Saturday, November 12, 2011

Interrogating Untouchability: A Cultural Discourse
‘whatever you touch, touches you too’

Dr. P. Kesava Kumar

Untouchability is a peculiar phenomenon manufactured by Indian society. It is a social regulation and a custom that have been sustaining for many centuries. It is a collective cultural practice with many connotations. It has carried through caste system and immensely maintained through hindu religion. It has multidimensional features that have convergence of religious, social, economical, cultural and political systems. Untouchability has multiple functions and has a multilayered social principle that has manifesting in different forms. In simple terms, it is an institutionalized form of humiliation. Untouchability is both a condition of existence, as well as a violent expression of power. It is an inhuman social practice against human dignity. The issue of untouchability is central to the studies on Indian society. In modern times, untouchability has debated and opposed at various fronts ranging from social reformers to dalit movement with different view points. The approaches of Gandhi and Ambedkar are significant in this regard. After, independence, Indian state too has recognized this problem and made laws to abolish the practice of untouchability with influence of liberal philosophy. The problem of untouchability has revisited by the scholars in the wake of autonomous struggles of dalit that contesting the existing notions and theories of untouchability. The philosophical and ethical theories of contemporary times, throws a new light in understanding the untouchability. The value of well being, social good, dignity, and respect are helpful in interrogating the cultural politics of untouchability. This paper is an attempt to provide an alternative meaning to untouchability against dominant conceptions of it from a dalit perspective. The problem of untouchability viewed from an ethical point of view in a direction towards a casteless and classless democratic Indian society.

Defining Untouchability

There is no abstract and absolute meaning of untouchability. But there are different conceptualizations of this. Untouchability is the term in English first appeared in print in 1909 in reference to members of lower caste hindus. it isa literal translation of the term asprusya in Sanskrit appeared in Mahabharata and Bhagavata purana. Untouchability as a concept pertains to patterns of thinking and patterns of behaviour operating in the net work of hindu social relations. In its broadest sense untouchability could be used to characterize any interaction which brings one in association with a potential source of defilement. The set of practices engaged in by other hindus to protect themselves from the defilement of proscribed contact with untouchables is the practice of untouchability, as opposed to the status of untouchables. The ancient law codes and Dhramasastras declare that touch of an untouchable renders the ritual state of Brahmin impure.

Vivekananda Jha (caste, untouchability and social justice), Untouchability meant permanent and hereditary pollution owing to physical contact with a section of Indian people and the group first identified for a purpose was the chandala. The Dharmasatras are unanimous in holding the touch of the chandalas as polluting and prescribe bath with clothes on as a means of expiation. The chandalas also cause pollution through proximity, sight, hearing and speech, entailing corresponding expiation. Physical association and commensal and connubial ties with the chandalas are completely prohibited and their segregation is legalized. What is significant is that untouchability developed in stages and the number of really untouchable castes at the bottom of society grew rather slowly. The cumulative evidence of the brahminical texts up to AD 200 does not add more than three or four such castes to the dharma sutra list of three. Caste actually solidified with the hardening of class relations in north India between 600 B.C. and 200 A.D, and untouchability, too, originated in pre Maurayan times, got accentuated by 200 A.D .since most of the castes which were initially reduced to the level of untouchables were those which had little share in the distribution of wealth, power or prestige, untouchability has to be viewed as the extreme manifestation of the institutionalized inequality of both caste and class structure. so far as early india s concerned, the expansion of caste and untouchability from 200 A.D to 1200 A.D was an uninterpreted and continuous process.
What ever its structural correlates, untouchability is essentially an experience of wounding, of willful hurt, through which the outcaste body becomes a stranger to itself, and is ever ready to fall off the edge, give into anomie and fragmentation. For Ambedkar, this system embodied the principle of graded inequality and for Periyar, untouchability was a norm that informed the caste system, at every level of its hierarchical existence. (P.96)

