The Danish Peace Academy

GANDHI AND NORDIC COUNTRIES

Collected by E. S. Reddy - EReddy@aol.com and Holger Terp

Letter, September 23, 1934

September 23, 1934

My dear child,

I have your letter and now letters from children. I am glad that they like the place. Of course you cannot give another name to your bungalow, and the expression “Vision Bungalow” is quite good and significant.

Andrews was here a week ago and he would be back on Tuesday from Santiniketan. Mira expects to be in Bombay just in time for the Congress session.

Ramdas had fever and general debility. He is now better.

I understand that the spinning-wheel was sent to Porto Novo, and I hope that it has now come to you. I would like to know the progress made upon it.

How nice it would be to have you here at this time! The weather is superb - very cold, not too much sunshine and yet enough of it.

With love to you all and kisses to children,

Bapu

Mrs. Esther Menon

Vision Bungalow

Tanjore

Source: My Dear Child, pages 107-08; Collected Works, Volume 59, page 71

Letter to Gandhi about the question of admission of members of the untouchable caste to Hindu temples*

by Esther Menon.

Mrs. Menon had wished to share some thoughts with the friends of the Porto Novo mission in Denmark; called forth by Gandhi’s struggle for “the untouchables” admission to the Hindu temples. These thoughts have filled her so strongly, that she could not keep them to herself, but have forwarded them in a letter to Gandhi and asked him to reply her. When the answer from Gandhi arrives, Miss Menon also will share it with her Danish friends **.

Among other things Mrs. Menon writes:

“Dearly beloved Bapuje!
Since I have returned to India, I have considered deeply the question about the untouchable's admission to the temples. From a religious and social point of view it is quite all right, that we wish, that the untouchable shall have the same rights and favours as the caste Hindu's. But as I have approached this question from a quite different angle, I could not resist to ask myself: why not teach the Paria’s - or what we now call them - something - which is higher and better? God lives not in temples created by our hands, neither takes He form in images, which we have created.

“Blessed are the poor in heart: for they shall see God”, Christ said.

“The hour comet, when ye shall worship neither in this mountain or that - but God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”. In Taujore you see many temples, small and great, some very filthy and dirty and decayed. Do we find the living God there? Where there is love, there is God - God can live in the poorest Paria's cottage, if he has opened his heart. - What means the temples for the modern Hindu at the present? Nothing or little; they only signify something for the orthodox, proud Brahmin - which is ready to burst of pride over the caste, he is born into, without own merit, while he shut out his brother from the rights, he would like to enjoy, and also has the intrepidity to get the religion's acceptance of this break on truth, love and justice. It takes a lot of confidence to call any human “untouchable” - by reason of birth, occupation or anything else. Really, how little and biased have the Brahma's made God, just as the Jews in the days of old - and millions have groaned and lamented under their heavy yoke. Likewise Jesus in his own country refused to recognise such a limited, unilateral God, and had to fight against all the strange, wrong misconceptions, the Pharisees and the scribes had about God. So he would also, if he came to India in our time, have to take up the struggle against the Braham's and others; he would be in the same situation as when he overthrew the moneychangers and them that sold out from the temple. Yes, he would say: “My house shall be called the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves. I will not have burn offerings neither fatted calf, goats or oxen - neither sacrifices of coconuts, flowers or incense. - I only want love and a humble heart”. - If I were Paria in the modern India, I would not care the least about admission to the temples, because inside me a voice would say, “God is not in temples. He dwells in my heart, when I can forget myself. He is in my humble home, He is where innocent children play. He is in the workshops and in the great wonderful nature. He are at the poor and the suffering”. And of course as Christian I can see God best and most clearly when I look into the face of Jesus Christ.

Do not believe, that I do not see the many mistakes and defections and misunderstandings within the Christian church; when I met them, regardless of appearance, first and foremost with myself. I try to struggle against them; but the one basic truth remains that God is love and loves all his children, even though we contradict it with our ways of life. But it is of no use to “put new wine into old bottles or put a piece of new cloth unto an old garment”.

Look at Russia; because the church as institution denied “the man on the street” his rights, million and many more millions had throw of the church yoke, which only gave stones for bread. - Bapuje! - You know, how much you have meant for me in nearly twenty years, and what you still means to me. I have not returned to India to quarrel over religious questions, but to share; to receive and to give; but if I am not true toward myself, I can not be true toward you, who regard the truth higher than anything else. Therefore I had to write this letter to you in all humility and after careful consideration, but without consulting anyone else than my own conscience. I know that I do not own your ability for sacrifice or service, or your genuine love towards the poor of India. I know that you consider me as one of your many children, who struggle to get richer light, love and truth not only into our own life, but also into the whole world. Therefore you will also speak your mind about this matter and correct me where you think, I am mistaken.

Love -
your child.

Source: Porto Novo, 1934 no 9 pp 208-211.

Translated from Danish.

* Gandhi was then campaigning for throwing open all Hindu temples to the “untouchables” whom he called “Harijans”

** A possible answer from Gandhi was not published in Porto Novo. In a letter dated November 14, 1934, Gandhi replies: “I do not remember having received your letter on the Temple-entry Bill. Was it sent after my returning to Wardha? If you can reproduce the argument please do so and I shall endeavour to reply”.
Ester Menon must have mailed Gandhi a new copy of the letter, for January 5, 1935 he answer her question: “Of course, Harijans need ever so much more than mere temple-entry for their spiritual satisfaction. Temple-entry is not so much their spiritual need, as its grant is that of the arrogant caste Hindus. They can have no spiritual grace so long as they deny to their fellows in faith the same right of worship that they claim for themselves. Is not this quite clear?”

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