[ View the story "'Untouchable' no more" on Storify] 'Untouchable' no more Imagining an India without caste.
Storified by The Stream · Mon, Sep 24 2012 09:37:24
The caste system in India is an informal social strata based on a creation story from the Hindu Rigveda. In the story, the world is created from the sacrifice of a common man, whose body was split to form four
varnas, or societal subgroups - Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra. Later, the varnas grew to include a fifth group, the Ati-Shudra, also known as 'untouchables' or 'Dalits'. Over time, thousands of jati - or individual castes - formed within these larger varnas.
Filmmaker Stalin K. uses his lens to follow and document the stories of peoples in 'untouchable' castes. The film below, from 2007, explores the self-perpetuating nature of caste-based discrimination, as well as its ability to permeate across religious distinctions and within the Dalit
varna between individual jatis.
India Untouched - Stories of a People Apart | Watch Documentaries Online | Promote Documentary FilmDocumentary on âIndia Untouched - Stories of a People Apartâ is perhaps the most comprehensive look at Untouchability ever undertaken on ...
Though unntouchability practices have been outlawed in India since 1950, a 2012 report
by the UN Working Group on Human Rights (WGHR) in India found that certain practices remain prevalent throughout the country.
UN Working Group on Human Rights in IndiaAJstream
UN Working Group on Human Rights in IndiaAJstream
Short clips from a Video Volunteers India project, Article 17 - named for the constitutional provision which bans caste-based discrimination - documents the resilience of untouchability practices. In day-to-day life, Dalits are resigned to
in unsanitary conditions and may be
to basic services that other castes receive.
Untouchable Jobs | ARTICLE 17videovolunteers
Dalits argue that they are treated as sub-human and claim that they are often
by government and security forces because of their caste.
Killed for Protesting Untounchability | ARTICLE 17videovolunteers
The documentary project shows that caste division exists among Dalits as well. Below, Raya Bhikhuda, a Valmiki man, explains how individual Dalit castes interact daily, but don't dare intermarry:
Untouchability amongst Dalits | ARTICLE 17videovolunteers
This sentiment is echoed online, where matrimony websites display caste divisions front and center for relationship searches:
Despite efforts by the Indian government to advance Dalits, the community is under-represented in administrative and elected bodies.
to the Times Of India, although low castes - including Dalits - comprise a majority of the Indian population, only 15 per cent of state legislators and 4 per cent of judges are from lower castes.
Why 3/4 th of all Prime Ministers are from Upper caste when their combined share in population is less than Dalits.ashutosh
In certain Indian provinces, caste politics are more prominent than others. Uttar Pradesh contains more than 60 castes constantly competing for representation. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), formed in 1984 to represent lower castes, is based in Uttar Pradesh and holds power there. The BSP was led by Chief Minister Mayawati on several occasions, most recently from 2007-2012. Mayawati often drew on her Dalit heritage to gain political favour.
Even when Dalits are elected, a history of pandering to castes renders many citizens sceptical. Below, Twitter users
accuse those elected of failing to protect those they represent:
Outside of party politics, the Indian government has attempted to address the poor conditions faced by Dalits through an affirmative action programme known as the 'reservation system'. Reservation defines Dalit casts as 'Scheduled Castes' (SCs), low-ranking groups outside of the traditional caste system as 'Scheduled Tribes' (STs), and other low-ranking castes as 'Other Backward Castes' (OBCs). The number of castes that are considered OBCs has
to 2,251, doubling since 1993.
Annual university admissions and central-government jobs are held for these groups under the reservation system, with 7.5 per cent reserved for STs, 15 per cent for SCs, and 27 per cent for OBCs. In sum, 49.5 per cent of university and government job spots are held for these groups.
Reaction to the system among non Dalits is not typically positive. The comic below, was shared with The Stream by Reddit user
It reveals a lot about how discriminatory attitudes have evolved with the times and see modern day myth making in action.adirabanna comments on (X-post from Al Jazeera's /r/AJStream) - 'Untouchable' no more - Imagining an India without caste
The assumption again is that dalits are incapable of learning if given the opportunity; nor are they capable of knowing what is fair and what is not.adirabanna comments on (X-post from Al Jazeera's /r/AJStream) - 'Untouchable' no more - Imagining an India without caste
Indian netizens often complain about the legislation, sometimes citing the economic
of individual Dalits.
