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Mark Lindley

with a foreword by
Y. P. Anand
Director, National Gandhi Museum,
New D elhi

4th edition

Humanist Chaplaincy
Harvard University

I feel privileged to write this foreword to Prof. Lindleys monograph, Gandhi and Humanism.
There is hardly a subject of common human concern on which Gandhi did not say something
basic and profound, and Prof. Lindley shows how (as with any thinking person) some of Gan-
dhis views evolved and matured with experience. In Gandhis own words:
In my search after Truth I have discarded many ideas and learnt many new things. Old as I am in age,
I have no feeling that I have ceased to grow inwardly.... What I am concerned with is my readiness to obey
the call of Truth, my God, from moment to moment.

Even so, I believe (and Prof. Lindleys research bears out) that there was little change in Gandhis
fundamental principles. It was in their practice that he added to and subtracted from his strat-
egies and tactics.
He worshiped God as Truth only. He said:
As long as I have not realized this absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have
conceived it.

To Gandhi this meant that he must give equal regard to other peoples sincere views.

It is also notable that while his faith in non-violence was absolute, when faced with choosing
between violence and cowardice he would prefer violence because cowardice meant running
away from Truth itself.

Gandhi came from a deeply religious Hindu family and absorbed the philosophical roots of his
inherited religion: unity of all life, universal brotherhood and tolerance, and voluntary poverty.
He observed quite strictly these tenets in his own behavior, but as a mass leader had to go along
with their attenuation among his followers.
Prof. Lindley lists in his introduction some tenets which he takes as humanistic. I would go along
with most of the list except for the exclusion of beliefs in deities and in life after death. (As Prof.
Lindley shows, Gandhi did not believe in deities, but did in rebirth.) Among Indians such
religious beliefs are common and, I believe, impart much of the humanistic content present in
Indian society, whereas the absence of such beliefs among many communists and some capital-
ists has helped breed an inhumane intolerance in the communists and exploitation of human
beings by the capitalists. It may also be mentioned that among some Hindus, to regard rivers,
mountains, trees and cows as deities has engendered a deep ecological concern, while the
belief in rebirth tends to guide such people along a righteous path.
In regard to moksha, although salvation is a proper literal translation of the word, I feel that
self-realization is closer to representing its connotation when used as a religious term. Soon
after reaching South Africa, Gandhi posed a series of questions on religious matters to his only
known religious mentor, Rajchandra (who was in Bombay). After two initial questions about
God, the next one was: What is moksha? Rajchandras reply included the following:

[It] is the absolute liberation of self from anger, conceit, greed and nescient propensities that bind the soul
with earthly coils and other limitations. There is a natural urge in life to be free from all bondages and

Yet Gandhi would, again and again, relate his spiritual precepts to seeking truth on Earth and
to service of and identification with the poorest. In him there was little of the other-worldliness
typically associated with withdrawal from society.

Prof. Lindleys writings on Gandhi are very well researched, focused and stimulating, and suffer
less from a devotional tone than is often the case with Indians like me. This monograph is yet
another valuable edition by him, which serious students of Gandhijis life and philosophy will

Dr. Y. P. A nan d, Director,

National Gandhi Museum
Rajghat, New Delhi - 110 002
27th November 1998


People began already in 1914-151 to call Gandhi a mahatma a great souland after the Great
Trial of 1922, writers in the West (such as Romain Rolland2) as well as in India (Sarojini Naidu3)
began to compare him with Jesus. In 1944 Einstein wrote that generations to come might
scarce believe that such a man ever in flesh and blood walked on this earth.4 And when Gandhi
was assassinated in 1948, not only did Nehru say, The light has gone out of our lives... and yet
a thousand years later that light will still be seen,5 but also the American general Douglas Mac-
Arthur declared correctly, I believe that Gandhis ideas must play a significant role in the
evolution of civilization, if it is to survive.6

Gamdhi was often called a saint and a politician, but there was nothing theological or other-
worldly about his main political principle: that the quality of your means is more important than
how soon, or even if at all, you attain your stated goal. He learned this not from religion, but
from observing his father in his work as chief minister of the principality of Rajkot:

My father would never ask any of the servants to do anything for him, but would insist on
my doing it.... He simply doted on me; it is hard to find a father as loving as he was.... He was
a very strict disciplinarian. No; you will do this, not that. This has got to be done.
Whats this nonsense? Who did it this way? would come out from his lips with
irresistible finality.... [And] even when the most confidential consultations were going on, or
when the most celebrated state representative was visiting him, he would have me by his

In this light one can see that Gandhis social conservatism his concern not to destroy too much
of Indias social fabric was due to his awareness that success in the anti-colonial movement
would entail the responsibility of governing.