Socio-Ethnological Studies on Untouchables/Untouchability

Untouchable’s relationship to orthodox Hinduism is a debating point for many scholars. Dumount work on caste(1970) is a representation of Hinduism as a moral hierarchy deply accepted even by the most subordinated elements. Dumount reduced the hierarchy of caste system to an opposition between purity and impurity , citing the Brahmins as the pole of purity and untouchables as the pole of impurity.[1] Like wise Blunt speaks the inherent impurity of the untouchables,[2] while Stevenson argues that impurity absorbed through the untouchables traditional work.[3] In the line of Domount, Micheal Moffat too in his study on south Indian untouchability argued that the untouchables indeed belong to a single hindu community marked by a high degree of cultural consensus. There are scholars such as Berreman(1979) contested this view as a brahminical view of caste. He argues that the appropriate issue was not weather untouchables were part of and accepted the hindu order, but how an inhuman order of domination and subordination could be broken. Broadly one may classify the existing models of untouchability as follows suggested by Moffat:
1. Untouchables as an outcaste people possessed of a distinct culture and freer spirit ( eg.sexuality) than the high caste guardians of Hinduism. Berreman, Cathelene Gough and Joan Mencher belong to this group.
2. Bernard Cohn and Pauline Kolenda approach the untouchables through an emphasis on diversity. Like the earlier model, these scholars concentrate on contrasts between untouchables and the higher castes. But they differ in declining to posit an outright rejection of the dominant culture by the untouchables, and instead discern an adaptation of that culture to the particular needs of untouchable communities.
3. Domount ethno sociological approach followed by Marriot, Inden, Moffat and Nicholas are focus on ideology and culture and an insistence that these are not reducible to more universal phenomenon like stratification, power or oppression. Untouchables are a regular part of Hinduism and share in its common culture and ideology. Subordination and oppression of those at the bottom of the system should not obscure the essential unity of hindu society, which is to be viewed on its own rather than its comparative terms.
Deliege views untouchables beyond purity and pollution frame work. As he observed Untouchable castes lie at the bottom of Indian society. Their lowness is ritually explained by their permanent impurity which derives from their association with death and organic pollution. They thus fulfil an essential ritual function within Indian society: they remove impurity from the social world. However, their economic importance should not be neglected either: they work as agricultural labourers, servants, sweepers, scavengers, grave-diggers, dead-cattle removers, tanners, shoemakers, and so on. Economically, they live in dire poverty, and they are socially discriminated against as probably no other people in the world.[4]

The question of weather particular societies could be said to be marked primarily by consensus or conflict. Untouchability was not accepted without reflection or protest by its victims.
Ambedkar on Untouchability
Ambedkar’s theory of untouchability has its importance over other theories due to its his approach from a victim of the untouchability. Ambedkar observed that for the old orthodox hindu , observance of untouchability is natural and normal thing and finds it nothing wrong. As such it neither calls for expiation nor explanation. Though the new modern hindu realizes untouchability is wrong, but ashamed to discuss it in public for fear of letting the foreigner know that hindu civilization can be guilty of such a vicious and infamous system or social code evidenced by untouchability. He noted that it is strange that untouchability should have failed to attract the attention of the European student of social institutions. Further he is critical about available approaches on the study of caste and untouchable by both brahminical and oriental and colonial scholars. Ambedkar himself believes that the thesis on the origin of untouchability proposed by him is novel and scholarly and historically analyzed. The question of untouchability was dealt elaborately by Ambedkar in The Untouchables (vol.7).Who were they and Why they became untouchables? This deals about the origin of untouchability and the questioned connected with it. Why do the untouchables live outside the villages? 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 becomes vegetarians ,etc?

