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Untouchability is the social-religious practice of ostracizing a minority 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, house workers, nomadic tribes, law-breakers and criminals and those suffering from a contagious disease. 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, especially in rural pockets dominated by certain other backward caste (OBC) groups.
Untouchability in practice
Untouchability and discrimination
- Prohibition from eating with other caste members
- Provision of separate glasses for Dalits in village tea stalls
- Discriminatory seating arrangements and separate 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 Dalit children in schools
- Sub-standard wages
- Bonded labour
- Social boycotts by other castes for refusing to perform their "duties"
Government action in India
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.
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- Gypsies in India and Europe
- Burakumin in Japan
- Baekjeong in Korea
- Cagots in France
- Dalit in South Asia
- Ragyabpa in Tibet (see Social classes of Tibet)
- India's "Untouchables" Face Violence, Discrimination. Hillary Mayell for National Geographic News. June 2, 2003
- Who are Dalits? & What is Untouchability? — Portal