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Tiruchanoor case

The year was 1925. The C ongress had rallied its adherents satyagrahis and non-cooperators across the
country to boycott the Raj's courts, symbols of its arrogance and power. There was no question of lawyers in
the C ongress like Rajaji taking up legal cases. But an exception arose. Let Rajaji describe the episode in his
own words as written to his future son-in-law Devadas Gandhi:
Gandhi Ashram
My dear Devadas
I have been away from my place since 21st and will be there only tomorrow. I am writing this from Salem
where I have broken journey for a day. I am returning from Chittoor where I argued a case in court!
(As perhaps you have already read in the papers) you can read a report of this unexpected event in The
Hindu of 23 December.
A panchama was convicted by the sub-magistrate of Tirupati because in a fit of devotion and exultation of
mind he went inside along with other pilgrims into the famous temple at Tiruc hanoor. I read a report of the
judgment in the papers with indignation. Later on I was requested to help in the appeal filed by the man and
I readily agreed. I went and the gentleman an MLC and Vakil in charge of the case asked me if I would
argue the case. I said if I could speak in court as a private gentleman specially requested by the appellant
which procedure is open to every accused person in a criminal case I would gladly do it but I could not
appear as a vakil filing a vakalat. The court agreed to this course and I fired away. Of course the event is a
shock to the Non-Cooperator's conscience. But every rule is observed best by breaking the letter of it when
the occasion arises in a supremely compelling way. The case of a perfectly devoted and ear nest pariah
rushing into the temple to see his God and offer worship and the police catching him and prosecuting him
took me out of the mechanical groove of doctrine. He was not a satyagrahi, he was not a reformer, nor a
hero. But he was a panchama who came year after year to the temple for the last ten years and was content
to break his coconut from outside the gate. This year somehow he felt he was also worthy to go nearer. I
suppose the pulse of agitation had unconsciously touched his soul and when a cro wd of pilgrims came
shouting Govinda! Govinda! The Tirupati pilgrims' war cry, he forgot himself and the law imposed on his
unfortunate class. And he went in. Surely, I can't stand aside resting on the creed of Boycott of Courts and
see this man convicted for "insulting religion"!
I fear the event might be misunderstood and purposely hooked on by designers and enemies. However I
have done it and I have obtained an acquittal too of the man. I felt a bit queer when standing and
addressing without turban or coat and with only my khadi chaddar over my head and shoulders as at home
and was prepared to be objected to and to retire. But the magistrate was all courtesy and felt keenly
interested. So I went on as if I had never stopped practice these seven years.
Yours affectionately,

When the Mahatma learnt of the episode his reaction was as quick as it was clear: "(Rajaji) would have been
like a Pharisee if he had sat there still, gloating over the sanctimonious satisfaction of non -cooperating,
while the accused could have been discharged by his intervention".
Kurai Onrum Illai telescopes the identities of the panchama and theSri Vaishnava. If Rajaji had an
intellectual difficulty in capturing the metaphysical totality of the Lord and His C onsort at Tiruchanoor, he
was in the company of a man who had difficulty in accessing the physicality of the deities. For both, the
Divinities were behind a tirai imagined but unseen. And both were without regrets at what they had done.
One at having ventured into a temple the grooves of law had forbidden him from, the other at having
ventured into the court the grooves of protest had forbidden him from. Both had broken the letter of the law
in a moment that had appeared to them in a supremely compelling way.
I have attempted a translation of Kurai Onrum Illai with the help of Kalki's grand-daughter Gowri
Ramnarayan, knowing full well that this or any other English version can never convey the transporting force
of the original. I know that this rendering would seem disastrously inadequate to those who savour Kurai
Onrum Illai. But I trust they will see the non-literary, psycho-historical and cultural context of the piece. I
invite their attention, particularly, to the use of the word kalby Rajaji in the song, translated as "rock". I also
invite attention to Gandhiji's use of the word "rock" in his message to Rajaji on the death of Varadachari.
Gandhiji certainly knew the man he was writing to.
As Rajaji lay dying in General Hospital, Madras, in December 1972, all his regrets mus t have crossed his
mind, all his sorrows. But also, all his reconciliations of those emotions with his faith in the "rock". The last
words spoken by him from his death bed, when asked how he felt were simple: "I am happy".
No one knows what the last words spoken by his Tiruchanoor client were. But if, wherever he died, the
devotee had recalled the pulse of emotion he felt on the mountain doorstep, he too might well have closed
his innings with the words "I am happy."

Rajaji's unknown collaborator - Gopal Krishna Gandhi
In South Africa it is the crime of colour and race for which we are being punished. In India we Hindus
punish our co-religionists for the crime of caste. The fifth caste man the Panchamais the greatest
offender deserving the punishment of untouchability, unapproachability, invisibility and what not. An
extraordinary case that was tried in a Madras Presidency court brings vividly to light the sad plight
of our suppressed countrymen. A simple cleanly dressed Panchama entered a temple in a perfectly
devotional spirit without the slightest intention of hurting anybodys feeling or insulting any
religion. He had been in the habit of paying his respects at this temple every year though he did not
enter it. But last year in his ecstatic mood he forgot himself and entered the temple. The priest in
charge could not distinguish him from the others and therefore accepted his offering. But when he
regained self-possession he was terrified to find himself in a prohibited place and ran away from the
temple. But some who knew him caught him and handed him to the police. The temple authorities
when they discovered the crime had the temple duly purified. Then followed a trial. A Hindu
magistrate convicted him and imposed a fine of Rs. 75 or one months rigorous imprisonment for
insulting his own religion! An appeal was filed. There was an elaborate argument over it. Judgment had

