- The concept of untouchability has long played a role in the Hindu CASTE system of socioeco-nomic organization. Members of certain low-status castes were considered polluting and not allowed to touch any person of the upper castes, particularly BRAHMINS and members of the warrior and merchant castes. This practice was exagger-ated even further in parts of South India, where certain people were considered unseeable and had to stay out of sight of the upper castes.The history of untouchability no doubt tracks the rise of ARYAN cultural domination of India. There is evidence to suggest that certain tribal groups and peoples last integrated into the Aryan fold became classified as “out-castes” or the “fifth caste” (where the Aryans had a fourfold class system from great antiquity). The custom is sup-ported by a very complex social conception of “POLLUTION” related to occupation. Purity is seen to reside in certain types of activity such as teach-ing and recitation of the VEDAS, and in habits such as VEGETARIANISM, while such essential social tasks as sweeping, the collecting of refuse, the removal of carrion animals, and the production of leather are considered severely polluting.Caste, more properly jati, or birth, is in fact directly related in most cases to occupation, so untouchability is generally conferred by birth. (However, certain polluting situations within the family context, such as having someone recently die in the household, make any person, whatever the caste, polluting or “untouchable” for a limited time.)It should be noted that almost all of the major freedom fighters in India who sought indepen-dence from Britain denounced the notion of caste and called for the abolition of untouchability. MOHANDAS KARAMCHAND GANDHI was most notable in this regard. He coined the term harijan (those born of God) to relieve the stigma from untouch-ables. The constitution of India was written by an untouchable (who also became a Buddhist), Dr. Babasaheb R. Ambedkar (1891–1956). In the set-ting up of India’s central and state governments, untouchables were given designated quotas of positions, including parliamentary seats, to guar-antee their advancement.Today, India’s untouchables have taken an increasingly militant political stance. They prefer to call themselves Dalit (the oppressed). Many of them have converted to Buddhism, following Dr. Ambedkar’s conversion in late life. Buddhism was always opposed to caste notions and preached spiritual equality.Further reading: B. R. Ambedkar, What Congress and Gandhi Have Done to the Untouchables (Bombay: Thacker, 1946); Mark Jurgensmeyer, Religion as Social Vision: The Movement against Untouchability in 20th Century Pun-jab (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982); J. Michael Mahar, ed., The Untouchables in Contemporary India (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1972); Elea-nor Zelliot, “Dalit—New Cultural Context of an Old Marathi Word,” in Clarence Maloney, ed., Language and Civilization Change in South Asia. Vol. 11, Contributions to Asian Studies (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1978), pp. 77–97.
Encyclopedia of Hinduism. A. Jones and James D. Ryan. 2007.
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untouchability — untouchable ► ADJECTIVE 1) not able to be touched or affected. 2) unable to be matched or rivalled. 3) historical of or belonging to the lowest caste Hindu group or the people outside the caste system. ► NOUN historical ▪ a member of the lowest… … English terms dictionary
untouchability — noun Date: 1919 the quality or state of being untouchable; especially the state of being an untouchable … New Collegiate Dictionary
untouchability — /un tuch euh bil i tee/, n. Hinduism. the quality or condition of being an untouchable, ascribed in the Vedic tradition to persons of low caste or to persons excluded from the caste system. [1920 25; UNTOUCH(ABLE) + ABILITY] * * * … Universalium
untouchability — noun The state or condition of being untouchable. Syn: untouchableness … Wiktionary
untouchability — un·touch·abil·i·ty … English syllables
untouchability — /ˌʌntʌtʃəˈbɪləti/ (say .untuchuh biluhtee) noun 1. the defiling character ascribed to low caste Indians or non Hindus by high caste Hindus or Brahmans. 2. the quality or status of being an untouchable … Australian English dictionary
untouchability — |ən.ˌtəchə|biləd.ē noun : the quality or state of being untouchable; specifically : the state of being an untouchable … Useful english dictionary
Untouchable (social system) — Untouchability is a social system in which people belonging to a particular group restrict people in other groups from interacting with them socially. The excluded group could be one that did not accept the norms of the excluding group and… … Wikipedia
Periyar E. V. Ramasamy — For other uses, see Periyar (disambiguation). Periyar E. V. Ramasamy Periyar E. V. Ramasamy during his early life as a merchant Born 17 September 1879(1879 09 17) Erode, Madras P … Wikipedia
B. R. Ambedkar — Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar Ambedkar delivering a speech to a rally at Yeola, Nashik, on 13 October 1935 Born 14 April 1891(1891 04 14) Mhow, Central Provinces … Wikipedia