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In any case, the police have better things to do than go poking their nose into the private affairs of the people" [The Minority Rights Group]. The law also prohibits the semi-slavery of debt-bonded labor, but in the Gandhi Peace Foundation conducted a sample survey of villages in 10 states and estimated 2,, bonded laborers in these 10 states alone. The survey team also found relatives and key supporters of legislators and senior bureaucrats among those employing bonded labor.

The police are not quick to "poke their noses" into these cases either [Gandhi Peace Foundation, ]. The same problems affect a formidable array of redistributive laws - minimum wages, development grants for the landless and marginal farmers, land reforms. By the reaction to village Untouchables' efforts to assert equality had been so violent - involving mass murders and arson - that one senior Indian social scientist urged a policy of planned emergency urbanization of Untouchables.

The same argument has been made by Untouchable intellectuals as well. Untouchables in urban India continue to have low social and economic status. Opportunities for mobility are by no means equal. Untouchables are not physically distinctive, but access to India's desperately scarce jobs, housing, and services requires manipulation of social relationships - to an extent Westerners find difficult to comprehend and higher caste Indians find easy to ignore.

Reporting on a survey of employment patterns of urban college graduates, one study noted, "Graduates from the lower castes are more often unemployed This holds true even when the low-caste graduate has the better academic qualifications". Special access programs to higher education and to jobs in the massive public-sector bureaucracies and industries are designed to counter such resistance but are hampered by hostile administrators. There has been change, but it has had a recurrent price, whether it be three months of riots against the education and job programs for Untouchables in both urban and rural Gujarat in , or a recent "minor" riot in Sholapur on the heels of an Untouchable literary conference.

An earlier incident in Agra, the city of the Taj Mahal, illustrates the complexity of the urban situation. Here Untouchables have some limited economic independence because their "polluting" leather craft is the basis for small businesses. Many have also asserted cultural independence through conversion to Buddhism. An annual parade in honor of the late Untouchable leader, Dr.

Ambedkar, consciously symbolizes all that Untouchables should not be according to prevailing standards - proud, assertive, non-Hindu, and wealthy enough to carry out a parade that rivals higher caste displays. The parade is resented by the higher caste population, and in conflict triggered a police riot.

The police went on a rampage in Untouchable residential areas, killing nine, seriously injuring more than , burning homes, and leaving the walls of an Untouchable Buddhist shrine riddled with bullet holes. As yet, no police have been brought to trial. The situation is grim. The book, if I may say so, deals not only with every aspect of the main question set out for inquiry, namely, the origin of Untouchability, but it also deals with almost all questions connected with it.

Some of the questions are such that very few people are even aware of them; and those who are aware of them are puzzled by them and do not know how to answer them. To mention only a few, the book deals with such questions as: Why do the Untouchables live outside the village? Why did beef-eating give rise to Untouchability? Did the Hindus never eat beef? Why did non-Brahmins give up beef-eating?

What made the Brahmins become vegetarians, etc.? To each one of these the book suggests an answer. It may be that the answers given in tb book to these questions are not all-embracing. Nonetheless it will be found that the book points to a new way of looking at old things. The thesis on the origin of Untouchability advanced in the book is an altogether novel thesis.

The Untouchables

It comprises the following propositions: 1 There is no racial difference between the Hindus and the Untouchables; 2 The distinction between the Hindus and Untouchables in its original form, before the advent of Untouchability, was the distinction between Tribesmen and Broken Men from alien Tribes. All orthodox Hindu writers have identified the Impure with the Untouchables. This is an error. Untouchables are distinct from the Impure. These conclusions are the result of such historical research as I have been able to make. The ideal which a historian should place before himself has been well defined by Goethe who said: "The historian's duty is to separate the true from the false, the certain from the uncertain, and the doubtful from that which cannot be accepted Every investigator must before all things look upon himself as one who is summoned to serve on a jury.

He has only to consider how far the statement of the case is complete and clearly set forth by the evidence. Then he Draws his conclusion and gives his vote, whether it be that his opinion coincides with that of the foreman or not. All this advice is of course very valuable and very necessary. But Goethe does not tell what the historian is to do when he comes across a missing link, when no direct evidence of connected relations between important events is available. I mention this because in the course of my investigations into the origin of Untouchability and other inter connected problems I have been confronted with many missing links.