to be reserved! And when conviction was set aside, it was not because the court held that the
poor Panchama had a right to enter the temple but because the prosecution in the lower court had
forgotten to prove the insult. This is no triumph of justice or truth or religion or morality.
The only consolation to be derived from the successful appeal is that the Panchama will not have to
suffer imprisonment for having in his zeal for worship forgotten that he was a prohibited entrant. If
however he or his fellow-Panchamas again dare to enter the temple, it is highly probable that they
would be severely punished if they are not lynched by those who look down upon them with
It is a curious situation. We resent, and properly, the treatment meted out to our countrymen in South
Africa. We are impatient to establish swaraj. But we Hindus refuse to see the incongruity in
treating a fifth of our own co-religionists as worse than dogs. For dogs are not untouchables. Some of
us nowadays even keep them as drawing-room pets. What place shall the untouchables occupy in
our scheme of swaraj? If they are to be free from all special restraints and disabilities under swaraj, why
can we not declare their freedom now? And if we are powerless today, shall we be less powerless under
swaraj? We may shut our eyes and stuff our ears to these questions. But they are of the highest
importance to the Panchamas. Surely, judgment will be pronounced against Hinduism, if we as a
body do not rise as one man against this social and religious atrocity.
Much has no doubt been done to remove the evil. But it is all too little so long as criminal
prosecutions for temple-entry are possible and so long as the suppressed classes continue to be
denied the right of entering temples, using public wells, and sending their children freely to national
schools. We must yield to them the same rights as we would have the Europeans concede to our
countrymen in South Africa.
But this case is not without its relieving features. The quashing of the conviction is no doubt some
consolation. But the best consolation lies in the fact of so many savarna Hindus actively
interesting themselves in the poor Panchamas behalf. The appeal would not have been noted, if
someone had not gone to the accuseds assistance. Not the least interesting feature of the case was the
fact of C. Rajagopalachari arguing the appeal a fit application in my opinion of the principle of non-cooperation. Being in the court, when he got the opportunity, he would have been like a Pharisee if he had
sat there stiff gloating over the sanctimonious satisfaction of non-co-operating whilst the accused could
have been discharged by his intervention.
The Panchama knew nothing of non-co-operation. He had appealed to avoid payment of fine or
imprisonment. It is to be wished that every educated Hindu will constitute himself the untouchables
friend and regard it his duty to free him from the tyranny of custom masquerading under the
name of religion. Not the entry of a Panchama into a temple but the brand of prohibition against
him is an insult to religion and humanity.
Young India, 14-1-1926

Another case like the one discussed in these pages recently has been decided in the South with
reference to the vexed question of temple-entry by the so-called untouchables. One Murugesan, a Mala
by caste, was tried before the Stationary Sub-Magistrate of Tirupathi for having ventured to enter a
temple at Tiruchanur for the purpose of offering worship. The Lower Court regarded this entry as
defilement with intent to insult the religion of a class under section 295 of I.P.C. and fined the accused
Rs. 75 or in default rigorous imprisonment for one month. Fortunately for the poor outcaste there were
reformers who were interested in him. The case went in appeal. The appellate court sustained the
appeal. I quote the following from the judgment.
In the Lower Court 7 witnesses were examined for the prosecution. It is shown by their evidence that
the appellant is a Mala by caste, that Malas are not allowed to enter the temple and that the entry of
Malas into the temple is considered a defilement of it. It is shown also that appellant went into the
temple to the garbagudi where caste Hindus alone may enter. He was then dressed properly and
wearing marks of piety; the Archaka taking him for a caste Hindu, received his offering of cocoanuts and
performed camphor harathi for him, for which service appellant paid the prescribed fee of four annas.
After appellant departed the temple authorities found that he was a Mala and as the place of worship
was considered defiled by his presence it became necessary to perform a purificatory ceremony.
The first thing to consider is whether the prosecution evidence has made out the elements of the
offence so as to warrant the framing of a charge. The fact of defilement of the place of worship by the
entry therein of accused who is a Mala is sufficiently made out in the sense that a ritual impurity was
caused thereby. But in addition it was necessary to show that the effect was an insult to the religion of
any class of persons and that the accused intended such effect or knew of its possibility. The case for the
prosecution does not seem to have been conducted with this point kept in view and it has not been
elicited from any of the witnesses that accuseds act was an insult to the religion of the witnesses or any
class of persons leaving alone the question whether accused intended such insult or knew it to be likely.
On account of this defect in the state of the prosecution evidence I think the conviction cannot stand. I
do not think the case should be ordered to be retried.
Again the prosecutors, the judges and the deliverers of the poor despised men were his co-religionists
Hindus. Again the accused was happily saved from rigorous imprisonment (he could not pay the
exorbitant fine I presume). But again the cause remains undecided. It was open to the Hindu judge to
say that the entry into a Hindu temple by a Panchama Hindu with the object of offering worship could
not by any stretch of the meaning of the word insult constitute an insult to the Hindu religion to which
the accused claimed and was admitted to belong. It may have been improper in the estimation of
some Hindus for the accused to enter the temple, it may have been contrary to custom, it may have
been a hundred other things, but it was not an insult to the religion of any class such as to amount to a
crime under the Indian Penal Code. It is worthy of note that the accused bore no visible marks of his
despised birth. He was dressed properly and wearing marks of piety. Indeed if these persecuted men
choose to practise deception, it would be imposible to distinguish them from the rest. It is simple
fanatical obstinacy to persist in persecuting men in the sacred name of religion. It is the persecutors who
are unknowingly defiling their own religion by keeping out of public temples men who are at least as
honourable as they claim to be themselves and are willing to abide by all the ceremonial rules

observable by Hindus in general on such occasions. More than that no man has any right to impose or
expect. The heart of man only God knows. An ill-dressed Panchama may have a much cleaner heart
than a meticulously dressed high-caste Hindu.
Young India, 11-3-1926