This article is a review of the research documentary, ‘India Untouched – Stories of People Apart‘ by Stalin K.
Throughout the ‘India untouched’ research documentary, one would wonder upon all sorts of prejudice which exist in our country; this documentary reveals the paradox of Indian culture and its people who constantly decline the existence of untouchability and prevalence of casteism and imposition of stereotypes upon different strata of people. Confining the realities will not result in development, instead, it will slow down the progressive development planned for our country. The main theme of the ‘India Untouched’ documentary is untouchability, which is assumed to be vanished by the movements and modernized legislation formed during the independence period, but the reality is far from the utopian world of Mahatma Gandhi where Dalits are called harijans (children of god) and given equal position and respect in the society.
The four varnas considered as heart of Hinduism has been profoundly discussed in the documentary, one can learn about the facets of religious discrimination. Stalin K. made us aware that education alone cannot change the mindset of people as the way education is imparted in our society is hampering the very development we expect to see. Also, the customs and tradition which have been practiced for generations are somewhere responsible in persecution of rights of lower caste people. I’m inspired by the true words of Alice Sebold who mentioned in his novel Lucky that ” I’ve always thought that under rape in the dictionary it should tell the truth. It is not just forcible intercourse; rape means to inhabit and destroy everything.” This documentary also highlights the cruel and inhuman behaviors of upper caste men towards lower caste women.
Our country is gripped by a disease named “discrimination”; it has many forms. sometimes it is manifested through gender and sometimes through caste and I wonder if I would be able to bring to light all the forms of discrimination through one article. The ground level of discrimination was expressed by Lilaben, when children who are assumed to be carefree denied to enter in her house as she belonged to a lower caste and they were from upper caste and entering in her house would have polluted them. She expressed her grief by telling us that this is how the world is, this all began by the origin of four varnas which are very well explained by Batuprasad Sharma Shastri who is a disciple of Swami Kir Patriji Maharaja and the chief priest of Tulsi Manas Temple and also a General Secretary of Scholar’s Association in Varanasi. He chanted from the laws of Manu, that from his mouth god created Brahman (Priest), from his arms the Kshatriya (Ruler), from his thighs the Vaishya (Commoner) and from his feet the Shudra (Servant) and he adamantly denied the rights of shudras and mentioned that they (shudras) are meant to serve the upper caste. the monopoly of brahmins hamper the overall development of lower caste people. In the ‘India Untouched’ documentary, it was shown that people working as safai karamcharis in Punjab were all from lower caste (balmiki) and no upper caste people was engaged in such activities.
The menial activities are performed by lower caste people. It was notable not in a specific area but is prevalent in all the states of our country as in the case of Jumia (Bihar), where midwives from the village helped in delivering babies, took care of the mother and threw away the placenta but still they were not allowed to eat together or visit each other on occasions such as marriage because the midwives are from lower caste (musaharni). It was observed that activity of disposing dead bodies of animals and human beings from railway tracks and dispatching the rotten bodies for post mortem was all done by Dom community in Jhajha (Bihar), they complained as they had no association with the railway authority and they are not even recognized for the work they do. The caste system which is the very spine of Hindu religion has restricted them to develop themselves and the very strict notion of following the rules of their caste is embedded in people and that notion was visible in Madurai (Tamil nadu) where they (parayars) are not allowed to wear slippers in the upper caste area and they believe that every caste has to follow its own rules disregarding the self-respect and self-dignity concept of an individual.
There are numerous incidents of untouchability visible in all the parts of our country. In mehboobanagar (Andhra Pradesh) a mason who was also engaged in agricultural work expressed his sorrow of being neglected by the upper caste people. In fact, they are denied entry in the house which they built for the upper caste people. Why don’t they protest? or why don’t they raise their voices against all the cruelty? These are some of the questions which will arise after reading the initial portion and the answer is manifested in another incident in Tirunelveli (Tamil nadu) where the lower caste people remove their slippers before entering into the shops or village and resisting the act of not wearing the slippers will lead them to their deathbed. The perspective of society and the rigid notion of discrimination in caste system shackle the strength of lower caste people, the society suppresses the act of development of lower caste people.
The society assumes lower caste people as uneducated, barbaric and anti – social elements however this documentary highlights that educated lower caste people are also met out with the same fate. Dr. Yadulala who is a consultant orthopedic surgeon at Safdarjung hospital was vocal about the treatment and the psychological recognition he gets from his colleague, seniors and from his friends who formed bias against him and ignored his existence in many instances as he belongs to a lower caste. The level of discrimination has increased with time, now it is more sort of hi- tech discrimination. The prejudice that stands in society makes difficulties for women to excel as explained by Kusum yadulala, who is a lecturer at Lal bahadur shastri Sanskrit Vidyapeeth. the temple of gaining knowledge is itself polluted with distorted thoughts carried out by teachers who try to enforce casteism into practice, there are occurrence of such events where lower caste children are made to sit behind in the classroom and forced to clean the washrooms and grounds of the school. Hetal chandubhai Solanki who is in grade 5 administers the task of cleaning the grounds, sweeping the floors and washing the utensils. The discrimination is not only based on caste but also on gender as Ramila Kanubhai Wanker, who is in class 3rd, stated that only girls wash the washroom and not boys. At an age when they are expected to learn and explore their interests, they are made the victim of suppression.
