Long before self-serving rath yatras and road shows became trump cards in the boardgame of Indian politics, Mahatma Gandhi went around the country campaigning against untouchability. The Mahatma’s magnificent mission brought him to Mysore, 77 years ago.
In his just released book, Mahatma Gandhi’s Campaign against Untouchability in Karnataka, Dr G.A. Biradar, the Bijapur-born archivist who currently works at the national archives in New Delhi, describes the Mahatma’s journey through Mysore.
Gandhi’s two-day yatra yielded Rs 6,244 in donations.
By G.A. BIRADAR
M.K. Gandhi left Bangalore on 4 January 1934 for Mysore, arriving there early the next morning. Accompanied by Tagadur Ramachandra Rao, V.Venkatappa, Agaram Rangiah and others, he left the same morning for Tagadur where he visited an Ashram and received a purse of Rs 100.
Mahatma Gandhi next motored to Badanaval where he visited the khadi spinning centre and depot and received purses of Rs 155 and Rs 25 from the public and one Rama Mandiram of Badanaval, respectively.
The said khadi centre had been opened some years back by the all-India spinners’ association and which after Gandhi’s visit to the State in 1927 was taken over by the State….
Both spinning and weaving gave employment to large numbers of Harijans. Gandhi spoke to the spinners telling them how they could add to their earnings by introducing improvements in their implements, reforming their habits of life and giving up vices and expenses, which were a heavy drain on their slender purses.
“Let us hope that the progress recorded by this centre will induce other States and local bodies to give greater encouragement to the industry and make the fullest use of resources that are available.”
From Badanaval, Gandhi proceeded to Nanjangud where he was presented with an address in a sandalwood casket by the president of the municipality and another address by the local Harijans.
The casket and other articles presented at Nanjangud were auctioned for Rs 200, the total collections there amounting to Rs, 1,480 including a donation of Rs 1000 from one Srimathi Chinnamma of Bangalore for the construction of a dispensary at Tagadur.
Gandhi addressed the gathering Nanjangud on the uplift of the Harijans, urged them to throw open all sacred temples and wells and appealed to them to blot out untouchability.
“Mysore has been rightly considered one of the most progressive of States in India and, in several respects, far in advance of conditions obtaining in British India. There is progress in all directions.
“Nature has favoured the State with a variety of rich gifts, and they are trying successfully to deserve them. The tidiness of the houses and the cleanliness of the road are in themselves a proof of the refined habits of the people. This could never be enforced from above but was a result of the people’s own culture.”
The Harijan quarters that Mahatma Gandhi saw in Mysore were in keeping with the progressive traditions of the state. They were situated amidst healthy surroundings. The streets were broad and well swept and rows of houses well laid out, and the cottages wore an appearance of cleanliness and contentment. They would be the envoy of urban people living in pigeon-holes.
The welfare work going on among these Harijans was evidenced by a hostel here and an industrial school there, a children’s home at one place and a reading room in another. All this gave Mahatma Gandhi the greatest delight which he expressed in the speech at the public meeting in Mysore.
Returning to Mysore City the same day (5 January1934), Gandhi visited several Harijan localities there and the Adi Karnataka Hostel. At Jalapuri and Dodda Adi Karnatakapur, he addressed the gathering on the uplift of the Harijans and advised the latter to give up their bad habits and lead a clean life.
In the evening he attended a meeting of about 8,000 people and again spoke on Harijan uplift and the eradication of untouchability.
While addressing the people at Harijans’ meeting in Mysore, Mahatma Gandhi said:
“You should conform to the rules of hygiene and sanitation-internal as well as external. Internal sanitation consists in taking the name of God-the first thing to be done after getting up in the morning. That is the breakfast for the soul.”
When he was told that the Harijans of the locality had given up beef-eating, he added:
“It is a matter of deep joy to me and congratulation for you that you have given up beef-eating. I would like you to be able to say the same thing about drink. What is the use of paying for some coloured water which makes us so mad that we forget the distinction between mother, wife and sister? I have heard Harijans telling me that drink is prescribed for them on occasion of marriage and death. I can tell you, without fear of contradiction that is a suggestion of the devil. It is nowhere written in scriptures. I would ask you, brothers and sisters, not to go near the devil. I hope you will take my advice to heart and it will give me great joy when you will be able to say that you have given up drink also.”
The City Municipality presented him with an address in silver casket, while other bodies presented purses with addresses. The total collections amounted to Rs 2,424.