There is no racial difference between the hindus and untouchables. The distinction between the hindus and untouchables in its original form, before the advent of untouchability, was the distinction between tribes man and broken men from alien tribes. It is the broken men who subsequently came to be treated as untouchables. Just as untouchability has no racial basis so also has no occupational basis. There are roots from which untouchability has sprung: a. contempt and hatred of the broken men as of Budhists by the Brahmins, b. continuation of beef eating by the broken men after it had been given up by others. in searching for the origin of the untouchability care must be taken to distinguish the untouchables from the impure. All orthodox hindu writers have identified the impure with untouchables. This is an error. Untouchables are distinct from the impure. While the impure as a class came into existence at the time of the dharma sutras the untouchables came into being much later than 400 A.D.[5]

It will be agreed on all hands that what underlies untouchability is the notion of defilement, pollution, contamination and the ways and means of getting rid of that defilement. There are no people primitive or ancient who did not entertain the notion of pollution. In the matter of pollution there is nothing to distinguish the Hindus from the primitive or ancient peoples. That they recognized pollution is abundantly clear from the Manu smriti. Manu recognizes physical defilement and also notional defilement. The idea of defilement in manu is real and not merely notional. For he makes the food offered by the polluted person unacceptable. For the purpose of purification Manu treats the subject of defilement from three aspects1. Physical defilement 2. Notional defilement or Psychological defilement, and 3. Ethical defilement. The rule for purification of ethical defilement which occurs when a person entertains evil thoughts are more admonitions and exhortations. But the rites for removal of notional and physical defilement are same.. They include the use of water, warth, cow’s urine, the kusa grass, and ashes. Earth, cow’s urine, kusa grass and ashes are prescribed as purificatory agents for removing physical impurities caused by the touch of inanimate objects. Water is the chief agent of removal of notional defilement. It is used in threeways1 sipping, 2. Bath and 3. Ablution.

Ambedkar went further in dealing the question of untouchability. Another form of untouchability observed by the Hindus which has not yet been set out. It is the hereditary untouchability of certain communities. Surely the phenomenon of untouchability among primitive and ancient society pales into insignificance before this phenomenon of hereditary untouchability for so many millions of people which we find in India. This type of untouchability among Hindus stands in a class by itself. It has no parallel in the history of the world. There are some striking features of hindu system of untouchability affecting the 429 untouchable communities which are not to be found in the custom of untouchability as observed by non hindu communities, primitive or ancient.
The hindu who touch them and become polluted thereby can become pure by undergoing purificatory ceremonies. But there is nothing which can make the untouchables pure. They are born impure, they are impure while they live, they die the death of impure, and they give birth to children who are born with the stigma of untouchability affixed to them. It is a case of permanent, hereditary stain which nothing can cleanse. The non Hindu societies only isolated the affected individuals. They did not segregate them in separate quarters. The Hindu society insists on segregation of untouchables. The Hindu will not live in the quarters of untouchables and will not allow untouchables to live inside Hindu quarters. This is a fundamental feature of untouchability.

Philosophical Discourse on Untouchability
The discourses about untouchability are mostly ethnographical, and sociological. Occasionally scholars approached the problem from politics. These approaches have its own strength from concerned discipline, but have its limitations to have comprehensive understanding of untouchability. It is realized by some of the scholars that philosophical approaches to the problem of untouchability provides new direction. Gopal argues that untouchability as a dynamic reality is bound to produce experience which is always in excess of its description. He considers philosophical and archeological frame works could reveal a much richer and nuanced meaning of the phenomenon of untouchability. Untouchability in modern times is forced to hide itself behind certain modern meanings and identities. Hence, a mere sociological or anthropological description does not seem to be effective enough to access untouchability thus located. Archeology as a method seems to be more effective in accessing this complex mind because it deals not so much with a need to invent but to discover an essence or truth of caste that gets covered with a subtle form of untouchability.[6] It is suggested that re description of untouchability that can have implications for the discourse on disability.

