Caste, the cancer afflicting Sanatan Dharma

Tushar Gandhi

September 18, 2023

“I consider the four divisions alone to be fundamental, natural and essential. The innumerable sub-castes are sometimes a convenience, often a hindrance. The sooner there is fusion, the better.”

MK Gandhi, Young India. December 8, 1920

“Untouchability is a snake with a thousand mouths, through each of which it shows its poisonous fangs.”

MK Gandhi, Young India. July 11, 1927

“I do not believe in caste in the modern sense. It is an excrescence and a hindrance on progress. Caste in so far as it connotes distinctions in status is evil.”

MK Gandhi, Young India. June 4,1931

“Untouchability is a sin against God and man. There is no warrant in the Shastras for untouchability as we practice it today.”

MK Gandhi, Harijan. March 2, 1934

“And why do I say untouchability is a curse, a blot and a powerful poison that will destroy Hinduism? It is repugnant to our senses of humanity to consider a single human being as untouchable by birth. If you were to study the scriptures of world you do not find any parallel to untouchability.”

MK Gandhi, Harijan. June 2, 1936

“Untouchability is a blot against Hinduism and it must be removed at any cost. Untouchability is a poison which, if we do not get rid of it in time, will destroy Hinduism.”

MK Gandhi, Harijan. June 20, 1936

“Caste has nothing to do with religion. It is a custom whose origin I do not know, and do not need to know. But I do know it is harmful, both to spiritual and national growth.”

MK Gandhi, Harijan. July 18, 1936

“Soil erosion eats up good soil. It is bad enough. Caste erosion is worse; it eats up men and divides men from men.”

MK Gandhi, Harijan. May 5, 1946

“None can be born untouchable, as all are sparks of the same fire. It is wrong to treat certain human beings as untouchable from birth.”

MK Gandhi, From Yeravada Mandir, Page 31

“The untouchables have been so much oppressed by the Caste Hindus that we can find no parallel to it in any other religion.”

MK Gandhi, Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Page 905

“I am a touchable by birth, but I am an untouchable by choice; and I have endeavoured in my own fashion to represent not the upper ten even amongst the untouchables, because, be it said to ourselves there are caste and classes even amongst the untouchables.”

MK Gandhi, Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Page 952

“There was once a scientific expedition in search of God. The scientists are reported to have come to India and to have found God, not in the homes of Brahmins, nor in the palaces of kings, but they found Him in the hut of an untouchable. Hence my cry to God is to admit me to the untouchable fold.”

MK Gandhi, The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol LI, Page 198

“There is an ineffaceable blot that Hinduism today carries with it. I have declined to believe that it has been handed to us from immemorial times. I think this miserable, wretched, enslaving spirit of untouchability must have come to us when we were in the cycle of our lives at our lowest ebb… That any person should be considered untouchable in this sacred land, passes one’s comprehension.”

MK Gandhi, Speeches and Writings of Mahatma Gandhi, Page 387

“I believe that if untouchability is really rooted out, it will not only purge Hinduism of a terrible blot, but its repercussions will be worldwide. My fight against untouchability is a fight against the impure in humanity!”

MK Gandhi, Mahatma, Vol III, Page 203

“What I want, what I am living for and what I should delight in dying for is the eradication of untouchability, root and branch.”

MK Gandhi, Mahatma, Vol III, Page 205

“Removal of untouchability means love for and service of the whole world, and thus merges into Ahimsa. Removal of untouchability spells the breaking down of barriers between man and man, and between the various orders of Beings.”

MK Gandhi, From Yeravada Mandir, Page 33

“It is a sin to believe that anyone else is inferior or superior to ourselves. We are all equal. It is the touch of sin that pollutes us, and never that of a human being. None are high and none are low for one who would devote his life to service. The distinction between high and low is a blot on Hinduism, which we must obliterate.”

MK Gandhi, The Diary of Mahadev Desai, Page 286

Why did I begin with a string of quotes by Bapu? When we read them chronologically, we understand his evolution. From the first, where he endorses the Varna Vyavastha, our caste system, for which he was rightly criticised by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, to branding untouchability and the caste system as a thousand-headed venomous snake and to warning that the Varna Vyavastha would eventually lead to the annihilation of Hinduism, Sanatan Dharma. This is a dramatic about-turn in Bapu’s evolution. Bapu had said that if he were to express contradictory opinions on any subject, what he said last was to be considered his belief because time and life would have taught him that he was wrong earlier.

There have been many reformers who strove throughout their lives to purge Sanatan Dharma of the evil of untouchability but they all failed – from Sant Gnyaneshwar and Sant Tukaram to Ambedkar and Bapu. Sanatan Dharma has proven to be obstinate.

Periyar, the militant reformer, also failed. Tamil Nadu, where parties born out of his ideology have ruled for long, is still as deeply divided along caste lines and caste-based oppression is rampant. Sanatan Dharma and its traditions are so wired into the collective psyche that even those who left Hinduism, fed up of the caste oppression, still carry their caste identities into the religions they embrace.

People will argue that all Hindus must not be branded casteists, and it’s true that not all of them actively practise caste oppression. But we too remain silent when atrocities occur. The silence and inaction stems from the deep-rooted prejudice they harbour. Take a few incidents in the recent past.

Inder Meghwal, a nine-year-old Dalit, was so brutally thrashed by his upper caste teacher that he died. His crime? He drank water from the pot kept exclusively for the teacher. Did Indians who don’t harbour or practise caste prejudice rise up in anger? No!

A video of a lout peeing on the face of an Adivasi went viral on social media. The Adivasi was so accustomed to being insulted thus that he did not even attempt to move away. The lout was a Brahmin and the president of his community brazenly said it was his right to behave that way. Did Indians who do not harbour caste prejudice rise in anger? No!

A Harijan bridegroom rode a horse to his wedding. This offended the upper castes in his village and he was lynched. Did we react? No!

Recently, a Dalit was brutally beaten for wearing good clothes and dark glasses. Does it make our blood boil? No!

As far as caste discrimination and atrocities are concerned, it does not bother us enough. I could write volumes listing caste atrocities over just the past decade.

But when Udhayanidhi Stalin points out how Sanatan Dharma has been corrupted, all of us are annoyed. How dare he call for its eradication? Ambedkar called for the ‘Annihilation of Caste’. Bapu too, in his own gentle manner, called for it. None of them called for a genocide of Hindus or the upper castes. Let’s not allow sanghis and bhakts fool us into believing it.

All reformers warned about the danger institutionalised oppression poses to the existence of Sanatan Dharma but we have not heeded the warnings. What is being sought to be eradicated is Varna Vyavastha and the prejudices it instils in all of us and the oppression which is its very creed. That cancer afflicting Sanatan Dharma must be eradicated. Otherwise, one day, it will ensure the demise of Sanatan Dharma itself.

Vasudaiva Kutumbakam must be based on samata, equality, otherwise it is just a string of meaningless words.


Tushar Gandhi, great grandson of the Mahatma, is an activist, author and president of the Mahatma Gandhi Foundation. Reach him here: