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Caste in the Middle
In the modern world, one infused with the idea of an inherent samata (equality) among men,
whether by race or ethnicity or caste, the belief that one group is superior and should dominate
others with the primary justification that they happen to belong to that particular group, has been
rightfully rejected. To arrive at this current stage, where such sattvic principles are present even in
the minds of the ordinary mass in many nations, it took the toil of a few strong individuals far
advanced for their time. To the many who, however imperfectly, try to live by this principle,

Gandhi has become an idol to be praised, a symbol of a new age emergent from a darker past of
pseudoscientific theories on race and rigid stratification’s of classes, a man who refused to
discriminate between people of different religions or castes, a man belonging to all of humanity.
When championing his foresight, his supporters laud his writings and other attempts at breaking
down caste barriers prevalent in India as evidence of his progressive nature. But if in his lifetime
Gandhi was opposed to one type of caste system, he was yet supportive of another form of

For this we have to go back to his time in South Africa, where he first came into regular contact
with Blacks. Instead of, as one might presume, accepting this as a natural byproduct of living in a
predominantly Black country, he recoiled from his personal contact with the “Kaffir” (an offensive
term for Natives used by Whites of the time) and became upset at being lumped by the ruling

Whites into the same class as Blacks. He expressed such an opinion in an editorial in his Indian

A general belief seems to prevail in the colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than the savages or natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.1

Very soon after arriving in South Africa, Gandhi would become active in the promotion of better
rights for Indian residents, many of whom faced daily discrimination. But it was not just the
injustices directly meted out to Indians that bothered him. Rather, in one of Gandhi's first petitions
written in South Africa, Gandhi complained about laws treating Indian’s akin to native blacks:
If the whole objection to the Indian proceeds from sanitary grounds, the following
restrictions are entirely unintelligible:
The Indians, like the Kaffirs, cannot become owners of fixed property.
The Indians must be registered, the fee being 3 pounds 10S.
In passing through the Republic, like the Natives, they must be able to produce
passes unless they have the registration ticket.

They cannot travel first or second-class on the railways. They are huddled together in
the same compartment with the Natives.
...So far as the feeling has been expressed, it is to degrade the Indian to the position of the

Kaffir. 2
During his time in South Africa, Gandhi occasionally traveled to India to gather support for his

cause, meeting with and presenting his story to members of the Indian Congress Party, including his mentor G.K Gokhale. On one such occasion he bemoaned the position of Indians in South Africa, referring to native Blacks with a cruelty and bitterness he would never use when describing violent men:

Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the
Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of a raw Kaffir whose occupation is
hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with
and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness. 3

One source of Gandhi's attitude arose from his belief in the Aryan Invasion Theory, that of a
superior White race from the Steppes subjugating darker races all across Eurasia. Gandhi arrogantly
refused to accept classification with “aboriginal” looking “savages:”

A reference to Hunter's 'Indian Empire', chapters 3 and 4, would show at a glance who are aborigines and who are not. The matter is put so plainly that there can be no mistake about the distinction between the two. It will be seen at once from the book that the Indians in South Africa belong to the Indo-Germanic stock or, more properly speaking, the Aryan stock. 4

Gandhi, along with believing in the superiority of his stock, wanted to bring the so-called Aryan
characteristics – with the exception of physical features believed to be Aryan - to African Blacks.
He ardently believed that White rule in South Africa along with a White desired reduction in Asiatic
immigration, was necessary for civilizing the child-like Blacks in an Aryan manner:

We, therefore, have no hesitation in agreeing with the view that in the long run assisted
Asiatic immigration into the Transvaal would be disastrous to the white settlement. People
will gradually accommodate themselves to relying upon Asiatic labour, and any White
immigration of the special class required in the Transvaal on a large scale will be practically
impossible. It would be equally unfair to the Natives of the soil. It is all very well to say that
they would not work, and that, if the Asiatics were introduced, that would be a stimulus to
work; but human nature is the same everywhere, and once Asiatic labour is resorted to, there
would not be a sustained effort to induce the Natives to work under what would otherwise
be, after all, gentle compulsion. There would be then less talk about taxing the Natives and
so forth. Natives themselves, used as they are to a very simple mode of life, will always be
able to command enough wages to meet their wants; and the result will be putting back their
progress for an indefinite length of time. We have used the words "gentle compulsion" in the
best sense of the term; we mean compulsion of the same kind that a parent exercises over
children. 5

