The Visibility of Untouchability under Today’s Crisis


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The assertion of power by the upper castes on the lower castes in India is very much prevalent till date regardless of the current crisis. It is true that violence is the most conspicuous form of oppression, but there are other ways through which oppression is exercised. We are living in the 21st century and still aren’t able to annihilate the injustices produced by the caste system. The lower castes are still subjected to harassment, refusal of work, basic education and minimum dignity. 

Evident existence of untouchability
It has been seen that the argument of invisibility of one’s caste in today’s date is a part of the common discourse. Unfortunately, it is quite the opposite. It has been claimed that in the last 15 years, the cases of atrocities against the dalit population registered in Gujarat have been increased by 70 percent. A few Dalits were brutally beaten up by a bunch of self-professed gau rakshaks (cow-protectors) after being accused of skinning a dead cow in Una of Somnath district on 11th July.   Another instance is when a wedding procession of a Dalit groom (an army jawan on leave) was disrupted in Gujarat’s Banaskantha district after people from Thakor Kali community pelted stones at them. The groom was attacked for riding a mare as a part of his wedding procession which is considered to be an upper caste privilege. 

Difference based on suburbanization

The pattern of social stratification between the two ends of the extremely hierarchical caste system depends on whether it has occurred in an urban or a rural area. Due to migration and consequent increase in the population of the metropolitans, there is a sense of anonymity among the residents. This anonymity that the cities offer, reduces the extremity of discrimination faced by the Dalits to some extent. On the other hand, the atrocities that occur in the villages are of the extreme form. 

In villages, people from the lower castes are not allowed to drink water from the same well as the rest of the village. They aren’t allowed to wear bright clothes. Their children are asked to sit separately in educational institutions and so on. In contrast to this, the urban residents have a subtler way of doing the same. For instance, people in urban areas have two sets of tea cups, one for the guests and one for the domestic workers and occasional laborers. Due to the monopolization of power in the hands of the upper castes since time immemorial, there has been an overlap in the concepts of class and caste empirically. 
This has resulted in the upper castes becoming the ‘haves’ and the lower castes becoming the ‘have nots’. Henceforth, the upper castes provide the excuse of maintaining ‘hygiene’ to carry on this discriminatory practice in order to sustain exclusivity of their community. Another indicator of the existence of caste system in urban India is drinking water from a bottle without touching the mouth of the same. 

Corona virus as a means to promote the caste system 

The usage of the word “social distancing” that has been made mandatory for tackling the spread of corona virus is similar to the social custom of ‘untouchability’. Social distancing from the so-called untoucahbles was evidently practiced before the drafting of the Indian Constitution. While the world is fighting the deadly pandemic, there have been some Brahmins and people from other upper castes who have used the term ‘social distancing’ in their caste fundamentalist campaigns as a measure to defend caste-based discrimination. They have argued that their caste-based distancing is a cure for the virus that they have discovered thousands of years ago. They have been successful in propagating this mantra widely in Tamil Nadu through the means of internet. Meat being the cause of the virus, they have claimed that the teetotalers (mostly upper castes) will be safe from the virus whereas the meat eaters such as the lower castes are prone to it.  This dirty campaign led to the closure of meat shops in the South and also to an extent in the other parts of the country. 

Considering India’s history, the media and the government must avoid recommending ‘social distancing’ as a measure and only use the term ‘physical distancing’. The World Health Organization (WHO) has also begun to call it ‘physical distancing’ instead of ‘social distancing’. This deadly virus does not enter a body considering it as the body of a Dalit or a Brahmin, Muslim or a Christian, man or a woman. It does not care whether one is a meat eater or a vegetarian. Therefore, the country must leave behind its caste prejudices and discrimination and unite to fight till the end of this virus. As Ambedkar once said, the country cannot survive and progress further without attending to its social injuries. 

Written by – Daity Talukdar

Edited by: Chhavi Gupta
The Visibility of Untouchability under Today’s Crisis The Visibility of Untouchability under Today’s Crisis Reviewed by Chhavi Gupta on May 23, 2020 Rating: 5

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