It is true that I am not the only one who has been confronted with them. All students of ancient Indian history have had to face them. For as Mount Stuart Elphinstone has observed in Indian history "no date of a public event can be fixed before the invasion of Alexander: and no connected relation of the natural transactions can be attempted until after the Mohamedan conquest.


The question is: "What is a student of history to do? Is he to cry halt and stop his work until the link is discovered? I believe that in such cases it is permissible for him to use his imagination and intuition to bridge the gaps left in the chain of facts by links not yet discovered and to propound a working hypothesis suggesting how facts which cannot be connected by known facts might have been inter-connected. I must admit that rather than hold up the work, I have preferred to resort to this means to get over the difficulty created by the missing links which have come in my way.

Critics may use this weakness to condemn the thesis as violating the canons of historical research. If such be the attitude of the critics I must remind them that if there is a law which governs the evaluation of the results of historical results then refusal to accept a thesis on the ground that it is based on direct evidence is bad law. Instead of concentrating themselves on the issue of direct evidence versus inferential evidence and inferential evidence versus Speculation, what the critics should concern themselves with is to examine: i whether the thesis is based on pure conjecture, and ii whether the thesis is possible and if so does it fit in with facts better than mine does?

On the first issue I could say that the thesis would not be unsound merely because in some parts it is based on guess. My critics should remember that we are dealing with an institution the origin of which is lost in antiquity.

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The present attempt to explain the origin of Untouchability is not the same as writing history from texts which speak with certainty. It is a case of reconstructing history where the are no texts, and if there are, they have no direct bearing on the question. In such circumstances what one has to do is to strive to divine what the texts conceal or suggest without being even quit: certain of having found the truth.

The task is one of gathering survivals of the past, placing them together and making them tell the story of their birth. The task is analogous to that of the archaeologist who constructs a city from broken stones or of the palaeontologist who conceives an extinct animal from scattered bones and teeth or of a painter who reads the lines of the horizon and the smallest vestiges on the slopes of the hill to make up a scene.

In this sense the book Is a work of art even more than of history. The origin of Untouchability lies buried in a dead past which nobody knows. To make it alive is like an attempt to reclaim to history a city which has been dead since ages past and present it as it was in its original condition.

Untouchables, The (United States, 1987)

It cannot but be that imagination and hypothesis should pay a large part in such a work. But that in itself cannot be a ground for the condemnation of the thesis. And today I still see Dalit children who, just like me, are walking down the same street, thirsty and famished. The caste system holds us responsible for our suffering.

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Solidarity and support from non-Dalits do not exist, even today in the 21st century. It is. Stuck in this dark chamber of millennia-old, forcibly-imposed inferiority complex, fear and terror, we struggle to break free. The only way out is self-love. It put the caste systems across the world into perspective for me.

It referenced the "Buraku people of Japan, the Osu of Nigeria's Igbo people, and certain groups in Senegal, Mauritania and Somalia" who suffer under "their own caste or caste-like systems". The terrorism my community faced in our lives seemed no longer exclusive to us and certainly not attached to our fate only. This "discovery" took me to places with hopes of finding fellow oppressed peoples who are fighting the monster of caste discrimination and hatred.

I started asking people from across the world about the caste system in their societies. Due to abject poverty and lack of representation, many untouchables of the world are still unable to challenge mainstream narratives in their societies. Through my travels and research, I also discovered that the postcolonial scholarship and activism were another stratagem of the elites of native societies to hide the oppressions they practice and redirect public attention towards the external "other" - the moribund colonial state.

They have thoroughly researched the historical and sociological underpinnings of colonial rule in their native societies, thus developing a novel yet spineless critique.

In the postcolonial project, oppressor castes from the colonised societies ensured that the radical voices of dissent from among the lower castes never received the attention needed to achieve their liberation. The subalterns fighting for civil rights have sporadically made the news but almost never the headlines.

Because of this, entire generations of the last century were fed one-dimensional propaganda of postcolonial fears and tears. The actual pains of the suffering masses were buried under the heaps of mystified narratives of the Third World. In addition to the uniqueness of caste being a descent-based, inherited form of inescapable discrimination, there are other types of prejudice that result in similar oppression.

There is what we can call a Fourth World of outcastes around the world who have been left out of the prominent discourses and debates concerning human rights and social and economic justice. Today, there is an urgent need to identify these underprivileged groups and establish international solidarity networks. Such solidarity work has been undertaken before but it has received little public and theoretical attention. Its traces were lost within the dominant discourses on nation-state building and the pursuit of democracy.