It would take a book to do justice to the theme of Mahatma Gandhi the politician. 8 Here I would
like instead to outline briefly a related, yet often ignored aspect of his development in his very
last years: how he became more humanistic, and hence somewhat more free of traditional
religious influences, than he had been in earlier days. I will concentrate on a few topics in regard
to which he changed his mind at least to some extent: (1) how to treat animals, (2) euthanasia, (3)
moksha (salvation after death), (4) atheism, (5) ecological providence, (6) religious vs human
identity, (7) caste, and (8) intermarriage between members of different castes or different reli-
gions. For this purpose I will take as humanist the following ideas: we humans are distinctly
more important than animals; among us there are no inborn categories making a basic hierarchy;
there are no supernatural persons (no deities); nobodys soul has another life after death; and,
certain extreme circumstances call for euthanasia.

Gandhi explained to a Western journalist in 1922 his Hindu view of animals:

[Q.] You think we come back again to this Earth?

[A.] Yes. I think we all come back again if we are not pure enough to go to heaven....
[Q.] And do you believe animals have souls too?
[A.] Yes, we never kill them at our ashram [commune]....
[Q.] But do you not think a mans life is worth more than an animals?... Supposing you were
confronted by a crocodile and you could only escape by injuring it....
[A.] ...I ought to say to this crocodile, Your need is greater than mine, and let it devour
[Q.] But surely a mans soul is different from that of a crocodile if it has one at all. You
remember what Chesterton says about it: When a man is taking his sixth whisky and soda,
and is beginning to lose control over himself, you come up to him and give him a friendly tap
on the shoulder and say, Be a man. But when the crocodile is finishing his sixth missionary,
you do not step up to it and tap it on the back and say, Be a crocodile. Doesnt this show
[that] a man has an ideal in him to strive after in a way that no animal has?
[A.] [Laughter.] True, there is a difference between the souls of men and of animals. Animals
live in a sort of perpetual trance, but man can wake up and become conscious of God. God
says, as it were, to man, Look up and worship Me; you are made in My image.
[Q.] And the souls of animals, where do they come from? Do you think the soul of a man can
become the soul of an animal?
[A.] Yes. I think [the] horrible and evil creatures are inhabited by the souls of men who have
gone wrong....9

He was passionately opposed to vivisection:

I abhor vivisection with my whole soul, I detest the unpardonable slaughter of innocent life
in the name of science and humanity so-called.... Even as we are slowly but surely discovering
that it is an error to suppose that Hindus can thrive upon the degradation of a fifth of
themselves [the Untouchables] or that people of the West can thrive upon the exploitation
and degradation of the Eastern and African nations, so shall we realize in the fullness of time
that our dominion over the lower order of creation is not for their slaughter, but for their
benefit equally with ours. For I am as certain that they are endowed with a soul as that I am.10
and likewise to the slaughter of sheep in the temple of Kali (the goddess for whom the city of
Calcutta is named):

My soul rises in rebellion against the cold-blooded inhumanity that goes on [there] in the
name of religion. If I had the [moral] strength I would plant myself before the gate of the
temple and tell those in charge of it that before they sacrificed a single innocent animal they
should have to cut my throat.11 [1928]

He would interpret in this light the traditional Hindu doctrine of cow-protection:

The cow is merely a type for all that lives. Cow-protection means protection of the weak, the
helpless.... Man becomes then not the lord and master of all creation but he is its servant.12

By the late 1920s, however, he had modified his position:

I cannot bring myself to discard the use of disinfectants like kerosene etc. to rid myself of the
mosquito pest and the like. I suffer snakes to be killed in the ashram when it is impossible to
catch them and put them out of harms way. I even tolerate the use of the stick to drive the
bullocks in the ashram.... [Such are] my imperfections in the practice of ahimsa [non-
violence].13 [1928]

Later he shifted yet further away from the idea that animals are as important as people. In 1937
he advised a young German member of his ashram, Herbert Fischer, that it would be best to kill
a poisonous snake which might otherwise kill a human being;14 and in the early 1940s he
explained to his English disciple, Mirabehn:

If I had the fearless power to tame [dangerous stray animals] by the force of my love and my
will, and could show others how to do likewise, then I should have the right to advise other
people to follow my example. But I have not that power. I must, therefore, advise others to kill
all creatures dangerous to human life, such as tigers, bears etc., snakes, scorpions etc., as well
as rats and other crop-destroying vermin. It should be done in the most humane way
[Q.] Then this means that you are no longer satisfied with the catching of snakes, rats etc.,
and the turning of them loose elsewhere, as is done in Sevagram [Gandhis ashram] and other
[A.] That is right. If one is not prepared to live in the company of these creatures oneself, one
has no right to turn them loose on other peoples land. For that is what it comes to....15
He remained always a vegetarian (once he had become convinced of it, in London in 1888), but
a crisis of famine led him to advocate in 1946 a vigorous program of offshore fishing:

