Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On untouchability

Untouchability in Rural India, by Ghanashyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar is an important text for the times, particularly in the light of the recent violence involving Dalits.

The introduction sets out the primary concerns in straight, precise terms. The observations are acute: the caste-class correlation has remained remarkably stable, while those between caste and economic status, and caste and occupation have become less rigid or weaker.

The three main dimensions of untouchability — exclusion, humiliation-subordination and exploitation — are covered adequately, often through statistics, although the most recent figures date back to 1999-2000. Updating the statistics might make room for new insights and observations. Extracts from works of fiction and poetry are a bonus for the reader.

A couplet by Chandrashekhar Gokhale goes:

“Outside every village is a small Dalit hamlet
Yet the fourth standard textbook includes a lesson on equality.”

Read Sandip Bandopadhyay's article on caste in West Bengal here.

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