WHEN the Constitution of India outlawed untouchability in 1950, many national leaders believed that an obnoxious, “centuries-old” practice had been brought to an end. But now, nearly 60 years later, no honest politician can vouchsafe for the total success of the statutory measure.
Millions of Dalits across the country, who account for roughly one-fifth of the population, continue to suffer birth-based discrimination and humiliation. Ironically, Tamil Nadu, which boasts a long history of reformist movements, is no exception. In fact, untouchability has not only survived the constitutional ban but taken new avatars in many parts of the State. Caste-based discrimination has often led to violence, leaving hundreds of the disadvantaged people in distress, particularly in the 1990s.
Study groups have identified over 80 forms of untouchability, many of which are apparently free India’s additions to the list. From time immemorial, Dalits have been deprived of their right to education and the right to possess land and other forms of property. Left with nothing but their physical labour to earn their livelihood, they have all along been forced to do the toughest and most menial jobs for survival.
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INDIA’S NATIONAL MAGAZINE