There is a peculiar absence of the untouchable in Hind Swaraj. The absence is particularly striking, given that the annihilation of untouchability, if not of caste, would subsequently become indispensable for Gandhi's preoccupations with equality. More than two decades after Hind Swaraj, the Mahatma would consecrate the untouchable as harijan. Irrespective of whether one judges this gesture as incidental or integral to Gandhi's politics, the imbuing of divinity to the untouchable had deeper moral consequences, foremost of which was to institute touching as the site of moral warfare. What kind of war demanded touching and sacrifice at one and the same time? Gandhi's elaboration of touchability revealed the radical paradox and limits of satyagraha, for these consecrated unequals were neither political antagonists nor imperial sovereigns who might simply be apprehended as hostile combatants. They were his moral unequals, the constitutive ellipses of satyagraha, without which nonviolence itself might lose its precarious ethical equilibrium.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.