In reply to the municipal address, Mahatma Gandhi at the public meeting in Mysore, said:
“It has given me much pleasure to renew acquaintance after six long years. As you are aware, I came to Mysore State in order to regain my health that I had lost during the tour which I was conducting at that time. And naturally I have the most pleasant recollections of my stay in Mysore. From His Highness the Maharaja Saheb, and his Dewan and other officials to the subjects of His Highness the Maharaja Saheb, I experienced nothing but the warmest affection. You can, therefore, understand more fully probably than before how much joy it must have given me to have come in your midst again. You have added to the joy and pleasure by asking me to perform the ceremony of unveiling a portrait of the late Sjt. Venkatakrishnayya, the Grand Old Man of Mysore. I congratulate the artist upon his effort, because it is a faithful representation of the figure which was quite familiar to me. Perhaps, all of you do not know that I had the pleasure and privilege of seeing the Grand Old Man of Mysore in flesh and blood during my visit. I had then become acquainted with his many virtues. I know then that he occupied a unique place in your hearts. I am quite sure you do not expect me or want me to recount his many virtues. You who were on the spot know them much better than I could possibly do during a brief visit. I only hope that those of his virtues for which you and I prize his memory will be translated into our lives. We may not flatter ourselves with the brief that we have discharged the obligation to his memory by your inviting me to unveil this portrait and witnessing the ceremony and by unveiling it.
“I must now pass on to the mission that has brought me here. The Municipal address reminds me that I should see things which are worth seeing, so that I may carry away happy impressions of the effort that has been and is being made here on behalf of the Harijans. The Reception Committee with very great forethought had arranged to take me, before bringing me to this meeting, to various Cheries (localities) and showed me the improvements made during these six years. And you are quite right in thinking that after an examination of these places I should carry away nothing but happy impressions of what has been done on behalf of Harijans. I must congratulate the State and the Municipality of Mysore on the neatness and cleanliness I observed in all the places visited this afternoon. And I am glad for the assurance that the Municipality will not lose any time in looking after the domestic comforts of the Harijans of this city. In my opinion, sweepers in every city are its noblest servants. It must be a matter of humiliation and shame to have the sweepers and scavenges consigned to the dirtiest places and utterly neglected. In my opinion, they hold the key of the health of every city I their pockets. Any city that dares neglect its scavengers and sweepers commits the crime of neglecting the health of its citizens.
“But my mission covers a much wider theme that the economic welfare of Harijans. We are, no doubt, bound to jealously guard their economic and educational welfare. But this is not enough, if we are to do reparation to Harijans for the untold hardships to which we have subjected them for centuries past. They are entitled to precisely the same rights and privileges as any other citizen. And as Hindus they are entitled to the same social amenities and religious privileges that any other Hindu is entitled to. My mission, therefore, is to invite Savarna Hindus to wash themselves clean of the guilt of untouchability. And If, during the short period of grace open to Savarna Hindus, they fail to do this duty, I have not the shadow of a doubt that Hinduism will perish. You can now understand that this cannot be done by a municipality or even the Maharaja Saheb himself. If you and I will not change our hearts, what can even Rajas and Maharajas do? It is, therefore my privilege, as it is my duty, to invite you to cleanse your hearts of untouchability, the distinction of high and low. If you understand thoroughly the spirit of this message, the change of heart is an incredibly simple performance; and you can see in the twinkling of an eye how, if this change comes about in Savarna Hindu hearts, the economic, social and religious progress of Harijans must follow. It will then be a sign and seal of this change of heart. All these purses you have been kind enough to give me I consider as an earnest of your determination to make that change of heart. May God give you strength to do it and save Hinduism from impending doom.”
On the morning of the 6th January 1934, Gandhi left Mysore for Channapatna. En route he visited Mandya, Sakoor, Maddur, Besagrahalli, Shivapur and Somanahally, where he received purses amounting to Rs.815.
(Excerpted from Mahatma Gandhi’s Campaign against Untouchability in
Karnataka, published by Chaitra Pallavi Prakashana, Mysore, 116 pages, Rs 100, with the permission of the author)
Gandhi had visited Mysore State seven years earlier, in 1927, as a State guest of the Maharaja.
At the beginning of a recorded speech in 1931, he is heard saying this:
“In my tour last year in Mysore [State], I met many poor villagers, and I found upon inquiry that they did not know who ruled Mysore. They simply said some God ruled it. If the knowledge of these poor people was so limited about their ruler, I, who am infinitely lesser in respect to God than they to their ruler need not be surprised if I do not realize the presence of God, the King of Kings. Nevertheless I do feel as the poor villagers felt about Mysore, that there is orderliness in the universe.”