We stayed at The Environmental Sanitation Institute in Gujarat. This institute is part of the legacy of Ishwar Patel, a man who followed Gandhian principles to improve the lives of scavengers and untouchables.
“As a volunteer for Gandhiji’s constructive movement, Ishwar was deeply impacted by the discrimination that scavengers experienced as they gathered human waste and he consciously dedicated his life to the promotion of sanitation. Becoming known as “Mr. Toilet” through the construction of more than 200,000 toilets, Ishwar Kaka’s work was guided by the cosmic integrity by which he lived his life. He loved the work of sanitation and so the actions in his life were guided by his heart….” (From Conversation with Jayesh Patel on Christmas Eve).
Seriously. “Mr. Toilet.” Love has a sense of humor. It was perfect for someone like me, who blends the sacred and the profane….It was also perfect because I work at a historical landmark church with a poop problem. (More on that later. I don’t have a poop problem – the church does).
The institute was a tropical paradise. The grounds were lush, there were spiritual statues everywhere, the rooms were simple and immaculate.
“Ishwar Dada spoke of a turning point in his life,” she said. “Once when he was a child, he picked up the broom of an untouchable. His aunt saw him and got angry. She told him his action made him untouchable. She ‘cured him’ by pouring water on one of her gold earrings and sprinkling Ishwar….”
I paused and let that sink in.
“That’s kind of crazy,” I said.
Meghna laughed and agreed.
Then we talked some more. “The made-up remedy of water on an earring seems so strange,” I said. “But even stranger is the idea that people bought the idea of untouchability at all. That’s as fictional as the bit about the earring.”
Later I asked Ujwal if the concept of untouchables still exists in India. “It’s not legal,” he said. “But people still discriminate.”
Yes, we discriminate. We apply untouchability to others – and to ourselves.
We reject the untouchable aspects of our human flaws and frailties. Untouchability is still “legal” in our hearts. We are ashamed. We compound shame by being ashamed of our shame. Then we project the shame outwards and see untouchability in others….
What have you deemed “untouchable” in yourself and others? Can you see that your perception of untouchability is made-up? Can you recognize that Absolute Reality includes everything? Is it possible to melt the darkest parts of yourself and others through the sanitizing principle of forgiveness?