World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000852252
Reproduction Date:

Title: Untouchability  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Fundamental rights in India, Outcast (person), Caste system in India, B. R. Ambedkar, Did you know nominations/Beda people
Collection: Caste, Discrimination, Indian Caste System, Persecution
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Untouchability is the practice of ostracising 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.

According to Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, untouchability was born about 400 AD, due to the struggle for supremacy between Buddhism and Brahmanism (an ancient term for Brahmanical Hinduism).[1] 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. However Hinduism has no clear position on untouchability. The Bhagavad Gita, a central text in Hinduism, often challenged the caste system, stating for example that ‘The wise looks with an equal eye upon a noble brahmin, a cow, an elephant, a dog and an outcast (chandala)’.[2]

Untouchability has been made illegal in post-independence India, and Dalits substantially empowered, although some prejudice against them continues.[3]


  • Diverse ethnicities population in South Asia 1
    • Government action in India 1.1
  • Untouchable groups 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Diverse ethnicities population in South Asia

Untouchables of Malabar, Kerala (1906)

According to Sarah Pinto, an anthropologist, untouchability in India applies to people whose work relates to "death, bodies, meat, and bodily fluids".[4] In the name of untouchability, Dalits have faced work and descent-based discrimination at the hands of the dominant castes. Instances of caste discrimination at different places and times included:[5]

  • Prohibition from eating with other 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 (This is diminishing these days)
  • Prohibition from wearing sandals or holding umbrellas in front of higher caste members
  • Prohibition from entering other caste homes
  • 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

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 have 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.[6]

Untouchable groups

See also


  1. ^ "Top RSS leader misquotes Ambedkar on untouchability". 
  2. ^ |url=,+a+cow,+an+elephant,+a+dog+and+a+chandala%E2%80%99&source=bl&ots=T3WhQquAHC&sig=-hfjIgNu066i0Oah589Zdt5ieVU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAGoVChMIv9z07I2OyAIVBqvbCh0Zvw_R#v=onepage&q=The%20wise%20looks%20with%20an%20equal%20eye%20upon%20a%20noble%20brahmin%2C%20a%20cow%2C%20an%20elephant%2C%20a%20dog%20and%20a%20chandala%E2%80%99&f=false|
  3. ^ Peter Berger, Frank Heidemann. The Modern Anthropology of India: Ethnography, Themes and Theory. Routledge. p. 164. 
  4. ^ Pinto, Sarah (2013). Where There Is No Midwife: Birth and Loss in Rural India. Berghahn Books. p. 47.  
  5. ^ Who are Dalits? & What is Untouchability? — Portal
  6. ^ "Lord Vithoba temple makes history by having women and lower-caste priests". IANS. Retrieved 9 May 2014. 

External links

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.