On October 20, 1931, Mohandas Karachand Gandhi, already referred to with the honorific “Mahatma,” or Great Soul, stood before an audience at London’s Chatham House to share his view on the future of India. A well-known advocate of non-violent civil disobedience—he had led the Dandi Salt March, a protest against a British-imposed salt tax, in Gujarat earlier in the year—Gandhi was visiting England to attend the second meeting of the Indian Roundtable Conference, a series of discussions on constitutional reforms in British-ruled India.
Though the majority of Gandhi’s address was dedicated to explaining the importance of the village unit and the need for an economic investment in cottage industries (hand-spinning, hand-weaving, dyeing, and washing, for example), he prefaced his remarks with a description of India’s largest social obstacles: growing communal tensions and the entrenchment of the caste system.
In order to give you a description of the future of India as I conceive it, I shall tell you in as few words as possible what India is at present. India is a sub-continent by itself, nineteen hundred miles long, fifteen hundred miles wide, with a population roughly 350 millions. Of these about 210 millions are Hindus, 70 millions are Mussulmans, 3 million are Sikhs; there is also a fairly large Indian Christian population, and a very small European or, more correctly speaking, English population. Numerically it is insignificant, but, as you know, it enjoys a position privilege and influence unsurpassed, belonging as it does to ruling race.
We have within this population our own Hindu-Moslem-Sikh problem, or, as it is called, the problem of minorities. I will not go into the problem as it affects other minorities, nor will I take up your time by airing my views with regard to these minorities, but one minority I may not omit, the unhappy Untouchables, a word which is a standing reproach to the Hindus of India who form the majority of the population. Untouchability is a curse upon Hinduism, and I have no hesitation in saying that if Untouchability is not rooted out of Hinduism, Hinduism must perish.
Though Gandhi lived to see India’s independence, he was unable to dismantle the forces that he felt stood in the way of the nation’s future. Seventy-five years ago today, on January 30, 1948, Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated at Birla House, New Delhi, shot in the stomach and chest by Hindu nationalist Nathuram Vinayak Godse. Godse resented Gandhi’s approach to Partition and his adherence to religious tolerance and non-violence, believing it had contributed to communal violence in West and East Pakistan.