Fish abound in the seas around the coast of India. The war is over; there are innumerable
small and medium-size vessels which were used for doing patrol and guard duties along our
shores for the last five years. The R[oyal] I[ndian] N[avy] could arrange about staffing these,
with the Department of Fisheries giving all assistance.... Dry fish does even now form part of
the normal diet of a great number of people who are very poor that is, when it is available
and they can afford to buy it.

And meanwhile, on one occasion in 1945 he even abandoned his opposition to vivisection. In a
class for nurses at Sevagram, a biologist was about to demonstrate the phenomenon of heartbeat
by dissecting a live frog. There were protests and an urgent appeal to Gandhi, but he replied:

Dissect the frog if that is the only way to explain the heartbeat.17

Sevagram today has a scientifically oriented hospital and medical school as well as Gandhis ashram and
a museum.
Gandhis endorsement of euthanasia was occasioned by his having to decide, in 1938, what to
do about a calf that had been maimed and was in agony:
The surgeon whose advice was sought in the matter declared the case to be past help and
past hope. The suffering of the animal was so great that it could not even turn on its side
without excruciating pain.... In all humility but with the clearest of convictions, I got in my
presence a doctor kindly to administer the calf a quietus by means of a poison injection. The
whole thing was over in less than two minutes.
...Would I apply to human beings the principle I have enunciated in connection with the
calf? Would I like it to be applied in my own case? My reply is Yes.... [And,] supposing that
in the case of an ailing friend, I am unable to render any aid and recovery is out of the question
and the patient is lying in an unconscious state in the throes of agony, then I would not see
any himsa [violence] in putting an end to his suffering, by death.18

Moksha (salvation) is the Hindu equivalent of Buddhist nirvana, whereby ones soul
allegedly escapes from the burden of further transmigrations and rebirths, and instead joins
eternally the universal soul, like a drop of water returning blissfully to the ocean. For most of
his life Gandhi took this idea seriously. Not long after his invention of satyagraha (highly
disciplined and thoroughly organized non-violent group protest against injustice), he said:

I have not yet reached the stage when I can attain liberation but I do believe that if I leave this
body while treading the path along which my thoughts are nowadays running, I shall be
reborn and speedily attain moksha at the end of that life.19 [1908]

A characteristic later reference to moksha is to be found near the end of the preface to his auto-
biography (written in the 1920s):

What I have been striving and pining to achieve these thirty years is self-realization, to see
God face to face, to attain moksha.

And yet by the mid-1940s he would mention it far less often. Someone asked him about it in 1947;
his secretary reported the query and response as follows:

[Q.] From a reading of Gandhis writings [the questioner] had gathered that the root of all
Gandhis activities was the desire for moksha, emancipation. But why was not this aspect
emphasized sufficiently?
[A.] Gandhiji... said the desire for moksha was indeed there, but it was not meant for anyone
other than the individual himself. The world was interested in the fruits, not the root.... He
was still a soul yearning to be free, but ever failing to reach the ideal which he knew to be true.
Hence, it would be enough if he could take care of the immediate task before him, whether
great or small, with all the care and freedom from bias or mental worries which he could bring
to bear upon it.20

This seems a tepid endorsement, if indeed an endorsement at all, of the idea of rebirth-or-
salvation after death. Gandhi did refer, in a set of aphorisms written in 1944, to the idea of mukti
(release), but distinguished it from moksha and gave it a this-life-in-this-world meaning:

We all desire mukti but, perhaps, we do not know precisely what it means. Deliverance from
the cycle of birth and death is one of its several meanings. The poet-saint Narsinh says: A man
of God seeks not deliverance from birth and death; he asks to be born again and again.
Viewed from this angle, mukti takes on a somewhat different form.
Extreme non-attachment is salvation, according the Gita.... How to develop non-attachment?
This can be done by regarding joy and sorrow, friend and foe, mine and thine, as all alike.
Thus another name for non-attachment is equanimity.
As drops add up to make the ocean, we can be friendly and become an ocean of friendliness.
The world would be transformed if everyone in the world lived in a spirit of mutual amity.21

I have put the term god in quotation marks to reflect the fact that Gandhis belief excluded the
concept of a divine person:

God is not a person. God is an eternal principle.22 [1931]

