Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fight against social evils


Mahatma Gandhi regarded untouchability as a sin and described it as "a snake with a thousand mouths through each of which it shows its poisonous fangs." And to fight it, he even went on a 12,500-mile tour of India in 1935 giving his four-anna membership of the Congress Party in pursuit of his goal. He was not always a welcome guest in some places. In Pune an angry citizen threw a bomb at his motorcade. He received angry mail from sanatanists. But nothing deterred him. He carried on a crusade against untouchbility with all the force at his command. And, he succeeded in exposing that ancient social sore.
Gandhi was as much a crusader for social reform as he was committed politician. The scene today is totally different. The politician-social reformer is an extinct species now. Social reform is of no one’s concern. For example, the caste is being turned into a political base. The politicians would probably fight tooth and nail to prevent the abolition of the caste system, which today gives them political power. Many politicians would be out of business if caste were to become irrelevant. It is they who are keeping it alive in order to cash in on the system. "The castes are a handicap, they are no sin", wrote Mahatma Gandhi in Young India, June 1931. It is no longer considered a brave thing to fight casteism, or for that matter, even communalism. The point is that caste and casteism is no longer considered something basically offensive. Practically all political parties are guilty of condoning the system.
One has only to read the advertisements in the matrimonial columns of our national newspapers to realize how all pervading, deep-seated and exclusive is our caste system. But, why should one think strictly in terms of caste? Aren’t there enough rituals and customs that call for change? Journals are full of reports of dowry deaths. The custom of demanding dowries cuts across all castes, creeds and communities. It needs to be fought. There are many similar obscenities which go under the rubric of custom or convention.
Cynicism pervades our society. A new culture has taken roots in place of the old. The so-called ‘market culture’ is dictating social changes which were once the prerogative of the committed social reformers. At the height of Gandhi’s valiant fight against untouchability, C.Rajagopalachari, one of the front-ranking nationalist leaders of the time, in an article entitled ‘The Revolution is Over’ wrote: "What remains is but the removal of the debris". He wrote too soon. The debris continues to exist. Our political leaders would not like to see it removed lest along with the debris they too are swept away.


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