Read this short paragraph on Untouchability in India !
Untouchability is another major problem in rural India. It is basically a rural problem, seeds of which are only found in rural soil. Untouchability is an ancient notion.
Traditionally, Indian society was broadly divided into four groups such as Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra.
In the caste hierarchy, the lowest place was given to the Sudras and as such they were considered as untouchables by the people of other castes. Historically, Sudras have been subjected to extreme form of exploitation and inhuman treatment by the upper sections of the society.
The practice of untouchability appears to be the creation of the ‘twice-born’ caste for keeping the Sudras in abject poverty and misory. Mahatma Gandhi says, “untouchability is the hateful expression of caste system and it is a crime against God and man”. Further, he lovingly called the untouchables as Harijans which means the people of God.
Untouchability has often been termed as the ‘Inhuman Institution of Hindu Society’. It has been defined as ‘the segregation of a section of the Hindus as untouchables, who were precluded from such elementary rights as the right of entry to public temples or of the use of public wells and tanks, and the physical touch of whom contaminated a member of the higher castes, constituted the most inhuman form of social oppression’.
Since untouchability is a very old concept, the untouchables were identified by different names in different periods. In Vedic period, they were known as ‘Chandala’. In Medieval age, they were addressed as ‘Achhuta’.
In the British period, they were known as ‘Exterior Caste’. In the present time, they are generally known as the ‘Scheduled Caste’ by the Indian Constitution. Though, the untouchables are not theoretically considered as a part of Varna organisation, they are closely linked with the Hindu social life. The presence .of untouchable is indispensable for the smooth functioning of Hindu society because they perform certain polluting occupations like scavenging, removal of the dead cattle and so on.
It is difficult to define untouchability. Therefore, it is usually defined in terms of those who suffer from certain disabilities. Thus, it may be said that suffering from all kinds of disabilities is the sign of untouchability. Vradharita Smriti says that persons belonging to different non-Vedic religions or semi- religious sects are to be treated as untouchables. According to Manu Smriti, the people who follow the lowest kind of occupations which include scavenging, leather work, removal of the cattle etc. are to be regarded as untouchables. G. S. Ghurye says “Ideas of purity whether occupational or ceremonial, which are found to have been a factor in the genesis of caste are the very soul of the idea and practice of untouchability.”
According to Dr. D. N. Majumdar, “Untouchable castes are those who suffer from various ‘social and political disabilities many of which are .traditionally prescribed and socially enforced by higher castes”.
Thus, untouchables are those castes which are subjected to all kinds of disabilities in every walk of life such as social, economic, religious and political. In other words, the persons who have no right to enjoy any privilege, who do not touch the shadow of higher caste, who follow the lowest kind of occupations, who have occupied the lowest position in the caste hierarchy and are deprived of all sorts of things are called the untouchables.