedkar and went back looking at his attitudes on caste and further back at his attitude on race. His doctrine of nonviolence was based on an acceptance of the most brutal social hierarchy the world has ever known, the caste system… what does it mean? What does it say to us? A person who believed that the hereditary occupation of people who belonged to whichever caste they belonged to should be maintained. So I ask you … a person who believed that a scavenger should remain a scavenger all their lives … I will read to you an essay Mahatma Gandhi wrote called The Ideal Bhangi, the ideal scavenger. So, my question is, do we need to name our universities after a person like Gandhi or do we need to name our universities after someone like Ayyankali?

At some point we have to stop being dishonest, at some point we have to face up to centuries of lies we have been told and lies we have told ourselves. There is nothing I’m saying here that is not straight from the horse’s mouth. Everything I’m saying is quoted from the writings of Gandhi himself. I’m not making any judgments. In 1936, when perhaps one of the most famous revolutionary texts, Annihilation of Caste, was written by Dr Ambedkar, one of the most brilliant intellectual, erudite, texts full of rage against a system that still exists today… that same year, in 1936, Gandhi wrote an essay called The Ideal Bhangi… bhangi, as you know in the North is a scavenger…

“He should know how a right kind of latrine is constructed and the correct way of cleaning it. He should know how to overcome and destroy the odour of excreta and the various disinfectants to render them innocuous. He should likewise know the process of converting urine and night soil into manure. But that is not all. My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned.” (Harijan, Nov 1936)

Many years later, today’s Prime Minister Modi wrote a text too, which was called Karmayogi,and here is what he says. He is also talking about bhangis, the Balmiki community…

“I do not believe that they are doing this job to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation. At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (the Balmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods and that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries.” (Karmayogi, by Narendra Modi)

So this is what the powerful people in this country believe… the question we have to ask ourselves is that is it all right to go on naming roads and universities and bazaars and statues and programmes after them or is it time for us to be a little more honest?

I just want to end with a small assessment of caste today. Today we have a government that is proud to proclaim itself as a government of the Hindu Rashtra. It is proud to say that we are a Hindu nation. How did this idea of Hindutava first begin? Early on in the 17th century and earlier, the subordinated castes, Dalits, were converting to Christianity and to Islam in the millions. There was no problem. Nobody minded that. But at the turn of the century when the idea of an empire began to be replaced by the idea of a nation-state, when it was not enough to ride a horse into Delhi and say now I’m the emperor of India… the politics of representation began.

There began a huge anxiety about numbers. You know at that point the “upper” caste Hindus decided, the privileged caste let me say, decided that it would be terrible if the 40 million Dalits continued to convert. That’s when the whole upper caste reformist movement started, of which Gandhi was a legatee. Before that Hindus never referred to themselves as Hindu; they used to refer themselves as only their caste names. But then Hindu became not a religious but a political identity. They started to talk about the Hindu nation, the Hindu race and that’s how Hindutava started.

Today you have the secular liberals. The difference between them and the Hindutva brigade is about how Islam came to India. The seculars say, “You are exaggerating. The fact is that there was no such vandalism.” And the Hindutava brigade says, “No, Islamists came and they broke all our temples and they destroyed our culture.” But you have someone like Jotiba Phule, one of the earliest modern anti-caste intellectuals, who said: “Yes, they broke the temples but thank God they broke the temples. They invited us into their dining rooms to inter-dine and inter-marry.” There was that whole breaking of the caste system which people celebrated. So even our contemporary debates become so weak when you don’t put justice at the core of things.  Thank you.

2 thoughts on “The story of Mahatma Gandhi we are taught in school and we are made to believe is a lie and it’s time we faced up to it

