Selected Letters of Gandhi : Part-2

A collection of Mahatma Gandhi letters.

Chapter-40: Varna And Caste

I draw, as I have always done; a sharp distinction between castes and varnas. Castes are innumerable and in their present condition they are a drag upon Hinduism. Therefore you and I do not observe caste distinctions. Varna stands on a different footing, and it means profession. It has nothing to do with interdining and intermarriage. People belonging to the four professions used to formerly to interdine and even to intermarry and by so doing they naturally could not ad did not leave their varna. This is absolutely clear from the definitions of the different varnas in the Bhagvadgita. A man falls from his varna when he abandons his hereditary profession. Today however Varnashrama is a lost treasure and there is utter confusion. Therefore so far as I can see there is only one varna and that is Shudra. That there is confusion of varnas in humiliating. That we should call ourselves Shudras is no humiliation, for in religion there is none high and none low. Profession of Shudra is just as honorable and necessary as that of Brahmana. Equally so of Kshatriya and Vaishya. But even if it should hurt our pride to consider ourselves as Shudras, there is no escape from it as a moment’s reflection will show. This fortunate circumstance if it is generally accepted solves the difficulty of ranking the Harijans. To what varna should they belong on admission? If we say, ‘to he Shudra varna’ we immediately accept the gradation in Varna Dharma and the Harijans will leave every right to resent the lowest rank being given to them. If we are all Shudras there is no difficulty left. I remember a learned Shastri in 1915 suggesting at a Social Reform gathering in Nellore that there was confusion of varnas and that as originally there was only one varna, viz. that of Brahmanas we should all now call ourselves Brahmanas. I could not reconcile myself to that proposition then and I could do so less now. Whilst we can all serve and hence be called Shudras, we do not all possess learning nor do we possess divine knowledge. Therefore it would be untruthful to regard ourselves as Brahmanas. If we rob interdining and intermarriage of religious significance in the manner it is understood, it becomes purely a matter of option, where dine and where our children marry. And removal of untouchability would then have exactly the meaning I have always given it. This ought to be quite clear.

Recorded on November 5, 1932; ibid., pp. 205-6.