He and His Law are one. The Law is God. Anything attributed to Him is not a mere attribute.
He is the attribute.23 [1934]
Truth for me is God, and Gods Law and God are not different things or facts, in the sense
that an earthly king and his law are different.24 [1940]

He often said that his god (so conceived) was of great practical value. He told Romain Rolland:

I have no power except what God has given me. Look at me. A boy of fifteen could fell me
with a blow. I am nothing. But I have become detached from fear and desire, so that I know
something of Gods power. I tell you, if all the world were to deny God, I should be His sole
witness. It is a continual miracle to me.25 [1931]

For most of his life, explicit atheism was anathema to Gandhi. He would say:

However hard we might try through reason to disprove the existence of God, some doubt
would still remain in the mind of everyone.26 [1929]
We may believe in God because all the world believes in Him.27 [1932]
He would argue that Charles Bradlaugh, an outspoken atheist who was renowned for his good
character (and who had founded the National Secular Society in England in 1866),28 was really
a man of God.29 Gandhis chosen political heir, Nehru, was an atheist,30 but the two men agreed
tacitly to leave that issue aside.
In 1940 Gandhi declined to meet an outspoken Indian atheist, Gora, whose social work he ad-
mired. But later, an Untouchable in Gandhis ashram told him, with due courtesy, that Gora
was working more effectively than he, Gandhi, was for the welfare of the Untouchables. This led
Gandhi, when the British in 1944 released him from arrest, to invite Gora to his ashram; and Gora
led Gandhi to revise his view of atheism.31 Their conversations included the following exchanges:

[Gora:] Like all falsehoods, [theism] polluted life in the long run.... I want atheism to make
man self-confident and to establish social and economic equalities non-violently. Tell me, Bapu
[Father], where I am wrong.
[Gandhi:] I can neither say my theism is right nor your atheism wrong. We are seekers after
truth.... Whether you are in the right or I am in the right, results will prove.32 [1945]

[Gandhi:] For some time I was saying, God is Truth, but that did not satisfy me, so now I say
Truth is God.
[Gora:] If truth is god, then why dont you say Satyam [truth] instead of Raghupati Ra-
ghava [almighty lord]? Raghupati Raghava conveys to others a meaning very different from
what it conveys to you.
[Gandhi:] Do you think I am superstitious? I am a super-atheist.33 [1946]

This private remark went further than the revision that Gandhi had meanwhile made in the last
sentence of the Indian Independence-Day pledge:

I seek, for the fulfillment of my pledge, the assistance of that which we may or may not call
divine but which we all feel within us.34 [1945]

In 1948 the agony of Gandhis last and most difficult fast prompted him, just a few days before
he was assassinated on January 30th by a Hindu fanatic, to shift implicitly, in a public statement,
from Truth is God to Truth is my indispensable ideal. To understand what he said, one has
to take into account his precept that:

My God does not reside up above. He has to be realized on Earth... within you, within me.35

His statement upon breaking the fast was as follows:

I embarked on the fast in the name of Truth whose familiar name is God. Without living
Truth, God is nowhere. In the name of God we have indulged in lies [and] massacres.... I am
not aware if anybody has done these things in the name of Truth. With the same name on my
lips I have broken the fast.... If the solemn pledge made today [to stop the ethnic cleansing of
Moslems in New Delhi] is fulfilled, I assure you that it will revive with redoubled force my
intense wish and prayer before God that I should be enabled to live the full span of life [125
years according to traditional Hindu lore], doing service of humanity till the last moment.36

When discussing in the 1920s and 30s the problem of human starvation, Gandhi would some-
times say that Nature (kudarata) makes readily available i.e. without entailing misery for any-
one just enough for everyones needs food-wise:

If Nature... has implanted in its creation the instinct for food, it also produces enough food to satisfy that
instinct from day to day. But it does not produce a jot more. That is Natures way. But man, blinded by
his selfish greed, grabs and consumes more than his requirements in defiance of Natures principle, in
defiance of the elementary and immutable moralities of non-stealing and non-possession of others
property, and thus brings down no end of misery upon himself and his fellow-creatures. 37 [1927]

It is impossible to explain completely in English the nuances of meaning of the term kudarata. It
refers normally to something that is impersonal, and is thus not a god, and yet is utterly beyond
human control; however, the passage in question shows that Gandhi included under this same
heading the ethical precepts of non-stealing and non-possession of others property. And indeed
when he used the same term in a similar statement five years later, his English translator ren-
dered it as God:

God never creates more than what is strictly needed for the moment, with the result that if
anyone appropriates more than he really needs, he reduces his neighbor to destitution. The
starvation of people in several parts of the world is due to many of us seizing very much
more than we need.38 [1932]