Sunder Sarukkai and Gopal Guru have an attempt to initiate a philosophical discussion about untouchability. Sunder Sarukkai views untouchability as the essential marker of brahminhood and Gopal Guru argues that one has to look into the latent structures in consciousness to reveal the practice of untouchability by differentiating ‘real untouchable’ from an ‘ideal untouchable’ (Brahmin is an ideal untouchable, in the sense of Sarukkai). However, Gopal Guru appeals that both these conceptions are complementary to each other in philosophically understanding untouchability. The metaphysics of the body becomes a central issue in understanding the untouchability as disability. Sarukkai and Gopal Guru are defining untouchability in relation to the body. Sarukkai maintains that untouchability is a matter of heredity and not one of impurity, whereas Gopal Guru sees a kind of ontologi­cal equality in an inversion of the same by saying that human body being a source of impurities can be considered the critical starting point for evaluating all.[7] Sunder Sarukkai approached the untouchability from a phenomenological view and provides new meaning for untouchability that carried by an ideal Brahmin. In response to this, Gopal Guru viewed the untouchability from an archeological point of view evolved from a dalit experience. Both scholars consider the importance of touch and ethics of touch.

Sunder Sarukkai in his paper Phenomenology of Untouchability explores the foundations of untouchability through an analysis of phenomenology of touch. He considers the sense of touch is unique in many ways and finds it essential relation between touch and untouch. He points out the importance of untouchability within the Brahmin tradition and attempts to understand the process of supplementation which makes untouchability a positive virtue for the Brahmins and a negative fact for the dalits.[8]
While there have been tonnes written on the sociology and politics of this practice, there is little of significance on philosophical foundations of this practice. The philosophical engagement with touch seems to always require the notion of the untouchable. In the sense then, the idea of the untouchable is at the core of the ‘touchables’- not so surprisingly then, we find that untouchability is actually an essential marker of brahminhood. He argues that the displacement of this characteristic of untouchability from the Brahmins to the untouchables illustrates no just the ‘outsourcing’ of untouchability but also a philosophical move of supplementation.
The idea of untouchable is essential to the notion of touch. Merleau- Ponty invokes the idea of the untouchable through an analysis of touching and being touched.. To touch something is also and necessarily to be touched by it. This model makes it possible to understand the relation between the self and the other. Just as much as there is a reversal in the roles of touching/touched so too is there a reversal between the self and the other.
Every touching is possible only if it first overcomes this potential untouchability. The primary sense that defines touch-particularly of humans- is not the capacity to touch but the potential of untouchability. This has profound consequence on the creation of the narrative of the self as well as on action…. Not touching another is actually a manifestation of the problem of touching oneself- this shift is precisely what makes untouchability in the Indian context unique. This is what differentiates it from other objects which are beyond the sense of touch. That is, in the most essential sense untouchability is actually about the always present, potential untouchability not of another but of oneself. This is most clearly manifested in the way the structure of untouchability unfolds in the hindu practice.
It has been argued that untouchability is a characteristic of the Brahmin community. He quotes Quigley who notes that Brahmins can be untouchables, and untouchables, as ritual specialists, are priests. His reading of caste critiques Dumont’s observation that the hierarchy in the caste system occurs through the opposition of the pure and the impure.
He argues that the notion of untouchability among Brahmins is not restricted only to priests in the acts of accepting gifts or ‘accepting’ death of others. The rituals concerned with impurity begin with daily acts.. it is also the case that there are states of madi when the Brahmin is ‘untouchable’ to others and thse states accrue even when not associated with impurity. Almost all the moments of auspicious worship, festivals, marriages, daily prayers have some rituals of madi associated with them.
Madi is a charecterestic of untouchableness. A common ritual associated with madi is, the person who is doing a ritual must first of all wash his clothes and hang it to dry. Once it is dry it cannot be touched by any other person. The person who is ‘in’ madi can not wear the clothes unless he or she has had a bath. If the cloth has to be moved, it is often done with the help of stick.
The Brahmins untouchability is that one oes not want to be touched and is not that one is refused to touch. The touched-touching dichotomy which informs this position is one that is characteristic of touch. I agree with Ambedkar that these transient, voluntary states should not be equated with the notion of being untouchable.. In case of Archaryas the permanent untouchables since their untouchability is already inscribed within the notion of superior untouchability they retain this superior nature. Untouchability for these people is hereditary, it is part of tradition and that they are in a permanent state of being an untouchable, even to their family and kin. Here it is not about purity and impurity but about a state of being. He suggests that the most dominant marker of being a Brahmin lies in the concept of untouchability, lies in the potential of an individual to become a untouchable. How so? A Brahmin is one who not only has access to temporal and potential untouchability but also to permanent, hereditary untouchability.

