MAHATMA GANDHI MEDIA AND RESEARCH SERVICE

MAHATMA - Life of Gandhi, 1869-1948

Chapter 08, A Cry For Justice, 1932-1934, 9min 3sec, Reel 20

The film depicts Gandhi's struggle against untouchability for the recognition of human dignity, his epic fast in the prison in pursuance of the noble cause and his whirlwind tour of the country shaking the citadels of orthodoxy, spreading a spirit of reform and rejuvenation.

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Commentary

Reel 20

 

Sequence 01 Week after week, news of black repression all over the country trickled in to Gandhi cribbed in the prison yard ...

 

2 But, as conveyed in his letter to the Secretary of State for India, what filled his mind-above all, was the contemplated separate electorate for the Depressed Classes under the new constitution.

 

3 On August 17, 1932, the British Premier's Communal Award confirmed Gandhi's fear of "a perpetual bar sinister", which separated the "untouchables" from the Hindu fold.

 

4 Gandhi felt impelled by a voice from within to offer resistance with the whole of his being. He informed Ramsay MacDonald that he would fast unto death, from the noon of September 20, if the decision was not abandoned.

 

5 In the early morning of September 20, Gandhi wrote to Tagore, "I enter the fiery gate at noon ... your blessing will sustain me in the midst of the storm I am about to enter."

 

6 In a yard of the gaunt, gray prison at Yeravada, the fateful hour approached ... The jail bell struck twelve and with last stroke, Gandhi commenced his vow of extreme self-sacrifice ...

 

7 In a press interview he explained, "I have undertaken fast at God's call for the eradication of untouchability root and branch ... My fight is against the impure in humanity. .. "

 

8 "To do away with all those social inequalities between man and man", exhorted Poet Tagore, "let us join the Mahatma in his noble task of removing the burden of ages upon those who have been stigmatized for the accident of thair birth."

 

9 There were spontaneous demonstrations of love and grief... People suffered from poignant pain and anxiety ... Millions offered prayers and fasted and demanded complete removal of all religious and social disabilities of the Depressed Classes.. .

 

10 Gandhi's fast renovated the dream of achieving India's national solidarity ... Irrational curbs cramping national life showed signs of tottering. . .Temples after temples were opened to the "untouchables". . . They could now draw water from public wells. What social reformers could not do for decades was thus achieved in a few days.. .

 

11 While the whole country outside was seething, sixtythree year old Gandhi, under the shade of a mango tree in a segregated prison yard, was perfectly calm and serene ... His condition was steadily worsening and his vitality ebbing.. .

 

12 Before this stupendous self-sacrifice all differences were forgotten ... On the fifth day of the fast, the caste Hindus and the Depressed Class leaders in consultation with Gandhi, signed the pact accepting joint electorates. The Yeravada Pact nullified the British Premier's decision.

 

13 Gandhi broke his fast of six days and five hours.. .

 

14 Naming the untouchables as 'Harijans' - God's own people - Gandhi began conducting the weekly 'Harijan', from the prison which brought about a renaissance of faith and hope for millions.. .

Pleading for temple entry he argued, "It is the one spiritual act that would assure the untouchables that they are not outcaste before God." In response to a peremptory call from within, Gandhi decided to undertake 21 days' purificatory fast from May 8, for gaining greater watchfulness in connection with the Harijan cause ...

He was released on the same day and he completed his fast in Poona ...

 

15 On July 31, Gandhi disbanded the eighteen-year old Sabarmati Ashram as a gesture of sympathy with those who had lost property in the freedom struggle.

He made it over to the Harijan cause and shifted his headquarters to Wardha - the geographical centre of India.

 

16 On November 7, 1933, Gandhi started from Wardha on an all-India tour for the uplift of the downtrodden Harijans and to restore equality between man and man ...

His plea was, "The inner oneness pervades all life ...

God is one and all life is from Him and in Him. Untouchability is the very negation of this magnificent truth." Gandhi was on the move addressing meetings, opening wells and temples for the Harijans ...

He auctioned articles presented to him and collected funds for their cause.

People loosened their fists. Coins and jewellery poured in ... His reaction was, "I want your hearts also with your money. .. "

Gandhi had one mission before him-the eradication of untouchability. "If we believe that we are all children of one and the same God," asked he, "how can there be untouchability amongst us, His children?"

He organised village sanitation on a rational basis and exhorted the Harijans to give up eating carrion and drinking liquor. He lightened their miseries and restored their self-respect...

 

17 While Gandhi was touring South India, a great earthquake shook North Bihar on January 15, 1934.

 

18 Giving expression to his belief that physical calamities are related to men's morals, Gandhi observed, "With me, the connection between the cosmic phenomena and human fate is a living faith that draws me near to God ... "

 

19 He suspended his tour, rushed to the scene of the calamity, and proved to be a source of solace to stricken Bihar.

 

20 Gandhi renounced the use of conveyance for the Harijan tour in Orissa for cultivating more intimate contact with the villagers who, he wanted, should "awake, arise and realise the sin they had inherited and harboured."

 

 

21 Gandhi's whirlwind Harijan tour of the country ended at Banaras on July 29, 1934. The impression left on his mind was that "untouchability is on its last-legs".