Untouchbility is a social evil. It is unfortunate that some people treat some others as untouchables. The practice has its roots in the social structure. Indian society is divided into different castes. In the distant past these castes were formed based on the job or profession one took up. People who took up mean and unclean works were kept away from the remaining sections of society. Slowly they began to be treated as untouchables. In some cases men who violated the established customs and traditions were treated as outcastes. They were not allowed into the village but had to live away from it. These practices gradually took the ugly shape of untouchability.

Untouchability is prompted by the spirit of social aggression and the belief in purity and pollution that characterizes casteism. It is generally taken for granted that Dalits are considered polluted people at the lowest end of the caste order. The jobs considered polluting and impure are reserved for Dalits, and in many cases Dalits are prevented from engaging in any other work. These jobs include removing human waste (known as “manual scavenging”), dragging away and skinning animal carcasses, tanning leather, making and fixing shoes, and washing clothes. They are supposed to reside outside the village so that their physical presence does not pollute the “real” village. Not only are they restricted in terms of space, but their houses are also supposed to be inferior in quality and devoid of any facilities like water and electricity.

Should a Dalit break one of these rules, frequently the entire Dalit community will be punished for the perceived individual transgression. Punishment often takes the form of denial of access to land or employment, physical attacks on Dalit women, and the burning down of Dalit homes. Despite a clear record of violence against the Dalits, there are numerous reports that police officials have refused to register complaints about violations of the law or to prosecute those responsible for the abuses. With little knowledge of their rights, limited access to attorneys, and no money for hearings or bail, Dalits are easy targets for human rights violations. Untouchability is in this sense a corollary of the caste system, and the only way to get rid of it seems to be to get rid of the caste system itself.

However the practice continues to live in the country. After Independence many laws have been made to curb untouchability. Harijans now enjoy some special constitutional rights. Much is being done to improve their lot. Students belonging to these communities are given scholarships and other such facilities. Reservations are provided in jobs. Because of all this now the dalits enjoy a position of honour in society. All religions preach that all men are the children of god. The Mahatma declared that all men are brothers. We have to treat the so called untouchables as our own selves. Nobody should harm their interests.

General Contributor
Janice is a writer from Chicago, IL. She created the "simple living as told by me" newsletter with more than 12,000 subscribers about Living Better and is a founder of Seekyt.

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