Shashi Tharoor amply demonstrated how Gandhian he was when he called the economy class of passenger aircrafts “cattle class”. Remember how Gandhi’s trusted lieutenant C. Rajagopalachari had told a gathering of privileged-caste Hindus on 27May 1924, that “Mahatmaji does not want you to dine with Thiyas and Pulayas. [He] wants you to look upon so-called untouchables as you do at the cow and the dog and other harmless creatures”. Remember also how, with notable, never to be ignored exceptions, caste and class continue to conflate in India. So it should come as no surprise that he misinterprets Arundhati Roy by accusing her of misinterpreting Gandhi. In her introduction to Babasaheb’s Annihilation of Caste, Ms Roy does not object only to Gandhi calling a section of Dalits “Bhangis”, as Mr Tharoor claims. Her argument is more substantial and it critiques Gandhi’s views on the “Ideal Bhangi”, to wit:
“He should know how a right kind of latrine is constructed and the correct way of cleaning it. He should know how to overcome and destroy the odour of excreta and the various disinfectants to render them innocuous. He should likewise know the process of converting urine and night soil into manure. But that is not all. My ideal Bhangi would know the quality of night-soil and urine. He would keep a close watch on these and give a timely warning to the individual concerned.” (Harijan, Nov 1936)
What is particularly disturbing is that Mr Tharoor defends Gandhi as a product of his times. We must, then, extend the same treatment to Mr Tharoor and contemplate on the times that have been inflicted upon us.