Gopal Guru consider the Sarukkai’s new understanding of untouchability as outsourcing and supplementation questions the existing sociological theories, particularly of Domount. He argues that Sarukkai’s position has not only provides counter argument to Domount but also opens up the possibility solving some of the “sociological puzzles”. Gopal Guru initiates his argument that every human body is impure, both materially and morally. All the organic bodies contain within them negative properties like sweat, excreta, urine, mucus and gases. In the material sense, they are the source of foul smell and unpleasant feeling. Thus, at the metaphysical level, the organic body as the source of impurities suggests a kind of ontological equality – that everybody is dirty, both in moral sense as well as material sense. Ontological equality suggesting equal distribution of these impurities or organic refuse sitting underneath the skin of everybody is supposed to bring out in every person a moral insight that in turn will compel him/her to acknowledge this ontological equality. He further proceeds that organic body is a constitutive of panchabhute, earth, water, fire, air and akasa (space). At the metaphysical level, these Panchamahabhute assign affirmative meaning to “filthy” body as mentioned above. These five principles, which are naturally endowed with internal purity, form the necessary physical conditions for the very organic existence of any body. It is in this sense Panchamahabhute establish an ontological unity among bodies across time and space. Ontological equality as an underlying principle, therefore, should make all the organic bodies worthy of respect without discrimination. Thus, any cultural construction dividing egalitarian bodies into pernicious gradation could be decisively refuted by invoking the metaphysics of body. Metaphysics of body, in turn, can create moral capacity among those who lack this capacity that is so necessary for assigning moral worth to everybody. Mutual affirmation of bodies becomes a possibility through acknowledgement of Panchamahabhute as an essential need of every organic body.[9]
Gopal Guru point out the modern scholars for their orientation towards sociological theories against the ecological ones. According to him, this structural device involves the conversion of the ecological (“five principles”) into the sociological (hierarchical). The sociologist assigns different, and perhaps, negative meaning to Panchamahabhute through deploying the ideology of purity-pollution, which is so central to the former. This conversion is sustained by the asymmetries of power that robs the Panchamahabhute of their positive meaning. People do not follow the moral basis of metaphysics of body when they act. They are not sufficiently motivated by the exalted, and therefore, the egalitarian meaning that is implied in the metaphysics of Panchamahabhute. In fact, their material interest and the cultural need to draw relative superiority over others seriously undermine the validity of metaphysics as the universal framework that provides moral orientation to social interaction among people.[10]
Gopal Guru argues that just imagine what would happen to the touchable, if the untouchable were to refuse to become the dumping ground for somebody’s moral dirt or refuse to illuminate the touchable. It perhaps would lead to the moral decomposition or atrophy of the touchables’ body or they would get crushed under the accumulated weight of these impurities. He concludes that the ideal untouchable and his/her attitudes towards the real untouchable confirms Sarukkai’s main argument, according to which the self-definition of the upper caste or the ideal untouchable becomes possible only in relation to the ascriptive identity of the untouchable. This sacred self cannot exist without the presence of other – the despicable untouchable. This tense coexistence becomes a possibility only through outsourcing untouchability to the other. However, those who supplement untouchability into others continue to suffer from endless anxiety.