An account of Gandhis last years written by his personal secretary shows that in 1947 he made
a more sophisticated (in my opinion) statement on the same topic this time using the Hindi
word pritvi, which means the planet Earth:

Earth provides enough to satisfy every mans need but not for every mans greed, said
Gandhiji. So long as we cooperate with the cycle of life, the soil renews its fertility indefinitely
and provides health, recreation, sustenance and peace to those who depend on it. But when
the predatory attitude prevails, natures balance is upset and there is an all-round biological

Here the question is how we prefer to identify ourselves: (a) as members (or non-members) of
a religion, or else (b) as members of the human species. Gandhi in the 1920s would character-
istically stress his Hindu identity (partly because he hoped it would help persuade his fellow
Hindus to abandon the doctrine of Untouchability but this hardly means, with someone of
Gandhis character, that his profession of religious identity was insincere):

According to my belief, a Hindu is anyone who, born in a Hindu family in India, accepts the
vedas, the upanishads and the puranas as holy books; who has faith in the five yamas [pre-
cepts] of truth, non-violence, etc. [celibacy, non-possession, voluntary poverty], and practices
them to the best of his ability; who believes in the existence of the atman [the individuals soul]
and the paramatman [the universal soul] and believes, further, that the atman is never born
and never dies but, through incarnation in the body, passes from existence to existence and
is capable of attaining moksha; who believes that moksha is the supreme end of human
striving and believes in varnashrama [the ancient precept of caste: see below] and cow-
protection.... I am happy to declare myself a staunch sanatani [orthodox] Hindu.40 [1921]

Yet in 1946 he praised Goras contrary thought and practice more highly than he ever did those
of any other contemporary, as far as I know:

[Gora:] An attempt... might be made to discourage the use of labels of caste and creed which
raise imaginary barriers between man and man. Not only should the practice of Untouch-
ability go, but the Harijan [Untouchable] should not be allowed to continue a Harijan....
Similarly the Hindu and Moslem differences might be solved by discarding the labels. Such
an attempt will no longer keep the form of communal harmony, but it would lead to the
growth of one humanity.... Though a powerful personality like Gandhiji might harmonize
[different religious and caste] communities for a while, when the personal influence weak-
ened, the communities would clash again. So a permanent solution of communal differences
is the growth of one-humanity outlook rather than communal harmony.
[Gandhi:] Though there is a resemblance between your thought and practice and mine super-
ficially, I must own that yours is far superior to mine....41

A year later, he told a colleague:

Politics have divided India today into Hindus and Moslems. I want to rescue people from
this quagmire and make them work on solid ground where people are people. Therefore my
appeal... is not to the Moslems as Moslems, nor to Hindus as Hindus, but to ordinary human
beings who have to keep their villages clean, to build schools for their children and take many
other steps so that they can make life better.42

But the time was not ripe for this outlook. He could not prevent the spitting-off of Pakistan from
India. The best he could do was to lay the foundation for an eventual peaceful co-existence
between them and to achieve that much, he had to deal in terms of communal harmony. He
did it partly by adding a Moslem self-identity to his Hindu identity. He said:

Even if I am killed, I will not give up repeating the names of Rama and Rahim, which mean
to me the same God. With these names on my lips, I will die cheerfully.43 [1947]

(Rahim is Allah regarded as compassion.) But there were no Moslems next to him when he was
assassinated. His secretary reported his last words as Rama, Rama!44 and this version was soon
reduced to the traditional Hindu invocation, He, Ram!, which is engraved on his tomb.

To understand Gandhis view of caste, one must know that (a) there are hundreds of castes in
modern India, but at a certain time in antiquity there were only four priestly (Brahmin),
knightly, bourgeois, servant; (b) the ancient term for caste was varna; and (c) some 20% of mod-
ern Hindus are in a caste so low that it is not associated with any varna. Their ancestors in
Gandhis day were regarded as Untouchable a concept which he always rejected. For many
years the main reform of the caste system that he advocated was to reduce it to a system of four
varnas, of which the lowest would include the former Untouchables.
Gandhis justification of varna was based in part on the premiss that your natural inheritance is
due not to your parents but to your own karma in a previous life:

In accepting the fourfold division I am simply accepting the laws of Nature, taking for
granted what is inherent in human nature and the law of heredity.... There is scope enough
for freedom of the will inasmuch as we can to a certain extent reform some of our inherited
characteristics. [But] it is not possible in one [re]birth entirely to undo the results of our past
doings.45 [1926]

If Hindus believe, as they must believe, in reincarnation [and] transmigration, they must
know that Nature will, without any possibility of mistake, adjust the balance by degrading a
Brahmin, if he misbehaves himself, by reincarnating him in a lower division, and translating
[a non-Brahmin] who lives the life of a Brahmin in his present incarnation to brahminhood in
his next.46 [1919]

