Untouchability

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For other uses, see Untouchable (disambiguation).

Untouchability is the practice of ostracizing a group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The excluded group could be one that did not accept the norms of the excluding group and historically included foreigners, nomadic tribes, law-breakers and criminals and those suffering from a contagious disease. It could also be a group, that did not accept change of customs enforced by a certain group. This exclusion was a method of punishing law-breakers and also protected traditional societies against contagion from strangers and the infected. A member of the excluded group is known as an Untouchable.

The term is commonly associated with treatment of the Dalit communities, who are considered "polluting" among the people of South Asia, but the term has been used for other groups as well, such as the Burakumin of Japan, Cagots in Europe, or the Al-Akhdam in Yemen. Untouchability has been made illegal in post-independence India, and Dalits substantially empowered, although some prejudice against them continues.[1]

Untouchability in practice[edit]

Untouchables of Malabar, Kerala (1906)

Untouchability and discrimination[edit]

In the name of untouchability, Dalits have faced work and descent-based discrimination at the hands of the dominant castes. Instances of this discrimination at different places and times included:[2]

  • Prohibition from eating with other caste members
  • Provision of separate cups in village tea stalls
  • Separate seating arrangements and utensils in restaurants
  • Segregation in seating and food arrangements in village functions and festivals
  • Prohibition from entering into village temples
  • Prohibition from wearing sandals or holding umbrellas in front of higher caste members
  • Prohibition from entering other caste homes
  • Prohibition from riding a bicycle inside the village
  • Prohibition from using common village path
  • Separate burial grounds
  • No access to village's common/public properties and resources (wells, ponds, temples, etc.)
  • Segregation (separate seating area) of children in schools
  • Bonded labour
  • Social boycotts by other castes for refusing to perform their "duties"

Government action in India[edit]

The 1950 national constitution of India legally abolished the practice of untouchability and provided measures for positive discrimination in both educational institutions and public services for Dalits and other social groups who lie within the caste system. These are supplemented by official bodies such as the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Despite this, instances of prejudice against Dalits still occur in some rural areas, as evidenced by events such as the Kherlanji massacre.

In recent times, there has been some radical reforms in the social sector of India. The famous Vithoba Temple, Pandharpur became the first temple in India to allow priests from backward classes.[3]

Untouchable groups[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Peter Berger, Frank Heidemann. The Modern Anthropology of India: Ethnography, Themes and Theory. Routledge. p. 164. 
  2. ^ Who are Dalits? & What is Untouchability? — Portal
  3. ^ "Lord Vithoba temple makes history by having women and lower-caste priests". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 

External links[edit]