As the above 1903 Indian Opinion article he wrote expressed, Gandhi firmly believed in White
settlement and rule in South Africa. More explicitly, he would write that the White race deserved to
be the dominant race in historically Black South Africa, and that the Indians would acquiesce to
such an outcome:

What the British Indians pray for is very little. They ask for no political power. They admit
the British race should be the dominant race in South Africa. All they ask for is freedom for
those that are now settled and those that may be allowed to come in future to trade, to move
about, and to hold landed property without any hindrance save the ordinary legal
requirements. 6

Along with the dominance of the White race in South Africa, Gandhi also held dear the idea of
racial purity:

We believe as much in the purity of race as we think they do, only we believe that they
would best serve these interests, which are as dear to us as to them, by advocating the purity
of all races, and not one alone. We believe also that the white race of South Africa should be

the predominating race. 7

Commenting on a petition opposing interactions between Whites and Coloreds, Gandhi wrote, "The
petition dwells upon 'the commingling of the Coloured and white races'. May we inform the
members of the conference that, so far as the British Indians are concerned, such a thing is
practically unknown? If there is one thing which the Indian cherishes more than any other, it is the
purity of type. Why bring such a question into the controversy at all?" 8

Gandhi's desire for Indians to be segregated from Blacks was so strong that he went to
Johannesburg in late August of 1904 to protest the placing of Blacks in the Indian section of the

Why, of all places in Johannesburg, the Indian Location should be chosen for dumping down all the Kaffirs of the town passes my comprehension. ...Of course, under my suggestion, The Town Council must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. 9

While it is understandable to be upset over a sudden movement of peoples into one's area, reading
Gandhi's article, it becomes clear that he was more upset that Blacks in particular would be living in
close proximity with Indians. It is unlikely that a sudden influx of Whites into the Indian location
would have perturbed him or his sense of purity. For instance, during the same period of Black
movement into the Indian location, Gandhi argued vehemently that Indian interaction with Whites
surely was not harming the Whites:

The last reason given by the Public Health Committee is the miserable plea of social
intercourse between the poorer whites and the poorer Indians. In the first instance, there is
absolutely no social intercourse between the two and, in the second, we would very much
like to know in what way the presence of the Indian has contributed to the social
deterioration of the white man; what is the particular vice of the Indian community which
the white man has contracted during the last seventeen years. And the phenomenon of the
two classes living side by side is by no means particular to Johannesburg… 10

Gandhi also hated being forced to register as an "uncivilized race" like Blacks were made to do. As he wrote in the Indian Opinion, "Its is one thing to register Natives who would not work, and whom it is very difficult to find out if they absent themselves, but it is another thing and most insulting to expect decent, hard-working, and respectable Indians, whose only fault is that they work too much, to have themselves registered." 11

Perhaps the reason some of the Africans were not working was because they were planning and
acting out a revolt against foreign rule. As he had shown earlier when British rule was threatened,
Gandhi chose to side strongly with the British, hoping to prove to them that the Indians were
subservient to their rule. A true Kshatriya would have held out support for either side unless offers
were made for it, but Gandhi felt the need to prove his loyalty to the Empire, as he wrote in a letter
to the secretary of Lord Elgin:

The chief reason for his having organized the Indian Ambulance Corps at the time of the
Boer War and the Indian Stretcher Corps at the time of the Native Rebellion, was to bring
about such [re]conciliation, by showing that British Indians were not unworthy to be citizens
of the Empire and were capable of recognizing their obligations if they also insisted on their
rights. 12

Even Black uprisings against British rule could not shake Gandhi's opinion of them being lazy and

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