He thought the only real alternative to a reformed caste system would be worse than the system
as it was:

The beauty of the caste system is that it does not base itself upon distinctions of wealth-
possessions. Money, as history has proved, is the greatest disruptive force in the world.47
To destroy the caste system and adopt the Western European social system means that Hin-
dus must give up the principle of hereditary occupation which is the soul of the caste system
[and] an eternal principle. To change it is to create... chaos.48 [1921]

He did not want to limit peoples spiritual or intellectual horizons. It would suffice to limit their
There is no harm if a person belonging to one varna acquires the knowledge or science and
art specialized in by persons belonging to other varnas. But as far as the way of earning his
living his concerned, he must follow the occupation of the varna to which he belongs.... The
object of the varna system is to prevent competition and class struggle and class war.... Varna
means the determination of a mans occupation before he is born.... In the varna system no
man has any liberty to choose his occupation. His occupation is determined for him by
heredity.49 [1925]

In 1931, however, he met an Untouchable-born social worker and political leader, Ambedkar,50
who had earned doctorates at Columbia University and at the London School of Economics and
was not about to accept the idea that people like him should have to earn their living by sweep-
ing the streets. Ambedkar set out in detail and with brilliant logic the arguments against
Gandhis mistaken ideal. Gandhi was not immediately persuaded, but one can see the impact in
a series of rather inconsistent remarks that he made in the 1930s about caste and varna. Some

My own opinion is that the varna system has just now broken down. There is no true Brah-
min or true Kshatriya [knight] or Vaishya [bourgeois]. We are all Shudras [servants], i.e. one
varna.... If this does not satisfy our vanity, then we are all Brahmins.51 [1932]

If eradication of castes means the abolition of varna, I do not approve of it.52 [1932]

When it is suggested that everyone should practice his fathers profession, the suggestion is
coupled with the condition that the practitioner of every profession will earn only a living
wage and no more.... Such was actually the case formerly... [and] such is the varna system
which the ashram is trying to resuscitate.53 [1932]

[Q.] Do you not think that in ancient India there was much difference in economic status and
social privileges between the four varnas?
[A.] That may be historically true. But misapplication or an imperfect understanding of the
law must not lead to the ignoring of the law itself. By constant striving we have to enrich the
inheritance left to us.54 [1934]

[Ambedkar:] There will be outcastes as long as there are castes, and nothing can emancipate
the outcaste except the destruction of the caste system.
[Gandhi:] I do not believe the caste system, even as distinguished from varnashrama [the pre-
cept of varna], to be an odious and vicious dogma. ...If [Untouchability] is a by-product of
the system, it is only in the same sense that an ugly growth is of a body, or weeds of a crop.55
Caste has to go.... The present caste system is the very antithesis of varnashrama. The sooner
public opinion abolishes it the better.56 [1935]
I do not know how a person who rejects... varna can call himself a Hindu.57 [1936]

Later he realized that Ambedkar was right (and at Gandhis suggestion Ambedkar was ap-
pointed chairman of the committee that drafted the Indian Constitution). A Westerner who
visited Gandhi in 1946 reported:

He said he was trying to create a classless and casteless India. He yearned for the day when
there would be only one caste.... I am a social revolutionist, he asserted. Violence is bred by
inequality, non-violence by equality.58

What had finally brought him around, in 1945, was the idealistic decision of Goras 17-year-old,
Brahmin-born daughter to marry an Untouchable-born man.

To marry within your caste has been, as one might imagine, a basic rule of the caste system. Gan-
dhi in 1921 took a more dogmatic view of this rule than he himself had expressed in 1919:

As time goes forward and new necessities and occasions arise, the custom regarding... inter-
marrying will require cautious modifications or rearrangements.59 [1919]

Hinduism... is undoubtedly a religion of renunciation of the flesh so that the spirit may be
set free.... Prohibition against... intermarriage is essential to a rapid evolution of the soul.60

He seems to have had in mind an image of spiritually promising high-caste youngsters swept off
their feet by spiritually crude but sexually fetching low-caste acquaintances. Twelve years later,
he explained:

If I was writing the article of 1921 today, instead of prohibition, I should... say, Self-imposed
restriction against... intermarriage is essential for a rapid evolution of the soul.61 [1933]

Meanwhile he advocated choosing ones marriage partner from another caste within the same
varna. He attended reluctantly the wedding in 1928 of his son Ramadas to a girl whom he found
personally acceptible but who was of the same caste, and that was the last such wedding he
The following extracts summarize Gandhis and Ambedkars views in the mid-1930s:

