Untouchability is a practice in which some lower caste people are kept at a distance, denied of social equality and made to suffer from some disabilities for their touch, is considered to be contaminating or polluting the higher caste people.
The word untouchable applies to the despised and degraded section of the Hindu Population. The untouchables occupy the bottom most place in the society and have been subjected to various social, cultural and other kinds of disabilities and exploitation for their very touch by the higher caste people.
Untouchability is an age-old practice in India. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “it is the hate fullest expression of caste”.
Origin of Untouchability
- R. Ambedkar, a social reformer and politician who came from a social group that was considered untouchable, theorized that untouchability originated because of the deliberate policy of the upper-caste Brahmanas. According to him, the Brahmanas despised the people who gave up the Brahmanismin favour of Buddhism. Later scholars such as Vivekanand Jha have successfully refuted this theory. Untouchability, in its literal sense, is the practice of ostracisinga minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The term is most commonly associated with treatment of the Dalit communities in the Indian subcontinent who were considered “polluting”, but the term has also been loosely used to refer to other groups, such as the Cagots in Europe, and the Al-Akhdam in Yemen.Traditionally, the groups characterized as untouchable were those whose occupations and habits of life involved ritually polluting activities, such as fishermen, manual scavengers, sweepers and washermen.
Untouchability Offences Act, 1955
The 17th Paragraph of the Indian Constitution states that untouchability is a punishable offence. For the eradication of untouchability the Untouchability Offences Act was passed by Indian Government in 1955 in which any person forcing the disabilities of untouchability can be sentenced to six months imprisonment or a fine of Rs. 500/- or both for his first offence. For every subsequent offence the sentence will include both a term in jail as well as fine. If considered necessary, the punishment can also be increased.
This Act provides penalties for the offences like preventing a person from entering into public temples or places of worship, preventing the drawing of water from sacred lakes, tanks, wells etc. Enforcing all kinds of social disabilities such as preventing people from the use of a ‘dharmasala’, any shop, public restaurant, public hospital, hotel, educational institutions or any other place of public entertainment denying the use of any road, river, well, water top, river bank, cremation ground, etc.
Enforcement of occupational, professional or trade disabilities in the matter or enjoyment of any benefit under a charitable trust preventing Harijans from pursuing any general occupation. Refusing to sell goods or render services to a Harijan, for molesting, injuring or annoying a person or organizing a boycott or taking part in the excommunication of a person on the basis of untouchability.
Untouchability in Modern India.
In the Report of India Today. 68 years after Independence, as Dalits continue to bear the brunt of violence and discrimination-highlighted in recent weeks by the tragic suicide of Rohith Vemula, a Ph.D student in the Hyderabad Central University who hanged himself, blaming his birth as a “fatal accident” in a chilling final note-we could not be any further away from what the Constitution had demanded from a free and fair India.
According to a 2010 report by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on the Prevention of Atrocities against Scheduled Castes, a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. Every day, on average, three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits murdered, and two Dalit houses burnt. According to the NHRC statistics put together by K.B. Saxena, a former additional chief secretary of Bihar, 37 per cent Dalits live below the poverty line, 54 per cent are undernourished, 83 per 1,000 children born in a Dalit household die before their first birthday, 12 per cent before their fifth birthday, and 45 per cent remain illiterate. The data also shows that Dalits are prevented from entering the police station in 28 per cent of Indian villages. Dalit children have been made to sit separately while eating in 39 per cent government schools. Dalits do not get mail delivered to their homes in 24 per cent of villages. And they are denied access to water sources in 48 per cent of our villages because untouchability remains a stark reality even though it was abolished in 1955.
Facts about Untouchability
The data collected by the India Human Development Survey conducted by the National Council of Applied Economic Research says the same. Take a look!
- About 27 percent of the Indian households still practice untouchability
- Since, Brahmins come on the top of the caste chart, 52 percent of them still practice untouchability
- Only 5.34 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste
- About 15 percent of Scheduled Caste and 22 percent of Scheduled Tribe respondents admitted to the practice
- It is most widespread in Madhya Pradesh with 53 percent practicing untouchability. Madhya Pradesh is followed by Himachal Pradesh with 50 per cent. Chhattisgarh comes on the 3rd position with 48 percent, Rajasthan and Bihar with 47 percent, Uttar Pradesh with 43 percent, and Uttarakhand with 40 percent
- The survey also shows that almost every third Hindu practises untouchability (33-35%)
- More than 160 million people in India are considered ‘Untouchable’
- Statistics compiled by India’s National Crime Records Bureau indicate that in the year 2000, about 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits
- Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.