Gandhi and the Contemporary World: Identity, Equality and Social Justice for Women and Dalit

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Mahyandas Karamchand Gandhi popularly revered as Mahantma Gandhi was not only one of the greatest leaders of Indian Nationalism but a major social and political reformer, who played an important role in purging the Indian society of its inherent evils. In this regard, he assumed a pioneering role in attempting to eradicate the social wrongs committee against the women of the contry through ages. Gandhi’s political ideologies, strongly anchores in humanitarian values, were a reflection of his spiritual self. Gandhi through his life waged a crusade for the upliftment of the socially downtrodden, making significant contribution for the enhancement of the staus of women in India.

Women under his aegis, took a milestone step towards re-establishing their identity in the society. Gandhi’s inspiring ideologies boosted their moral and helped them to rediscover their self esteem. Not only their was a general awakening among the women, but under Gandhi’s leadership, they entered into the national main stream, taking part in the National Movement. Gandhi’s reformist spirit seasoned the role that he played in uplifting the status of women in India. The word ‘Dalit’ has for years been used to identify those who fall outside the cast system the Brahmanical social order. However, the term has acquired a political connotation, being associated with the radical movement of the depressed classes in recent time.

The word ‘Dalit’ which in classical sanskrit means broken has for years been used to identify these who fall outside the four-fold caste system in the Brahmanical social order, and have been subjected to untouchability. In the past few decades, however, the term has acquired a political connotation, being associated with the radical movement of the depresed classes. In 1920s , the term ‘Dalit’ gained wide spread usage in association with the caste suystem, to refer to those who were consedered ‘unclean’ and left outside the ambit of the caste order. The Gandhian movement, which has taken of the social condition of the untouchables and the need for their upliftment. In his writings, Gandhi repeatedly refered to how the doctrin of untouchability was a ‘horrible and terrible’ stain on the Hindu faith.

Gandhi: Emancipation of Women

Human dignity is frequently violated on the ground of gender. Women belong to those marginalized section of society that are subjugated in every sphere of life. Women emancipation means the achieve ment of complete economic, social, political and religious equality of women with man, an aspiration whose realization in the course of the twenthieth century has been gradual, varied and incomplete. Their main plank (whose????) was to ensure women some dignity within the family, and their basic message was that women must not be ill-treated and must be given some dignity and status because they are custodian of the family. The reformers were hardly concern with emancipating or liberating women from gender-impose bonds. The gender inequality is the global phenomenon.

All contemporary societies are to some extent male dominated. The position of women reflects the cultural attainments of a society. In the vedic Age women enjoyed a relative high position in the society. They enjoyed freedom for spiritual progress and intellectual development. During the period of Islam and Mughal rule, the position of women slumped. It touched the lowest ebb during the British Raj. (Justify the demand) Buddhism tried to restore the position of women in social life and opened avenues for their socio-cultural attainments. Many social reformer of the 19th century, the foremost among them being Raja Ram Mohan Roy, made persistent effort for the introduction of female education, remarriage of Hindu widows, prevention of childhood marriage and removal of polygamy.

The national movement under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi provided further impetus towords restoration of position of women in Indian society. Gandhi attempted to transport the where they can animate social practices and challenge dominated. ( not clear). This is visible in his critique of traditional gender practice. He writes, ‘ Of all the evils for which man had made himself responsible none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of women’(Mention the source). He held that man and women are one, characheristically declaring that ‘ the soul in both is the same. The two live the same life, have the same feelings. Today women are capable of balancing the both, their family responsibilities as well as the responsibilities at their work place. Women today are not considered only as home makers. They are excelling in their professional feat and the nation feels proud of such women. Gandhi thoroughly studied the position of women in the past, the struggles that they had under gone for their individuality, their place and their role in the social structure.

He evolved new methods for their social upliftment basing on the values of morality, equality and social justice . He wanted son and daughters to be treated by family with absolute equality. Gandhi was against Child marriage. When the child Mirriage Restraint Bill, 1929, designed to discourage marriages between boy of under eighteen or girls under fourteen yers, was passed by the Assembly (which assembly??), Gandhi lent his entire support to it , although , orthodox Hindu and Muslim opposed it bitterly. Gandhi stood against the evil practice of dowry system . He called it as ‘the hateful system of dowry’, ‘marriage by purchase’ , ‘a degrading practice’ and so on. According to him there is in herent evil in the dowry system for those that are involved in it because it results in bondage.