[Gandhi:] If the law of varnashrama was observed [in regard to hereditary occupation], there
would naturally be a tendency, so far as marriage is concerned, for people to restrict marital
relations to their own varna.63 [1935]
[Ambedkar:] The real remedy [to caste] is intermarriage. Fusion of blood can alone create the
feeling of being kith and kin, and unless this feeling... becomes paramount, the separatist
feelingthe feeling of being alienscreated by caste will not vanish.64 [1936]

Gandhi was deeply touched when he learned that Goras eldest child, a daughter, had accepted
her fathers suggestion that in order to help destroy the caste system, she marry an Untouchable-
born boy (whom she knew but with whom she had no romantic attachment). After making sure
that she was under no duress and after interviewing the prospective groom, Gandhi declared,
Now they are my children. Let them wait for two years and in the meantime let us announce
their engagement.65 At Sevagram he told the young man:
You should become like Ambedkar. You should work for the removal of Untouchability and
caste. Untouchability must go at any cost.66 [1946]

He declared publicly:

We have all to become Harijans today or we will not be able to purge ourselves completely
of the taint of Untouchability. I therefore tell all boys and girls who want to marry that they
cannot be married at Sevagram Ashram unless one of the parties is a Harijan.67 [1946]

He replied as follows to a question raised apropos by a thoughtful reform-minded Hindu:

[Q.] Educated [Harijan] girls can be counted on the fingers of one hand. If they marry caste
Hindus they will, as a rule, be cut off from their own society and... not be able to work for the
uplift of their Harijan sisters from within. If Harijan girls are to marry caste Hindus it should
be on condition that the couple will devote their lives to the service of the Harijans. [Such was
to be the marriage of Goras eldest son.] Otherwise, educated Harijan girls should be encour-
aged to marry educated youths of their own community.
[A.] It is certainly desirable that caste Hindu girls should select Harijan husbands. I hesitate
to say that it is better. That would imply that women are inferior to men. I know that such [an]
inferiority complex is there today. For this reason I would agree that at present the marriage
of a caste girl to a Harijan is better than that of a Harijan girl to a caste Hindu. If I had my way
I would persuade all caste Hindu girls coming under my influence to select Harijan hus-
bands.68 [1946]

And in 1947 he publicly shifted further towards a secular-humanist stance:

[Q.] You advocate intercaste marriages. Do you also favor marriage between Indians pro-
fessing different religions?...
[A.] Although he [Gandhi] had not always held that view, he had long ago come to the con-
clusion that inter-religious marriage was a welcome event whenever it took place.... There
must be mutual friendship, either party having respect for the religion of the other. There was
no room in this for conversion....
[Q.] Was not the institution of civil marriage a negation of religion and did it not tend to
laxity in faith?
[A.] He did not believe in civil marriages, but he welcomed the institution of civil marriage
as a much-needed reform to clear the way for inter-religious marriages.69

In showing how Gandhi became increasingly humanistic during the last and greatest phase
of his long career, I have had to show that some views that he had held for many years were
old-fashioned. This is not as unkind to him as it may seem. His greatness was due in large part
to a characteristic which he shared with modern research scientists at their best: a devotion to
truth as something which one seeks but never claims to have captured altogetherand which
can reside only in disciplined human minds and hearts, nowhere up above.

Books and articles are here referred to merely by the authors names (and, if necessary, a date of pub-
lication) under which they are described below in the list of works cited, except that the abbreviation
CWMG is used for the first edition of the The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi.

