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89 years on, another touching gesture against untouchability

Common Kumbh Thread: Much like the PM, who washed feet of sanitation workers on Sunday, Cong had organised inter-caste dinner partaken of by hundreds of members of downtrodden castes at the mega religious gathering in 1930.

lucknow Updated: Feb 26, 2019 13:05 IST
Brajendra K Parashar
Brajendra K Parashar
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
Indian National Congress,INC,Uttar Pradesh
Somewhat akin to the PM’s gesture, the Indian National Congress (INC) had made a similar bid at the Kumbh hosted in Allahabad (Prayagraj) in January-February 1930.(HT )

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s initiative at the Prayagraj Kumbh on Sunday when he washed and wiped the feet of half-a-dozen sanitation workers had much in common with what was sought to be done in the 1930 Allahabad Kumbh as far as an attack on the socially and politically divisive practice of untouchability was concerned, according to historians.

Indeed, only the messenger may have changed but the message and the medium appeared to have remained the same despite the passage of 89 years, they said.

Somewhat akin to the PM’s gesture, the Indian National Congress (INC) had made a similar bid at the Kumbh hosted in Allahabad (Prayagraj) in January-February 1930 in the pre-Independence era by organising an inter-caste dinner that was partaken of by hundreds of people from downtrodden castes. Then also, the objective was the same: to unite Hindus who were deeply divided on caste lines.

Historian Gyanesh Kudaisya writes in his book ‘Region, Nation, “Heartland”: Uttar Pradesh in India’s Body Politic’: “There were those that organised the All India Anti-Untouchability Conference presided over by prominent Congress leader Purushottam Das Tandon at the Mela’s Arya Samaj camp. The conference, including an inter-cast dinner partaken of by about 500 people, not less than half of them were members of the depressed classes.”

“In fact, it was members of the depressed classes that cooked the food and some even served the meals to the gathering,” he adds.

After the dinner, Swami Ramanand Sanyasi appealed to the Hindus to reprieve without delay the stigma of untouchability and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, president of the Congress, in his speech welcomed the inter-caste dinner as the first practical step towards the attainment of Swaraj, according to the author.

The 1930 Kumbh, according to the author, marked a political transformation.

Kudasiya notes that not far away from the hustle and bustle at the Kumbh, there were men and women who had gathered there not just to take a dip in the holy river, but indeed to contemplate India’s present and how they could change it in ways that they saw appropriate.

According to him, there were several important Hindu nationalist leaders who took part in the Sanatan Dharam Conference presided over by Pandit Madan Mohan Malayiya at the Kumbh. The conference emphasised the need for organizing Sanatan Dharam Sabhas in every village, across India.

Yogeshwar Tewari, professor and head of the department of medieval and modern history, University of Allahabad, said, “Giving respect to the downtrodden has been an intrinsic part of India’s Sanatan culture and efforts have always been made from time to time in the pre-Independence and post-Independence eras to abolish the divisive practice of untouchability with a view to achieving unity among Hindus.”

Modi’s initiative as the country’s Prime Minister of going to the extent to washing and wiping sweepers’ feet, according to him, had no parallel in Independent India, regardless of the objective of the initiative.

First Published: Feb 26, 2019 13:05 IST