Human being under this system is reduced to a mere commodity in the process of buying and selling followed by bargaining. Gandhi called for the formation of a strong public opinion to discredit the dowry system. He advocated even for the excommonication of those who received dowry. He pointed out, ‘Any young man who makes dowry a condition if marriage discredits his education and his country and dishonours womanhood’. He was in favous of intercommal marriage. He also supported raggiages between caste Hindus and untouchables. He held that if a Harijan girl married a caste Hindu of high character, it wold be good to both Harijans and caste Hindus. If the Harijan girl was really worthy she would spread her fragrance for and wide and set an example.

Gandhi showed a great concern over the plight of the millions of women who became widows. He wished them to remarry and lead a happy life. He was oppsoed to the system of enforced widowhood. He believed that every widow has a much right to remarry as ever widower. Gandhi stated with all emphasis that the curse of every widow who is burning within to remary but dare not for fear of a cruel custom, descends upon Hindu society so long as it deeps the widow under an unforgiving bondage. Gandhi regarded legislation to remove the inequalities of women as essential. He sough the repeal of all legal disqualification and the abolition of all social discrimination and considered it better for enlightened women of India to take up this matter. He wanted India to produce women who were pure, firm and self-controlled in order to achieve this non-violent revolution in Indian society.

Gandhi and Dalit : A New Perspective

Dalit are the Indian’s former ‘untouchables’, so called because their touch was considered polluting due to the work did – handling dead matter (the hides of animals, tanning, cutting hair) or faeces. The fight against untouchability is of ling standing. The efforts of great modern Indian leaders, however, had the greatest impact in bringing public awareness of the need for eradication this acute sand particular form of oppression : Mahatma Gandhi – who call them ‘Harijans’ or ‘children of God’. The constitution of independence India outlawed untouchability and its practice in any form , and directed the government to take affirmative action to compensate untouchable castes for these historical wrongs, the stigma against them continue in both subtle and overt forms to this day.

During the Independence movement Gandhi gave a call to end untouchability by raising the value of all work and removing the indignity attached to ‘impure’ work. After India’s Independence from British rule, untouchable and other oppresserd casted became known as the ‘Scheduled Castes’(SC). In the late sixties and Seventies, vibrant mass movements of these oppressed casted adapted the name ‘Dalit’, which derives from the Sanskrit root verb dal, meaning to crack or split. The Dalit refers to those who gave been broken, ground down by those above them in a deliberate way. The word also inherently denies the notion of pollution of population and karma that were used to justify caste hierarchy and exclusion, and rejects the paternalistic and charitable connotations of the term Harijan, as well as the caste system as a whole. It is interesting to note that the original conceptualization of the ‘Dalit’ identity including all oppressed groups, particularly women.

The Dalit movement thus considered women of even the highest casted as Dalits, because of their oppression. Dalit assertions emerged at defferent points in defferent region of he country. It was a combination of mas movements , powerful writings about caste oppression, and electoral politics, with many parties vying to woo Dalit voters. Strong Dalit Movements took root in several parts of southern and western India. In the agricultural sector, most Dalits are landless or near landless agriculture labor. The Worst of all, Dalits are daily victims of the worst crimes and atrocities, far outnumbering other cector of society, despite the fact that many attacks go unreported for fear of further retaliation. Despite constitutional guarantees to provide social and political equality since Independence, the practice of discrimination against lower castes and particularly Dalits is upheld as part of tradition. In practice, this translated in to strict rules and norms about purity and pollution based of the nature of their occupation.

The lowest caste groups are considered impure because of the work the do and the materials they handle, and hence their living areas are located outsides the main village. They are not allowed access to water from the village well, or allowed to worship at village temples. The food they cook is considered impure and in some extreme cases, even their footsteps and their shadows are considered polluting , forcing them to keep away from the main streets of the village or town, lest they pollute upper caste pedestrians. There is a crucial link between caste and class, and in the relationship between caste ideology and production relation. The upper cast Brahmins (priests and Scholars) and the kshatriyas (rulers and powerful landowners) held the monopoly over knowledge , intellectual professions, land , and political authority. The lower castes were banned from even basic literacy or the right to read and write – and were severely punished if they violated the ban. Yet, they were the ones who laboured, developed and preserved the knowledge of agriculture, of plants, domestic livestock, carpentry, black smithy, fishing.