I hate it when rich Dalits use the 'We've been oppressed for 5000 years card' to get a leeway in everything. Really? You've lived that long?Satan Bhagat
Agree RT @SmilePleez: To end Casteism, first end Reservation. #SMJ #DalitIshan Bhardwaj
My #dalit friend and me passed out from same school with same marks. He got a seat in college and I failed. #reservation.Manoj Beborta
Divide (further) and rule #ReservationBhavin Jadav
RIP 'Hardwork' courtesy #Reservation in promotion by Government of India.Suman Gangopadhyay
If #reservation is must in India , the give it according to their economic status not according to their caste .Vignesh S S
Many have argued that free-market capitalism and entrepreneurial gains are chipping away at caste divisions. In an op-ed for the Times of India, Milind Kamble, chairman of the Dalit India Chambers of Commerce and Industries, writes:
Caste is losing its grip over dalits because India is industrializing, urbanizing and modernizing. Dalit capitalism will accelerate that process and will accord a human face to Indian capitalism. Caste and capital can't coexist. One has to give way to the other.Caste and capital can't coexist - The Times of India
Not all share that view. In a comment to The Stream, Bushra Sayed took issue with the argument that economic gains will be mirrored by social or political independence.
Economic empowerment will not lead to a permanent solution. The majority of the so called “untouchables” are forced to do the most hard and disgusting labour. They do not have other options and they are not given any, because no one else would do it instead. Some who get the opportunity to study and find a good job, will always be recognised as a “dalit”, which is ridiculous. The solution lies in the problem itself and that is the mentality of people. As long as this caste system exists, people will not accept or respect eachother as equal humanbeings.Bushra Sayed
Projects like Video Volunteers' Article 17 are trying to change the way Indians think about caste and pressure officials at the same time. Article 17 connects their videos to online
at Change.org which ask users to send letters to village ministers.
The video below, from the Dangariya Village of Rajasthan, shows Dalit women removing their shoes as they pass upper-caste homes.
Untouchability while Walking | ARTICLE 17videovolunteers
The petition garnered a statement by village's District Magistrate which officially condemned the practice:
"Untouchability is a crime and its practice in any form is forbidden under the law. The District magistrate is vigilant and very sensitive to this issue. Strict action would be taken against those who practice this inhuman acty which denies dignity and equality to human beings. The District Administration is thankful to you for highlighting suvh an issue being practiced as a custom in Dangariya and wishes you best of luck for your crusades against untouchability. Thank you" -- District Magistrate of Karauli, BishnuPetition | Untouchability abolished in Dangariya (Rajasthan) | Change.org
victory and labeled the untouchability practise as 'abolished' in Dangariya Village. The Times of India, however, illustrated a contrast between the online victory and the effect on-the-ground:
The villagers, though, seem quite oblivious of the efforts of the outside world to change things for them. Those spoken to knew nothing of the online petition or the website — change.org — that hosted it. The video and the administrative intervention notwithstanding, Dalits in the village almost seem to have internalized and accepted caste interactions as they take place. Saubhagyawati (name changed on request), a farm-worker , adds her own two matter-offact cents. "If someone of authority sits on a chair, won't we sit on the floor?" she asks.Shoe comes right back to the foot - Times Of India
Still, high-profile Indians are bringing issues of untouchability to light and framing them as a social ill rather than an unmovable tradition.
Bollywood Actor Aamir Khan has recently written about the problems of caste-division in India, claiming that India cannot possibly view itself as a superpower if caste-based discrimination remains. Below, Khan speaks to the
National Media Museum
Today, many of us have a vision of what our country should be, what it can be, what India’s rightful place in the world is. Many of us dream of India becoming a superpower. But can this ever happen in a country where society is so fractured; where walls divide us? Can we ever achieve our vision if we don’t believe in a shared social good?The Hindu : Opinion / Columns : Can’t be a superpower as long as untouchability exists
In response to this case of celebrity activism, columnist and human rights author Mari Machel Thekaekara wonders if change in caste system can come from society itself:
Our poor and our oppressed so desperately need a new tomorrow. Rabindranath Tagore, poet, Nobel laureate and freedom fighter, pleaded for a new dawn with our independence. A new India ‘where the mind is without fear and the head is held high’. Can Bollywood make this happen? Or Aamir Khan? Let’s hope so.Can Bollywood shatter India’s caste system? -- New Internationalist