  1. RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is saying ‘the cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva’ The 20th century descriptions of the chitpavans list inordinate frugality, untrustworthiness (Duba Kors), conspiratorialism, phlegmatism. Now it is the Fraud Duba Kor EVMs that has to be exposed because the Duba Kor EVM CJI Sadhasivam, a brahmin allowed the Lok Sabha with majority fraud tamperable Duba Kor EVMs at the request of Duba Kor EVM CEC Sampath another brahmin to replace the Duba Kor EVMs in phased manner that helped RSS’s BJP to acquire the MASTER KEY.
    Till all the Duba Kor EVMs are replaced with fool proof Voting system the present CJI must order to scrap the present Lok Sabha.& have a collegium system of picking judges from SC/ST/OBC/Minorities for having a fool proof voting system to safeguard Liberty, Fraternity and Equality as enshrined in the Constitution. And also a collegium system in the Chief Election Commission consisting SC/ST/OBC/Minorities for having a fool proof voting system to safeguard Liberty, Fraternity and Equality as enshrined in d Constitution to prevent Murder of Democracy..
    After the Duba Kor EVMs are replaced with fool proof voting system Lok Sabha elections must be held. If chitpawan brahmins have to be sidelined totally because of their politics of hatred towards all non Ariyo brahmins, all the non- ariyo brahmins have to unite under BSP for Sarvajan Hitay, Sarvajan Sukhay i.e., for the welfare and happiness of all societies including, SC/STs, OBCs, Minorities & d poor upper castes by sharing the wealth of the country equally among all sections of the society as enshrined in the Constitution.
    Haughty behavior by the upstart chitpvans caused conflicts with other communities which manifested itself as late as in 1948 in the form of anti-Brahminism after the killing of M.K. Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, a chitpavan. Bal Gangadhar Tilak After the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818, the chitpavans lost their political dominance to the British.The British would not subsidize the chitpavans on the same scale that their caste-fellow, the Peshwas had done in the past. Pay and power was now significantly reduced. Poorer chitpavan students adapted and started learning English because of better opportunities in the British administration.
    Some of the strongest resistance to change also came from the very same community. Jealously guarding their brahmin stature, the orthodox among the chitpavans were not eager to see the shastras challenged, nor the conduct of the brahmins becoming indistinguishable from that of the sudras. The vanguard and the old guard clashed many times. The chitpavan community includes two major politicians in the Gandhian tradition: Gopal Krishna Gokhale whom he acknowledged as a preceptor, & Vinoba Bhave, one of his outstanding disciples. Gandhi describes Bhave as the Jewel of his disciples, and recognized Gokhale as his political guru.
    However,strong opposition to Gandhi also came from within the chitpavan community.V D Savarkar, the founder of the Hindu nationalist political ideology hindutva is castiest and communal duba kor militant stealth political cult greed of power hating all the non-chitpavan brahimins which anger that is madness requiring treatment in mental asylums, was a chitpavan brahmin. Several members of the chitpavan community were among the first to embrace d hindutva ideology, which they thought was a logical extension of the legacy of the Peshwas and caste-fellow Tilak.
    These chitpavans felt out of place with the Jambudvipan social reform movement of Mahatama Phule and the mass politics of Mr.M.K. Gandhi. Large numbers of the community looked to Savarkar, the Hindu Mahasabha and finally the RSS. Gandhi’s assassins Narayan Apte and Nathuram Godse, drew their inspiration from fringe groups in this reactionary trend. Therefore, the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat is saying ‘the cultural identity of all Indians is Hindutva’ covering the above facts. On kobras (the konkanastha chitpavan brahmin Community) of West of the Country. The chitpavan or chitpawan, are brahmins native to the Konkan with a sizeable Christian Protestant.Until the 18th century,the chitpavans were not esteemed in social ranking, and were indeed considered by other brahmin tribes as being an inferior caste of brahmins.It remains concentrated in Maharashtra but also has populations all over the Country and rest of the world, (USA & UK.) According to Bene Israeli legend, the Chitpavan and Bene Israel are descendants from a group of 14 people shipwrecked off the Konkan coast. several immigrant groups including the Parsis, the Bene Israelis, the kudaldeshkar gaud brahmins, and the Konkani saraswat brahmins, and the chitpavan brahmins were the last of these immigrant arrivals.
    The satavahanas were sanskritisers. It is possibly at their time that the new group of chitpavan brahmins were formed.Also, a reference to the chitpavan surname ghaisas, written in Prakrut Marathi can be seen on a tamra-pat (bronze plaque) of the Year 1060 A.D.belonging to the King Mamruni of Shilahara Kingdom, found at Diveagar in Konkan. With the accession of balaji bhat and his family to the supreme authority of the Maratha Confederacy, chitpavan immigrants began arriving en masse from the Konkan to Pune where the Peshwa offered all important offices his fellow-castemen.