Balamurali in response to this debate argues that untouchability (as social practice) to be really and truly addressed as problem in Indian society, the sociological inequalities must not only be redressed socially, politically, legally and economically (which is occurring in some sense everyday) but also be re­dressed through transformation on the moral and cultural terrain. He further critical about the privileges associated with brahminical self. A primary form of caste privilege (a group property adhering to individuals) is the privilege of living in a social environment where one’s inability is viewed as ability and other’s socially-imposed disability is viewed as inherent inability. This translates into social power and recognised authority to impose restrictions, discriminations, exclusions, limitations. And of course, perform violations. Annihilating caste then necessarily means annihilating privileges born of caste and this, in turn, means initiating a politics of dis-placement from the caste social order of separateness in addition to the ethics of touch. For an ethical “living together” (pace Derrida) always requires what Jean Luc-Nancy has called “being-in common” which forces the inter (or spatial gap) to be taken seriously.

Untouchability against Human Dignity

Both sociological and philosophical discussions are informs us to understand the problem of untouchability differently. But it is evident that political understanding of untouchablity provides a value to deal this issue. The culture of oppression and humiliation has to be assessed properly from the politics of liberation. Dignity, moral worth, respect, and recognition as values provides new insights in understanding the notion and phenomenon of untouchability. Even the liberal thought expressed a view that a person should be able to appear in public without a sense of shame (Adam Smith). Kant proposes that , “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means, and the dignity of the person lies hereby” (Kant 1963, p. 600). Dignity is violated when the victim suffers from an insult, which can be divided into an insulting action and an insulting state. An insulting action causes damage to the victim’s self or individuality, positioning him/her in the horrible state of being lorded over, wherein he/she has neither the ability to protect himself/herself nor hope of external assistance. It is not hard to understand that the idea of dignity has a special position in ethics: it embodies a core ethical concern and displays an important facet of human rights. ). Schaber points out explicitly that “Human dignity is a right, viz. keeping away from insult” (Schaber 2003, p. 119). “Human dignity is a right, i.e. keeping away from insult” [11]

In liberating the untouchable from the practice of untouchability, the scholars located the body as central to their discourse and argued in favour of touch. As Mary Douglas studied body as a narrative of social process and social structure. Bryan S. Turner in his work Regulating Bodies explains the frame work of sociology of body. As he argues that it is impossible to develop an adequate theory of social action without a conception of the embodied social agent. He considers social regulation of body and body as representation, of the fundamental features of society in his study. Body as a multi-dimensional medium for the constitution of society. The body is simultaneously, conjointly and concurrently socially constructed and organically founded. Body is a lived experience. Foucault considered body as the site of resistance. He advocates that the body as an especially vital site for self-knowledge and self-transformation. First, Marx, Durkheim and Simmel each suggest that the body possesses properties that are a source for the creation of social life. In contrast to post-structuralist views of the embodied subject as ‘a cultural artifact’ (Harré, 1983: 20), this recognition of the body as a source of society insists that our bodily being is an active, generative phenomenon not totally given by the properties of society. Second, the body also serves in part as a location for the structural properties of society. Marx focuses on the structural properties of the economy, Durkheim on the structural properties of cultures, and Simmel on the ‘structural’ properties that are social forms, yet they each examine how these structures locate themselves on the bodies of subjects. Nevertheless, it remains the case that each theorist views the body as a source of, a location for and a means by which individuals are emotionally and physically positioned within and oriented towards society. The notions of source, location and means are thus ‘umbrella’ terms, referring to a range of closely related concepts, but their general meaning and relational status are clear: they refer respectively to the generative properties of the body, to the social receptivity of the body, and to the body’s centrality to the outcomes of interaction between (groups of) embodied individuals and the structural features of society.