To understand in depth the role that Gandhi played in improving the position of women in society, it is esential to look at wonen’s status, prevalent at that time. When Gandhi emerged on to the political scenario, social evils like child marriage and dowry system were rampants. It was in such a dismal milieu that Gandhi took the responsibility of shouldering a social crusade that led to a reorientation of the common notion of women in Indian society. According to Mahatma Gandhi, social reforms were essential for the restrueturing of the social values that had so far dominated the perception of Indian women. One of the first tasks that need to be accomplished as soon as the country won freedom was to abolish the system of devzdasis or temple women and brothels.

There was a marked departure of Gandhi’s perception of women from that of other reformers. The stance taken by other social reformers and leaders, prion to Gandhi created a helpless image of the Indian women. With the emergence of Gandhi, a new conception of women gradually gained currency. For Gandhi, women were not mere toys in the hands of men, neither their competitors. Men and Women are essentially endowed with the same sprit and therefore have similar problem. According to Gandhi, education for women was the need of the time that would ensure their moral development and make them. capable of occupying the same platform as that of men. Gandhi invoked the instances of ancient role models who were epitomes of Indian womenhood, like Draupadi, Savitri, Sita, and Damayanti, to show that Indian women could never be feeble. Women have equal mental abilities as that of men as an equal right to freedom.

To sum up in Gandhi’s words, ‘The wife is not the husband’s slave but his companion and his telp-mate and an equal partner in all his joys and sorrows – as free as the husband to choose her own path’. Gandhi saw the ideal wife in sita and the ideal husband in Rama. Both the husband and wife sould be mutualy considerate, and their marital life should be based on true love. He was a big critic of the Hindu practice of considering ‘the wife as the husband’s property’. Regarding the duties involved , both must be mutually dutiful, and on may not be an accomplice in the crime of the other. He considered household place as a means toward the creation of happy society. Gandhi’s ideological position of women related issues has been guided by his belief in differentiation of their social roles and his insistence on self control and morality in all aspect of human life. Gandhi has given an alternative way of social transformation through self-control and self-realization.

Ambedkar’s first comment about Gandhi dates back to 1925 . He said, ‘Before Mahatma Gandhi, no politician in this country maintained, that it is necessary to remove social justice here in order to do away with the tension and conflict…. However he does not insist on the removal of untouchability, as much as he insists on the propagatin of khaddar or the Hindu-Muslim unity. If he had, he would have made the removal of untouchability a precondition of voting in the party’. However, Ambedkar was attracted to Gandhi’s non-violent ‘modus operation’. The Mahad movement of 1927, which Ambedkar headed resembled satyagraha – an affirmation of the right and duty to fight for truth.

Mahatma Gandhi needs to be understood in his own times and in his own context. When the cate discrimination were at worse Gandhi’s efforts to eradicate untouchability were remarkable. The many facts about Gandhi remain hidden to the present day youth. The fact that, for the sake of the welfare of the untouchables, he was ready to sacrifice the help offered by his own sister, wife and many well-wishers is remarkable . That he indeed demanded structural change from hierarchical to linear, needs to be understood as a practical or realistic approach to the problem of untouchability . His ideas of ‘satyagraha’ and ‘Ahimsa’, social reconstruction are still valid in today’s context and for our times.

Untouchability was made illegalin India severa months after Gandhi’s death. When the measure was passed on November 29,1948, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar was present in the Constituent Assemblyas its members shouted ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai'( victory to Mahatma Gandhi ). Infact, Ganddhi had opposed legal measures, believing that moral suasion of the caste Hindus was the best attack against untouchability. Ambedkar, himself an Untouchable, strongly disagreed with Gandhi’s approach. Ambedkar, believed that theUntouchables had to become educated andfight for their own freedom and equality – provision that Ambedkar wrote into law as he drafted india’s new constitution. How was it then that at the moment when untouchability was legally abolished in India, Gandhi rater than Ambedkar received the praise? In attempting to answer this question we will look at the efforts both men made to combat untouchability.


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Gandhi and the Contemporary World: Identity, Equality and Social Justice for Women and Dalit. (2021, Jan 23). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/gandhi-and-the-contemporary-world-identity-equality-and-social-justice-for-women-and-dalit/

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