    The chitpavan kin were rewarded with tax relief & grants of land. Historians cite nepotism & corruption as causes of the fall of the Maratha Empire in 1818. Richard Maxwell Eaton states that this rise of the chitpavans is a classic example of social rank rising with political fortune. Traditionally, the chitpavan brahmins were a community of astrologers and priests who offer religious services to other communities. The 20th century descriptions of the chitpavans list inordinate frugality, untrustworthiness, conspiratorialism, phlegmatism. Agriculture was the second major occupation in the community, practiced by the those who possess arable land. Later, chitpavans became prominent in various white collar jobs and business. Most of the chitpavan brahmins in Maharashtra have adopted Marathi as their language. Till the 1940s, most of the chitpavans in Konkan spoke a dialect called chitpavani Konkani in their homes. Even at that time, reports recorded chitpavani as a fast disappearing language. But in Dakshina Kannada District and Udupi Districts of Karnataka, this language is being spoken in places like Durga
    and Maala of Karkala taluk and also in places like Shishila and Mundaje of Belthangady Taluk.There are no inherently nasalized vowels in standard Marathi whereas the chitpavani dialect of Marathi does have nasalized vowels. Earlier, d deshastha brahmins believed that they were the highest of all brahmins, & looked down upon the chitpavans as parvenus (a relative newcomer to a socioeconomic class),barely equal to the noblest of dvijas. Even the Peshwa was denied the rights to use the ghats reserved for Deshasth priests @ Nashik on the Godavari.
    Dis usurping of power by chitpavans from the deshastha Brahmins resulted in intense rivalry between the two brahmin communities which continued in late Colonial British India times. The 19th century records also mention Gramanyas or village-level debates between the Chitpavans, & two other communities, namely the Daivajnas, and the Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus. This lasted for about ten years.Half a century ago,Dr.Ambedkar surveyed the existing data on the physical anthropology of the different castes in his book The Untouchables.He found that the received wisdom of a racial basis of caste was not supported by the data,e.g.:The table for Bengal shows that the chandal who stands sixth in the scheme of social precedence and whose touch pollutes, is not much differentiated from the brahmin. In Bombay the deshastha brahmin bears a closer affinity to the Son-Koli, a fisherman caste, than to his own compeer, the chitpavan brahmin.
    The Mahar, the Untouchable of the Maratha region, comes next together with the Kunbi, the peasant. They follow in order the shenvi brahmin, the nagar brahmin and the high-caste Maratha. These results mean that there is no correspondence between social gradation and physical differentiation in Bombay. A remarkable case of differentiation in skull and nose indexes, noted by Dr. Ambedkar, was found to exist between the brahmin and the (untouchable) Chamar of Uttar Pradesh. But this does not prove that brahmins are foreigners, because the data for the U.P. brahmin were found to be very close to those for the Khattri and the untouchable Chuhra of Punjab. If the U.P. brahmin is indeed foreign to U.P., he is by no means foreign to India, at least not more than the Punjab untouchables.
    This confirms the scenario which we can derive from the Vedic and ItihAsa-PurANa literature:the Vedic tradition was brought east from d Vedic heartland by brahmins who were physically indistinguishable from the lower castes there, when the heartland in Punjab-Haryana at its apogee exported its culture to the whole Aryavarta (comparable to the planned importation of brahmins into Bengal and the South around the turn of the Christian era). These were just two of the numerous intra-Indian migrations of caste groups.Recent research has not refuted Ambedkar,s views. A press report on a recent anthropological survey led by Kumar Suresh Singh explains:English anthropologists contended that the upper castes of India belonged to the Caucasian race and the rest drew their origin from Australoid types.
    The survey has revealed this to be a myth.Biologically amp;linguistically, we are very mixed, says Suresh Singh. The report says that the people of India have more genes in common, and also share a large number of morphological traits. There is much greater homogenization in terms of morphological and genetic traits at the regional level, says the report. For example, the brahmins of Tamil Nadu (esp.Iyengars) share more traits with non-brahmins in d state than with fellow brahmins in western or northern India.
    The sons-of-the-soil theory also stands demolished. The Anthropological Survey of India has found no community in India that cant remember having migrated from some other part of the country.Internal migration accounts for much of India’s complex ethnic landscape, while there is no evidence of a separate or foreign origin for the upper castes.Among other scientists who reject the identification of caste (varna) with race on physical-anthropological grounds, we may cite Kailash C. Malhotra: Detailed anthropometric surveys carried out among the people of Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal and Tamil Nadu revealed significant regional differences within a caste and a closer resemblance between castes of different varnas within a region than between sub-populations of the caste from different regions. On the basis of analysis of stature, cephalic and nasal index, H.K. Rakshit (1966) concludes that the Brahmins of India are heterogeneous & suggest incorporation of more than one physical type involving more than one migration of people.
    A more detailed study among 8 Brahmin castes in Maharashtra on whom 18 metric,16 scopic and 8 genetic markers were studied, revealed not only a great heterogeneity in both morphological and genetic characteristics but also showed that 3 Brahmin castes were closer to non-Brahmin castes than [to the] other Brahmin castes. P.P. Majumdar and K.C. Malhotra (1974) observed a great deal of heterogeneity with respect to OAB blood group system among 50 Brahmin samples spread over 11 Indian states. The evidence thus suggests that varna is a sociological and not a homogeneous biological entity.


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