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Modi and Gandhi’s Connections

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tehelka (India) reporter S. Anand states that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s comments on Dalit scavengers, on how they must view scavenging as “spiritual,” and Gandhi’s views on the same subject are really not that different:

IF SANITATION work in India brings with it untouchability, disease and death, why then do the Dalits not just give it up? At the least, why can’t they go on strike and ask for better working conditions? It is not that they did not try. In Delhi’s Balmiki Bara in Aryapura, Rajinder Kumar, a Delhi Jal Board sewer worker, offers us some non-textbook history. “Safai karamcharis have raised their voice several times. On July 31, 1957, there was huge procession planned in Delhi. Sanitation workers from several states had gathered. We had been demanding oxygen kits, masks, safety equipment. Nehru’s government imposed Section 144. They opened fire, and Bhoop Singh, a worker from Haryana died.” Today Bhoop Singh is a martyr, and safai karamchairs observe July 31 as Safai Mazdoor Diwas.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi recently said, “Scavenging must have been a spiritual experience for the Balmiki caste… At some point in time somebody must have got enlightenment in scavenging.” Not many found this amusing, but Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s views were not very different. There’s a popular myth that Gandhi was opposed to scavenging. A reading of the man’s own words, found in the hundred-volume Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, reveals that Gandhi romanticised and often justified the labour of “Bhangis”, insisting they continue with “the most honourable occupation”.

  1. Chris permalink
    Friday, December 21, 2007 2:44 am

    From Gandhi’s autobiography I would say that the difference between Narendra Modi’s view and Gandhis is that Gandhi actually performed scavenging himself. He was greatly in favour of the advancement of Dalits, and I would guess that he did not want to see scavanging as a Dalit’s only option, nor as an occupation just for Dalits.

  2. Sunday, December 30, 2007 10:24 pm

    In the final analysis, Gandhi didn’t do much at all for Dalit liberation… I would recommend reading up about Dr. Ambedkar: The father of the Dalit liberation movement. He split with Gandhi and with Hinduism back in the day, believing that social advancement for Dalits could never happen within Hinduism. He became a Buddhist instead, and today, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to follow his example.

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