In this backdrop, to understand the cultural politics of body, Ambedkar and Gandhi provides some insights in dealing the problem of untouchability. For Gandhi, the problem of untouchability was increasingly coming to be seen as a problem of physical state (uncleanliness) of untouchables, and the practices available for signifying untouchability as a matter of dirt and hygiene. He argued for the physical body as a zone of discipline and control through which an ethical praxis might be formulated. gandhi’s satyagraha is a process of upper caste purification for the sins of untouchability . gandhi argued instead , for a form of upper caste self –purification, which would reveal to upper castes the evils of maintaining caste distinctions. Gandhi sought to control the understanding of untouchability as a problem for upper castes, as a religious problem , that required patience in effecting a change of heart. Gandhi also mobilized this discourse of body purification and labor to revalue untouchability, suggesting that it fit into the varna order, which was also a rational division of labor. Gandhi skillfully articulated the problem of untouchability as a hindu problem through his revaluation of varnashramadharma as a societal division of labour, emphasizing the centrality of untouchables’ labour in that schema.

In the struggles for self respect, dalits had demanded that untouchability be understood as civic disability that lead to inequality between ostensibly equal citizens. Ambedkar, announced that the whole caste society was governed by the principle of untouchability , and advocated its total destruction rather reforming Hinduism. Ambedkar strongly engaged with Hinduism as a oppressive religion, with politicization of hindu and untouchable identity, and with an elaboration of untouchability as civic disability. Ambedkar further began to realize the necessity of religio cultural alternative to Hinduism as practice in the immediate context of his experience with Gandhi. However, there is a necessity for purification of self of the upper caste by treating untouchability as a sin. At the same time, the dignity of dalit has to be recognized as a right against this inhuman and oppressive social practice.


The practice of untouchability is not only an in human and vulnerable act but also against the freedom and dignity of the individual. In other words the practice of untouchability had internalized the philosophy of violence. The practice of untouchability had in many forms. The intensity of this cruel practice may vary with changing social systems, but it had sustaining in different forms in contemporary times. The social relations are operating in hierarchical and unequal set up. The roots of this had lies in the in caste system. All these philosophical and political discourses realized the importance and the meaning of touch for a democratic and humane society. Touch plays a significant role in intimate communication, and requires freedom for a social agency to move away from this oppressive phenomenon. The freedom lies in a deliberate act of moving away from the untouchability. At the same time, it could be understood that overcoming untouchability is not just confined to invoking the practice of touch, but also involves questioning the privilege and power. The critic of untouchability has to be based on the principles of ethics and social justice by interrogating the cultural politics of Hinduism. As the medieval Bhakti poet Kabir asks, Pundit look into your heart for knowledge/tell me where untouchability/came from, since you believe in it/ mix red juice, white juice and air-/a body bakes in a body/as soon as eight lotuses/are ready, it comes/ into the world. Then what is/Untouchable?/eighty four thousand vessels /decay into dust, while the potter/keeps slapping clay/who are untouchables?/ on the wheel and with a touch /cuts each one off./we eat by touching, we wash/by touching, from a touch/the world was born./ so who is untouched? Asks kabir/only he /who has no taint of maya.

End Notes
[1]Dumont, L. Homo Hierarchicus. The Caste System and Its Working, Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1974
[2] Blunt, E.A.H. The castesystem of North India with special reference to United Province of Agra and Oudh (London, 1931)
[3] Stevenson, H. “ StatusEvaluation in hindu caste system” Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute, 198, Pp. 45-65.
[4] Deliege, Robert. Replication and Consensus: Untouchability, Caste and Ideology in India , Man, New Series, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 155-173
[5] Ambedkar, The Untouchables (vol.7).Who were they and Why they became untouchables?
[6] Guru, Gopal. Archeology of Untouchability, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No.37, September 12, 2009,Pp.49-56
[7] Cybil, K.V. Defining Untouchability in Relation to Body, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. XLIV No.51, December 2009.p.82
[8] Sarukkai, Sunder. The Phenomenology of Untouchability, Economic and Political Weekly Vol.XLIV. No.37, September12, 2009
[9] Guru, Gopal. Archeology of Untouchability, p.51
[10] Ibid.
[11]Schaber 2003, p. 119.

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