Caste in modern india and other essays

The things I miss the most about my life before India are linked to the these new addictions. Privacy is one. It is very hard to not be someone else’s gossip here. There are just too many people involved in ways I don’t even know. The other is independence. I am used to fending for myself in almost every way. I have resolved to ‘letting go’ on big issues, but it scares me at times. I often feel lost in a sea of unknowns. Examples would include everything from fighting back against injustice to getting a service provider to stand behind his/her work to simply being able to drive myself anywhere at anytime.


Dalit, a term that has become synonymous with Untouchable, is the name that many Untouchables, especially politically aware individuals, have chosen for themselves. The name means "oppressed" and highlights the persecution and discrimination India's 160 million Untouchables face regularly. First used in the context of caste oppression in the 19th century, it was popularized in the 1970s by Untouchable writers and members of the revolutionary Dalit Panthers (the name was inspired by the Black Panthers of the United States). Dalit has largely come to replace Harijan, the name given to Untouchables by Gandhi, much like the Black Power movement in the United States led to the replacement of the labels colored and Negro with black. For some activists, Dalit is used to refer to all of India's oppressed peoples whether Hindus, Muslims, Christians, tribal minorities, or women.

—Heidi Schultz

The most obvious problem with this system was that under its rigidity, the lower castes were prevented from aspiring to climb higher, and, therefore, economic progress was restricted. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of modern India, made the lower castes and untouchables a fifth, lowly class with the name Harijan, or “children of God.” You see many references to SC and ST in India, in newspapers, government notifications, and so on. These initials refer to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes scheduled is what Harijan is translated into today. The government is sensitive about reserving seats in colleges and job opportunities for them. But the government has legislation to make up for the past suppression and oppression of the lower castes.

In past decades, Dalits in certain areas (especially in parts of the south) had to display extreme deference to high-status people, physically keeping their distance--lest their touch or even their shadow pollute others--wearing neither shoes nor any upper body covering (even for women) in the presence of the upper castes. The lowest-ranking had to jingle a little bell in warning of their polluting approach. In much of India, Dalits were prohibited from entering temples, using wells from which the "clean" castes drew their water, or even attending schools. In past centuries, dire punishments were prescribed for Dalits who read or even heard sacred texts.

Caste in modern india and other essays

caste in modern india and other essays

In past decades, Dalits in certain areas (especially in parts of the south) had to display extreme deference to high-status people, physically keeping their distance--lest their touch or even their shadow pollute others--wearing neither shoes nor any upper body covering (even for women) in the presence of the upper castes. The lowest-ranking had to jingle a little bell in warning of their polluting approach. In much of India, Dalits were prohibited from entering temples, using wells from which the "clean" castes drew their water, or even attending schools. In past centuries, dire punishments were prescribed for Dalits who read or even heard sacred texts.

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