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"Bapu is an extraordinary man and it is very difficult to understand

him," Nehru wrote to his daughter, Indira. "But then great men are always
difficult to understand. . . . [H]e conquers his opponents by his love and
sacrifice. By his fast he has changed the face of India and killed untouchability
at a blow."23 Not "killed," but weakened.
That November, Gandhi wrote a series of essays on "untouchability"
that helped to popularize the problem that had almost cost him his life.
"Socially they are lepers," he reminded his readers. "Economically they are
worse than slaves. Religiously they are denied entrance to places we miscall
'houses of God.' They are denied the use ... of public roads, public
schools, public hospitals, public wells, public taps. . . . Caste Hindu lawyers
and doctors will not serve them. . . . They are too downtrodden to rise in
revolt. . . . Every Hindu should have in his home a Harijan who would be
for all practical purposes a member of the family."24
Gandhi now focused his heart and mind on how best to remove the
blight of untouchability from Hinduism. He initially hoped that winning
unhindered entry for Harijans to a Hindu temple in Malabar might prove
the most effective lever. Mr. K. Kelappan, a singularly courageous selfsacrificing
Kerala worker, had launched his own fast in September to open
that Guruvayur temple to untouchables, and Gandhi persuaded him to suspend
his fast by promising to help him achieve his goal or to join him later
in fasting as well. Gandhi sent C. R. Das's widowed sister, Urmila Devi, to
Kelappan in November 1932 as his messenger. American Margaret Cousins
accompanied Urmila, but no sooner did Gandhi publicly announce his intention
to join Kelappan in his fast than several orthodox Hindu Brahmans
said they too would fast unto death against admitting any untouchable to
their sacred temple. Gandhi was never intimidated by such threats. He resolved,
therefore, to begin his fast on January 2, 1933, unless the temple
opened all its gates wide to Harijans.
Charlie Andrews was "troubled," fearing that fasting "will certainly be
used by fanatics to force an issue which may be reactionary instead of progressive."
25 That December a referendum was taken of all those Hindus eligible
to enter the Guruvayur Temple, and some 55 percent favored temple
entry for Harijans. Gandhi argued that this poll confirmed the validity of
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Gandhi's Passion
his intention to fast, but then a viceregal decision to permit the introduction
of special Temple-entry legislation in Madras Province on January 15,
1933, convinced him to postpone his fast "indefinitely."26
Orthodox Hindus attacked Gandhi with "hard swearing at me and libellous
charges," making him "feel like the wife whom her many husbands
profess to reject because the poor woman cannot give equal satisfaction to
all."27 This polyandrous gender role reversal clearly underscores Gandhi's
earlier admission to Sarojini Naidu of his passionate preference for feminine
sacrificial pain. He was, he insisted, a "faithful wife, staunch in her
loyalty" to all those angry "husbands" now maligning her. To pacifist
friend Horace Alexander, he regretfully confessed, "I knew that that little
fast was not enough penance for moving to right action the great mass of
Hindu humanity. Many lives might have to be given before the last remnant
of untouchability is gone."28
Congressmen who were not devout Hindus questioned Gandhi's intense
preoccupation with this religious issue to the "detriment" of political
activity and viewed it as dangerous, focusing India's masses on "magic"
fasting, and seeking "divine guidance" in down-to-earth matters of state
and social conflict. Nor were all Harijan leaders by any means satisfied
with their caste Hindu "Saviour." Many wondered at his choices of venue

for launching his attack against Hinduism's orthodox establishment, while
others, including Ambedkar, were bewildered by the speed with which he
chose first to fast, then not to fast.