After Ramakrishnayya’s passing, the villagers wonder who can explain philosophy and the Vedantic scriptures to them. Nanjamma suggests Temple Ranganna, but the rest agree that he knows little and follows Bhatta’s lead. Instead, Nanjamma suggests, someone should read out the books and Rangamma lead the discussion, and she agrees. The group decides that, even though “never was a girl born in Kanthapura that had less interest in philosophy,” Ratna would be the one to read.
By picking Rangamma to explicate the Vedantas instead of the highest brahmin priest, Temple Rangappa, the villagers signal their definitive shift to Gandhism and its casteless form of Hinduism. Ratna, who was doubly ostracized as a widowed woman under the traditional Hindu caste system in Kanthapura, becomes essential to the Gandhian movement. The movement’s commitment to equality has concretely changed the village’s social dynamics by giving Rangamma such an important role.
So each afternoon, Ratna read the texts and Rangamma interpreted them, “bring[ing] the British Government into every page and line.” Achakka thinks “it must have been all due to her stay with Sankaru” and the villagers ask if Rangamma’s newfound knowledge is truly from the city, but she denies it, saying she learned to practice meditation from Sadhu Narayan and teaching the others in turn.
Rangamma has learned enough about national politics and Gandhi’s movement from Sankar to become the new intellectual leader of the Village Congress, but knows that she must hide the fact that her methods came from the city, which represents colonial power and modernity.
After a few days of meditation, the others feel stronger in mind and spirit, and Rangamma suggests that the other women learn to resist like the Mahatma when the time comes. “Nay, nay, we are not men,” protest the other women, but Rangamma assures them that they need not be men to fight, for in the city women can be Gandhian “Volunteers,” too. She tells them the story of Rani Lakshmi Bai, who led a revolt against the British during the early days of colonialism before dying in battle, “fighting for her enslaved Mother.”
Rangamma insists that Gandhian equality includes equality for women, so she offers them a central role in Kanthapura’s campaign. Indeed, India itself is an “enslaved Mother” and now the Gandhian movement’s two leaders, Rangamma and Ratna, are both widowed women who would have been socially invisible under the caste system.
Rangamma determines that the women should form a Volunteer corps that can meet Moorthy upon his return. Everyone plans their outfits, and most want to wear expensive, foreign Darmawar saris, greeting Moorthy “like a Bridegroom’s Welcome ceremony.” Rangamma decides to call their group “Sevika Sangha” (which translates roughly to “women’s association.”)
Although the women want to honor Moorthy by wearing expensive saris, this violates the Gandhian injunction to only wear Indian khadi cloth. By equating wealth and honor, as well as envisioning Moorthy’s return through the metaphor of marriage, the women show that they retain their previous focus on family and property above moral purity.
The village’s men recoil at the new development, and they beat and ignore their wives because they fear that the women will stop looking after them and cooking because of Sevika Sangha. The women determine to maintain their wifely duties, as well as boycotting foreign cloth and picketing cigarette and toddy shops. They roleplay war with their children, casting them in the role of Rani Lakshmi Bai.
The men feel threatened by their wives’ independence because they fear that it means they will no longer have them as reliable servants in the domestic sphere. As when the brahmins oppose Gandhism because it threatens their dominance, those in power oppose equality because they put themselves above the ideal of equality. But the women resolve to work twice as hard, maintaining their traditional roles while also protesting for the Mahatma.
Rangamma instructs the women how to resist the police without budging or using violence. Nanjamma tells them about a dream where her husband beat her, but then she looked up and it was actually Badè Khan. She worries that she cannot fight, but Rangamma insists that they all must.
Nanjamma’s dream shows the parallel between patriarchal and colonial power: both operate through violence and terror that can only be overcome by a principled and resilient resistance.
Seenu and Vasudev join some of the exercises and propose that the villagers organize a corps for the pariahs. Rangamma says that boys must come, but Seenu explains that they are all too afraid of going to jail since Moorthy’s arrest. The men support the Mahatma but worry that their lands will lay empty and their families become destitute. They have no choice, say the women, but the boys do not budge.
The village’s original social hierarchy has been inverted: the women lead the protest movement, fighting for their principles while the men are afraid to join them.
The women approach Rangè Gowda, who promises to force the pariah boys to follow Gandhi after the harvests. He worries that Badè Khan will attack the men, and Vasudev agrees, citing his violence at the Skeffington Estate. But Badè Khan is also sick, and “his woman” gives Vasudev a signal when he is sleeping.
Although the women first tried to convert the men on principle, once this fails they make recourse to Rangè Gowda’s social and coercive power. The pariah woman whom Badè Khan took to the Skeffington Estate also plays a crucial role in helping the Gandhians.
Vasudev, Rangamma and Seenu decide to restart the bhajans that Moorthy used to perform, although in prison Moorthy warned Sankar not to let them have processions or bhajans, “lest the police fall on them!” The bhajans start again that Saturday, and the villagers sing a song to Lord Siva.
Although Moorthy worried about the villagers’ ability to sustain a Gandhian movement without him and felt responsible for their abuse at the hands of the police, the women successfully start holding the same meetings and performances that Moorthy used to preach the Mahatma’s beliefs.