Widespread interest was recently aroused in behalf of India's sixty million "Untouchables" when Dr. Bhimrao R. Ambedkar announced his utter despair of ever receiving better treatment from the caste Hindus, and his irrevocable decision to change his religion and take as many of his fellow Untouchables with him as he could. The position of this large body of Untouchables in India could not be much worse. From the religious viewpoint, they are Hindus; yet with but few exceptions, every Hindu temple is absolutely closed to them. They must await another birth into this world before being eligible to advancement. They are not allowed to live in the towns nor draw water from the village wells. If money is to be paid them, it is thrown on the ground, whence they must retrieve it as best they can. And there are many other similar regulations.
Dr. B. R. Ambedkar was born an Untouchable, subject to all its regulations and penalties. But modern progress reached India, and he had his chance for improvement. He entered Yale University, was graduated, and on his return to Bombay, became principal of the government law school in that city. But to caste Hindus, he was still an Untouchable. He fought for some years against this discrimination, but eventually gave up in despair and announced his intention to forsake Hinduism and, with as many followers as he could influence, join some other religion.
This decision was a great blow to Hinduism, for in the present political situation the position of sixty million people is most strategic. During a series of round-table conferences over the relatinnships, the Hindus-and-Mohammedans strove mightily to find a solution to the Untouchables' problem, but all efforts failed. In the end, it was agreed to abide by the decision of the British government in the person of the then Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald.
MacDonald then made what has become known as the Communal Award, in which India was divided into several constituencies, the Hindus being allowed about 51 per cent of the electorate. Should they lose the Untouchables, they would be reduced to a minority. So the influence of the Untouchables became a matter of supreme importance politically.
Doctor Ambedkar's stand not only threw consternation into the Hindu camp, but it also put every other religion on the alert. Where would those go who left Hinduism? The choice was narrowed down to three religions—Sikhism,* Mohammedanism, and Christianity. Should they turn to Sikhism, they would find many rules and restrictions awaiting them similar to those in the orthodox religion, and thus not much would be gained. Should they turn to Islam, they would there find a religion alien to Hindu thinking, and the great majority would have no conception of their belief. Should they turn to Christianity, they would be accused of abandoning all Hindu ideals and of identifying themselves with a foreign religion —the religion of the paramount power. Doctor Ambedkar's desire was to make them more nationalistic, not less.
We question, therefore, whether there will be a great exodus from Hinduism. Doctor Ambedkar, or any other man, could hardly lead sixty million Indians, or any large portion of them, anywhere. Some would follow him, it is true, wherever he might wish to lead them, into any religion he selected. He was reputed to have made his choice for Sikhism, but this was later denied. It is easier to influence the industrial classes than the depressed classes, for the latter are so much a part of the social fabric of Hindu India that they could not leave without destroying the fabric. Nor has it been demonstrated that any large part of them want to leave the Hindus. The customs and traditions of centuries hold them fast. Their life and support are bound up with the caste people of India. They are scattered throughout the length and breadth of India, and cannot afford to lose what little support they now receive from the caste people.
It has not been proved that the great majority have any desire to renounce Hinduism. For centuries the "law of Karma" has been accepted by them as the rule of life, and Karma teaches that what they are in this life, and all that they suffer, comes as a result of what they did in a previous existence. Why should they try to change it? It seems clear to us that many millions of the Untouchables scattered throughout the 750,000 villages of India will not even consider it.
However, other religions will indirectly benefit. A turning to Christianity will doubtless be hastened by the movement. According to Dr. E. Stanley Jones, at least fifteen thousand are embracing Christianity each month. The situation as it is now developing gives Christians the chance of working as they have never worked before. The Holy Spirit can turn all these things to account in the finishing of the threefold message. We must take advantage of all these great movements, in order that we may extend the triumphs of the cause of God.