1. Gosw am i, 68 . Ke er, 212 .

2. Rolland, Part 3, 5.
3. Tendulka r, II, 102 .
4. Einstein.
5. Harijan, 15/ii/1 94 8.
6. L. Fischer, 11 .
7. Desai, 60f.
8. Rotherm un d. Brow n. Chadha.
9. C W M G, XXIII, 1 07 .
10 . C W M G, XXIX, 325f.
11 . C W M G, XXXVIII, 244.
12 . C W M G, XXVI, 54 5.
13 . C W M G, XXXVII, 409.
14. Interview with H erbe rt Fischer.
15 . C W M G, LXXVII, 207f.
16 . C W M G, LXXXIII, 161.
17 . Gora, 4 0.
18. Tendulkar, II, 421f.
19 . C W M G, VIII, 254.
20 . Harijan, 28/ix/1 94 7.
21 . C W M G, LXXVII, 394.
22. Tendulkar, III, 147.
23 . Harijan, 16/ii/1 93 4.
24 . C W M G, LXXI, 321.
25 . Shulk a, 146 .
26 . C W M G, XLI, 435f.
27 . Selected W orks, V, 3 53 .
28 . Wikipedia. Trib e.
29 . C W M G, XXVI, 22 4 and 571, and XLVII, 404.
30. Nehru (1946), 16f (ch. 1, 6).
31. Lindley.
32. Gora, 44.
33. Gora, 48.
34 . Pyare lal, I, the cha pte r en titled "The N ations V oice ".
35 . C W M G, LXXXII, 334 .
36 . C W M G, XC, 452f.
37 . Navajivan, 29 May 1927.
38 . C W M G, L, 215 . Gandhi, Satyagrah ashrama Itihasa, 49.
39. Pyarelal, II, the chapter entitled Towards New Horizons.
40 . Accord ing to my belie f...": C WM G, XIX, 327.
41. Gora, 52f. CW M G, LXXXIII, 440f and 390.
42. Bose and Patwardhan, 7.
43 . Harijan, 20/v/1 94 7.
44 . Harijan, 15/ii/1 94 8. Lind ley , ch. 5 .
45 . C W M G, XXIX, 410f.
46 . C W M G, XIX, 83f.
47 . C W M G, XIX, 174.
48 . Translated in Am bedkar, IX, 275 .
49 . Translated in Am bedkar, IX, 277 .
50 . Wikipedia. Kh airmoday.
51 . C W M G, LI, 199f.
52 . C W M G, LI, 264.
53 . C W M G, L, 233.
54 . C W M G, LIX, 319.
55. Tendulkar, III, 192f.
56 . C W M G, LII, 121.
57 . C W M G, LXIII, 226.
58. L. Fischer, 425.
59 . C W M G, XIX, 84.
60 . C W M G, XXI, 247.
61 . C W M G, LV, 61.
62 . Inte rvie w w ith Ram adas' widow, N irmala .
63 . C W M G, LXII, 121.
64. Ambedkar, I, 67f.
65 . Lavanam and Lind ley , 35.
66 . Inte rvie w w ith A rjun Rao.
67 . The H industan Standard, 5/i/1 94 6.
68 . Harijan, 7/vii/1946.
69 . C W M G, LXXXVII, 11f.

Ambedkar, B. R. 1979-93 Writings and Speeches (12 vols., Bombay)

Bose, N. K., and P.H. Patwardhan 1967 Gandhi in Indian Politics (Bombay)
Brown, Judith M. 1990 Gandhi. Prisoner of Hope (Delhi)
Busi, S. N. 1997 Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar (Hyderabad)
Chadha, Yogesh 1997 Rediscovering Gandhi (Random House)
Desai, Mahadev 1968 Day-to-day with Gandhi (Delhi)
Einstein, Albert 1944 Preface to Gandhiji. His Life and Work. Published on his 75th Birthday (n.p.)
Fischer, Louis 1950 The Life of Mahatma Gandhi (New York)
Gandhi, M. K. 1927/29 An Autobiography, or The Story of My Experiments with Truth
1948 Satyagrahashrama Itihasa (Ahmedabad)
[Gandhi] 1958-94 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (100 vols., Delhi)
1968 The Selected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (6 vols., Ahmedabad)
Gora 1951 An Atheist with Gandhi (Ahmedabad)
Goswami, K. P. 1971 Mahatma Gandhi. A Chronology (Delhi)
Harijan, English-language periodical founded by Gandhi in 1933 (Ahmedabad)
Hindustan Standard, The 1937- (Calcutta)
Keer, Dhananjay 1973 Mahatma Gandhi (Bombay)
Khairmoday, C. B. 1972 "Ambedkar" in S. P. Sen, ed., Dictionary of National Biography
(Calcutta), I
Lavanam Gora and Mark Lindley 2005 Gandhi as We Have Known Him (National Gandhi
Museum, Delhi; second edition 2009)
Lindley, Mark 1999 Gandhi and the World Today (1998), An American View (University of Kerala)
2009 The Life and Times of Gora (Popular Prakashan, Mumbai)
Navajivan, Gujarati-language periodical founded by Gandhi in 1919 (Ahmedabad)
Nehru, Jawaharlal 1946 The Discovery of India (Calcutta)
Pyarelal 1956-58 and later editions Mahatma Gandhi, The Last Phase (Ahmedabad)
Rolland, Roman, tr. C. Groth 1924 Mahatma Gandhi (London)
Rothermund, Dietmar 1991 Mahatma Gandhi, An Essay in Political Biography (Delhi)
Shukla, Chandrashanker, ed., 1949 Incidents of Gandhiji's Life (Bombay)
Tendulkar, D. G. 1962 Mahatma. Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (8 vols., Delhi; 2nd ed.)
Tribe, D. H. 1971 President Charles Bradlaugh, M.P. (London)