The Caste System must go

From Jawaharlal Nehru's speech at Gandhigram (near Madurai) December 8, 1957 

Sitting here and looking at these mountains which surround us, I think of the mountains in the north, the snow-covered Himalayas, and I think of this great country of ours, Bharat, and the hundreds of millions of people living here, many of them appearing to be different from one another, speaking different languages, but all tied together in a hundred ways and today all of them working jointly for the great adventure of building a New India.

Do you remember those years when all of us struggled for the freedom of India, when throughout this great land we marched together under our great leader, Mahatma Gandhi ? We worked then for the whole of India, whether we worked in the south or the north or the east or the west, and we won the freedom of the whole of India. We realised that the fate of all of us was tied up, and that we either gained freedom for all of us or not at all. So we worked together, we sacrificed together and we gained the freedom of India together.

We have now to face a bigger and a greater task and that is to build up a New India; in which we will put an end to poverty, misery and unemployment. We have to work for this also together.

The whole of India from the Himalayas to Kanyakumari belongs to each one of us. We are joint inheritors in this great land. The different provinces do not separate us, just as the different districts do not separate us. Nor do the different languages separate us. All the great languages of India are old, well established, advanced languages and they are sister languages. We have to help all of them.

We have many religions in this country and they have lived generally at peace with each other for thousands of years. It has been the tradition of India that the people of one religion tolerate the people of the other religions. That has been the hall-mark of Indian culture. And yet some people have made religion a battle-cry for fighting each other. They have degraded religion.

Some people have built up communal organisations, bringing religion into politics, and this has caused much harm to our country. We have to honour not only our own religion but the religions of others. A very great ruler of India who lived 2,300 years ago, Emperor Asoka, has said that he who honours the other man’s faith honours his own, and in doing so he makes others honour his own faith. But if he does not honour the other man’s faith, his own faith will also not be honoured. So, we have had this lesson of tolerance for ages past in India.

Coming to caste, I am not friendly to it. I think caste, in India during the last many hundreds of years has been a curse. It weakened India. It degraded India and it made us slaves to foreign conquerors; because caste split us up. It took away the feeling of unity from us. Caste degraded large numbers of our countrymen. Many of us imposed this degradation, and many accepted this degradation. Whatever virtues caste had in the past, caste or the caste system has no place in the world of today. If it exists it can only weaken us and prevent us from realising our objective.

What is our objective ? When we gained independence one journey was ended. But another long journey began. It is the journey of the Indian people towards ending poverty, towards social and economic progress in order to live a better life. Our aim is to build up a socialist pattern of society in which there will be a great measure of equality and all people will have an equal chance. We cannot attain it, if we divide up our society into strata of castes, because the caste system is opposed not only to socialism but to all ideas of equality and of working together. I know that the caste system and caste ideas lie deep down in our society and in many of us and it is not easy to uproot them completely. But we shall have to uproot them even though it might take some time.

Recently there have been very serious riots in the district of Ramanathapuram. Many people were killed, much property was destroyed and large numbers have suffered. It was a terrible thing for us to see these riots between people of different castes. It showed us how these caste differences bring caste animosities. It has made everybody think of the dangers in the persistence of the caste spirit. Therefore, we must become wary of it and we must try to root it out, not by fighting each other but in peaceful ways, by convincing each other and by co-operating with each other.

Previous Post Next Post