Valedictory address of the training camp organized by Akhil Bharat Rachanatmak Samaj Bhopal, dated 28-1-1986.

I cannot claim to be a Gandhian. I have looked at him from a distance and wondered at the great personality. It has not been possible for me to live up to the ideals of Gandhiji, I must confess. All through my life, my attempt has been not to offend too much the values dear to him. This is what most of us can do.

When Gandhiji came on the Indian scene, things were not as we see them today. Our people had not yet seriously begun to think of freedom. They mostly thought of a greater share in the administration. So he went round and learned at first hand what was happening all over India. He found that there were so many obstacles in the way of our goal of freedom. It was not the British Government alone that stood in the way of our freedom, the real obstacle lay in our own hearts.

While dealing with the British was a political problem, dealing with our hearts was a social one. So Gandhiji began to think of attacking both these problems simultaneously. That was how the Sabarmati Ashram came into being. A social revolution was in the making with the active presence of the untouchables in that Ashram. He had to fight the conservatism of even his wife Kasturba to start this Ashram at Sabarmati, because social taboo against untouchability was so strong in everyone including his wife. It seems, he had to persuade, coax and probably threaten Kasturba to come round to his view. You all know, what kind of transformation he ultimately brought about in Kasturba. You might also remember, how Kasturba became the universally

loved mother of the Indian people, dear to every section, when she passed away in the lap of Bapoo, while a prisoner in the Agha Khan Palace.

Gandhiji wanted to carry the message of that social transformation to every nook and corner of India. So he made it obligatory in the Congress constitution for anyone wanting to join the freedom struggle had to subscribe to a constructive programme. Every congress-man had to wear Khadi, spun and woven by hand. He had to respect all religions. He was bounden not to practise untouchability. When not engaged in active struggle, congressmen had to go to the villages and work for rural uplift. Bapoo advised many of our colleagues to become homeopaths and go to the villages to treat the rural folk. He advised them to practise indigenous systems of medicine to help the poor people in the villages. Those who wanted to stay in the Ashram had to perform all sorts of duties. Everyone had to clean the lavatories and wash the plates including those of the “untouchables” after meals. Even the future Deputy Prime Minister and Prime Minister, Sardar Vallab Bhai Patel and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, had to do this when they stayed at Ashram. Thus, he gave us training in social service as well as in self-reliance.

I look upon Khadi as a symbol of self-reliance. If India has today great attainments in science and technology which have made us one of the foremost nations of the world, it is because of this reliance on ourselves that Khadi has taught us. I am one who believes that it was the enterprise inherent in the ‘takli’ with which Gandhiji sent out his disciples in the 1920s, which is responsible for our access to atomic power on our own today. Having learned self-reliance thus, we have taken our country forward.

I mentioned to you that there were two aspects to his programme one political and the other social. After independence, naturally, the political part was taken care of by the Government. Gandhiji knew even on the eve of August 15, 1947 that transfer of power alone would not move us forward. He was, therefore, in the streets of Noakhali where the problem lay.

The people there were fighting among themselves like mod. Even before power came into our hands, we had started fighting among ourselves. It was mutual suspicion and our propensity to fight among ourselves which, in the first place, invited foreign rulers to India. Once again we were fighting in the name of religion and caste and dividing ourselves. He wanted every Indian to be first an Indian and then, of course, one may belong to any religion. He dreamed of a society in which people of all religions and castes lived as brothers. In his attempt to carry conviction with his people he fought on until he became the sacrificial victim of our own bigots. It was this great sacrifice which ultimately brought some sense into the heads of our people at least for a generation. But the fight has to continue even today.

The unity of the country and the unity of the hearts of the people are identical. So long as we harbour suspicion of one another, so long as we scorn one another’s religion, we offend Gandhiji; we again fire bullets into his heart as it were. We have to remove the feelings of casteism and communalism from the hearts of the people.

Thirty eight years after independence, let us look at the scene. Even today, in our villages people do not tolerate others of a different caste. Can you draw water freely from a tank or a well? Are not our wells and tanks identified

as upper-caste-wells and lower-caste wells? Will one draw drinking water from a well belonging to a scheduled caste or a scheduled tribe ? Unfortunately, after 38 years of independence, these mores persist.

Now, that is the situation we have to face. You are going to the village on a pilgrimage which is going to be hard. You have to accept the big challenge. Most of our villages are still steeped in superstition and are tradition bound. This is what stands in the way of our progress. We have to break this shell of caste and communal prejudice by our action. Mere preaching will not do. We have to make an example of our own lives.

I wish you an exciting time fanning out into the villages of Madhya Pradesh carrying the message of social revolution and to create awareness among the rural people about their rights in free India. Once they are aroused they will take care of themselves.