The bits and pieces of discrimination is not only found in Hindu religion but also in Christianity, Islam and in Sikh , the forms of inequity and unfairness is not in scriptures therefore it exists in the mindset of people , it became a general accepted practice principle which is followed in matrimonial activities, in the construction of funeral cemeteries , in schools , in worship place , in religion etc. the idea that one who is born Dalit , lives as a Dalit , dies as a Dalit , buried as a Dalit therefore by birth they’re segregated and the segregation is created by human beings itself to feel superior and to mold the situation according to their needs and demands . Once a woman was accused of killing a boy and instead of knocking the door of justice, the upper cate Rajput dragged and blind folded her and raped her in the middle of the market as he had the notion of punishing her because she belonged to a lower caste. the greed of command and power makes the upper caste people punish the lower caste people through unjustified means.
The reluctance in acceptance of prevalence of untouchability and discrimination was depicted by people and students in the documentary. Their existence is superficially denied in developed states of our country for example the progressive state of Kerala denies untouchability, whereas it is practiced ordinarily in the state. It was also stated in the ‘India Untouched’ documentary that despite receiving reservation in the form of affirmative action , the Dalit community is unable to progress and be empowered and the simple answer is that their merit is questioned constantly. The upper caste people believe that they don’t work hard for the job or for the seat in educational institution.
Recent similar cases
The demand for legal framework and enactment of laws that could act as a deterrent against such discrimination was made by Dheeraj Kumar who was a resident in Vaibhav Khand, Gomiti Nagar, Lucknow. He was forced to vacate his house by the society members as he belonged to a lower caste. The caste – based discrimination in urban areas are enforced through such activities. The shelter provided to people are based on caste and religion in some parts of Uttar Pradesh. The Dalit community fall out of the four- fold of caste system and that gives them outcast and lowest status. The majority of Dalit lack access of education and resources. In many areas, the caste remains a determinant factor for social, political and economic rights.
Through the practical help of media, one case came into notice. Some children refused to eat in mid-day meal as their cook was believed to be a lower caste person and as per the children, the cook was untouchable and the consumption of the food made by the cook could pollute them. Such practices and teachings shape the psychological and cognitive aspects of a child. The stereotypes get developed into prejudice. There have been instances where Dalit children have been barred from attending morning assemblies and they are often denied admissions and suffer because of the stigma attached to their caste.
Crime rates against lower caste people has upsurged in the upcoming year. “Anti-Dalit violence, including rape of Dalit women, is a manifestation of resentment among members of privileged castes who feel unsettled by the social progress among Dalits. Rape is often a weapon of control,” said political economist Anoop Sadanandan.the concern shown by him is real and the suppression of Dalits women is done by making them rape victims as it was evident in the hathras gangrape case where a 19 year old Dalit woman was gangraped and left brutalized in hathras ( Uttar Pradesh) and many questions of favoritisms arouse in the news , the police and administration were alleged of protecting the thakurs ( upper caste people). The concept of terrorizing the lower caste people accomplishes the real and symbolic violence together. A Dalit mother was gangraped as her son engaged in a quarrel with the upper caste boy in a village, this constitutes as a punishment to make them realize their standard. The forms of punishment are custodial torture and killing of Dalits, sexual harassment of Dalit women and looting of the properties.
Caste discrimination is massive violation of social and political rights of an individual. The lack of awareness of constitutional protection among the lower caste people makes them more vulnerable. there are many positions held by lower caste people in politics but still there are practices of untouchability as evident in the case of Tamil nadu where a woman panchayat leader was made to sit on the floor. despite banning untouchability and framing legislations against discrimination, the people carry out such practices without hesitation.
The incident of Bundelkhand where Dalits were refrain from filling water from the tanks even in scorching heat of summer when the taps were dry and pipeline was unable to provide water, they walked outside their basti to fetch water, the tanks went in the colony of brahmins where the Dalits were not allowed to visit. such inhuman acts are added to their continuous saga of sorrow. The authority and the upper caste people resent to accept such kind of practices.
The atrocities done by the upper caste people on lower caste people reflects the sense of pride they take in by doing discrimination based on caste. The ‘India Untouched’ documentary reflected the discrimination based on caste and on gender, the concept of untouchability and the victimization of rape of lower caste women.
Article 17 of the constitution talks about abolition of untouchability. It states that untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden, the enforcement of any disability arising out of Untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law, but still the meaning of certain terms is not defined in the constitution and even article 35 gave the parliament the power to make penal laws for the offences introduced under article 17. The awareness of legislation can prevent untouchability but the strict notion of following the rules of their caste which are discriminatory in nature can dismantle the existence of such laws. After many legislations, the caste system still exists as a plague in the society and it has become an influential factor in fulfilling the need of political leaders.
The important lesson that I learned from the documentary is that the people in power are solely responsible for the oppression of lower caste people as they anticipate that the emancipation of lower caste will result in loss of power and privilege on which they endure. The caste-based discrimination also hampers the right to equality of lower caste people, it prevents them from enjoying equal status in the society and I believe that the true essence of democracy can be felt only when there is no discrimination.
Morality and humanity are becoming need of the time and I want to appreciate Stalin for taking time and effort in researching the oppressed and brutal acts done to lower caste people and for highlighting the instances of caste-based discrimination which are still very much prevalent.
This article has been written by Noopur Jaiswal. She is a first-year student pursuing B.A.LLB . (Hons.) from Symbiosis Law School, Pune. Views expressed are personal.