My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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NEW DELHI , Monday—The other afternoon Prime Minister Nehru gave a delightful garden party at which a Scottish bagpipe band with the accompaniment of drums enlivened things considerably. There also was a second band at the far end of the garden. The colorful clothes worn by most of the guests made the Western gentlemen's clothes look quite drab and out of place. I met many of the diplomatic corps and a great many members of Parliament and men and women doing a variety of work in India.

On Friday morning Mrs. Nehru, who was one of Gandhi's close followers came to fetch me and take me to a school she had established with Gandhi for Untouchables. She told me that she had worked for 20 years to remove the ban on Untouchables and that Gandhi often stayed at this school in an effort to demonstrate his feeling against all discrimination.

Untouchables are a caste in India that did all the lowest work and people of higher class were not even allowed to touch them. In other words, they were the scavengers of the country. Now the law has abolished these castes and prejudices but, as we know only too well in the U.S., laws are necessary but it takes time to change the hearts of men.

Gandhi established several of these industrial schools for boys but this is the one that brings together Untouchables from a number of different states. They are given vocational training as well as two hours a day of academic work and spend about three years in the school.

Everybody, masters and pupils alike, must spin thread for one-half to three-quarters of an hour every day. This was Gandhi's way of symbolizing the dignity of manual labor. Even Prime Minister Nehru still does so in public now and then in memory of Gandhi, though the Prime Minister's work now makes it impossible for him to do it as a regular daily task.

Trades taught in this school are tailoring, shoemaking, carpentry, setting of type, printing, and bookbinding. The boys sleep on boards which are covered with thin pads as a health measure. Their food is adequate, according to Indian standards. In the morning they are served porridge; milk, if there is any, and four pieces of thin baked bread. At noon they get a vegetable and a cereal, and much the same thing at night. There is time set aside for exercises every day and the school has a little Gandhi museum and library.

The thing that impresses me more and more as we go about in this country is how really unnecessary most of the things are which we in the West think essential to our daily lives. Here the children in school have no desks; they sit on strips of carpet on the floor. They have no slates or pads; they have a wooden board on which they write. I saw a class in geometry that compared favorably to any we have in the U.S. in a well-equipped school.

In most homes here, there is no furniture in the dining rooms; the occupants sit on the floor on their rugs. They wash their hands before eating, and after eating, they wash their hands again and the utensils at the same time. Beds might be either a clean pad on the floor with a blanket, or four posts with webbing or boards.

Life is very simple, but it can be lived this way. Perhaps there is more emphasis on what the mind and the imagination can do.

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • New Delhi (India) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, March 4, 1952

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.