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'How will caste go away from our society?'

By Shobha Warrier
January 06, 2014 16:23 IST
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Salem Velu Gandhi'Why was Yeddyurappa taken back by the BJP? Because his community is very strong in Karnataka and if he is back, the BJP thinks it will get more seats.'

The government must stop all reservations based on caste, Salem Velu Gandhi -- who recently asked the Supreme Court to include a new caste in the list of India's castes, for the children of inter-caste marriages -- tells's Shobha Warrier.

He is 88 years old. He travelled from Salem to Chennai to have a glimpse of Mahatma Gandhi when he was 20. At 70, he walked from Salem to Delhi, travelled in a bullock cart from Kanyakumari to Chennai and on a camel from Jaipur to Delhi.

He was in the news recently when his public litigation petition in the Supreme Court was rejected. The petition was to include a new caste in the list of thousands of castes in India, for the children of inter-caste marriages.

He wanted to give them a new caste: The Gandhi caste.

All his travels, on foot, bullock cart and on camel were to achieve his dream of popularising the Gandhi caste. His given name is C Velu, but he calls himself Salem Velu Gandhi.

In this conversation over the telephone with's Shobha Warrier, the Gandhian shares his dreams.

Was it because you were a freedom fighter and a follower of Gandhi that you changed your name to Salem Velu Gandhi?

Yes. When Mahatma Gandhi came to Chennai in 1946, I was a 20-year-old fighting the way I could from Salem so that India got freedom from the British.

The moment I came to know from a newspaper about his visit, I decided to come from Salem to Chennai to see him and hear him speak.

The meeting took place at the Hindi Prachar Sabha in Chennai. He was just 10 feet away from me. When I saw him at close quarters, I felt I was seeing a man with divine qualities.

In the evening, he was to address people at the huge maidan at T Nagar in Chennai and hours before the meeting itself, lakhs of people had assembled to hear the Mahatma speak.

There was so much noise from the crowd before he entered the stage. He came, stood in front of the crowd and kept his finger on his lips, silently asking people to remain silent.

In the next second, there was absolute silence.

That was the kind of power he had on people.

He didn't have to utter a word, just use sign language for them to listen to him.

Then all of us chanted Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram... After that, he spoke for 15 minutes or so in English, urging everyone to work for the independence of our motherland. I was more enthusiastic about my goal after listening to him.

From that day onwards, I dedicated my life for the country.

Did you change your name after the meeting?

No. It was much, much, later. I think it was in the mid-1970. I had arranged a conference in Salem where I spoke about the need to have a Gandhi caste.

On reading about the conference and my idea in the newspapers, poet Kannadasan told me to change my name to Velu Gandhi. That was how I got the name.

What was the reason why you felt the need to have a Gandhi caste for children of inter-caste marriages?

It was in 1969 that I got this idea. That was because a relative of mine married a woman from a different caste, and both communities disowned them.

When they had a child after a year, I felt, when both communities have disowned them, why should they give the caste of one community to the child?

Also, whose caste should the child take -- the mother's or the father's?

I asked all the political and cultural leaders whether children of inter-caste marriages have any organisation. Everybody said, no.

I thought for many months and came up with the idea that such children should have a Gandhi caste, and that would bind all such children together.

Why did you think of Gandhi?

It is a surprise that I thought of Mahatma Gandhi when the images of such children came to my mind.

That was because I had always been a Gandhi bhakt.

I felt this name would ring a bell all over India.

I decided to have a conference in Salem to tell everyone about the need to have a Gandhi caste for children of inter-caste marriages.

I feel all our problems are because of caste.

Do you feel the government is responsible for reinforcing caste sentiments by asking the caste of the person in the Census and also asking the caste of a child at the time of school admission?

Very true. The British took a Census based on caste, and even now, who are the people who want Census data based on caste?

Politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Yadav, A Ramdoss (of the Pattali Makkal Katchi). Why?

Because politicians like them lead political parties based on caste.

When we have such caste-based political parties, how will caste go away from our society?

Why was B S Yeddyurappa taken back by the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party?

Because his community (the Lingayats) is very strong in Karnataka and if he is back, the BJP thinks the party will get more (Lok Sabha) seats.

If we do not want such caste-based parties, we need to have the Gandhi caste.

When we have only one caste, the Gandhi caste from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, who will be able to start caste-based parties?

Was it to include the Gandhi caste that you went to court?

I told Chief Justice P Sathasivam that because of caste, our country is weak. This has been going on for thousands of years and that it has to end.

I told him that the Gandhi caste should be included in the Schedule in the backward list.

If you remember (the late Tamil Nadu chief minister) C N Annadurai gave gold coins to all people who had inter-caste marriages, to promote such marriages.

Later on, political leaders started giving money to such couples. Today it is Rs 25,000.

But the clause is that one of them should be from the scheduled castes.

When they go to admit their children in school, the school authorities ask the caste of the child. They give schedule caste as the caste of the child even if one parent is not from the schedule castes.

How will caste go away from our society?

On one side, you try to remove caste from society, and on another, you reinforce it.

Do you support reservations based on caste?

The government should stop all reservation based on caste.

Instead, they should give reservation based on the economic condition of families, like say 10 percent for crorepatis, 20 percent for lakhpatis, 30 percent for the middle-class and 30 percent for the poor. That is my demand.

If the government follows this kind of reservations, caste will fade away from our society.

Rejecting your petition, the Chief Justice said the Supreme Court could not entertain your petition and that you should represent it to the government. What will you do now?

I will go back to the Supreme Court. I will try to get signatures from all the MPs. Then I am going to write to all the chief ministers.

I am 88 years old. Gandhiji said he wanted to serve people till he was 120, I also wanted to do that.

Till my last breath, I will be fighting to have the Gandhi caste in the Indian Schedule.

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai