Let’s take a look at the social strata of India where people from the lower social background are not allowed to draw water from the same wells as the upper castes. In Tamil Nadu. separate utensils and glasses are kept for them in public food or tea stalls. In Madhurai, the village is divided into two parts, the lower castes have a separate area. Whenever they come across the area of the upper castes, they are expected to walk barefoot and keep their heads low.
The children from the lower communities are also discriminated in their schools. They are told to sit on the ground by the teachers. Often their notebooks are not corrected as the teacher refuses to touch their things. After the class gets over they sweep the floor and clean the toilets. These kids also are not invited by their friends to parties or their houses.
In several villages of North India, they have independent temples. When asked to an upper-class person, he said they dare not enter our temple. He quoted the Laws of Manu, Manusmriti is one of the important books that dictate the codes of Hindus, which states that the ‘lord has assigned only one activity to the servants, ie, to serve other classes without hesitation and displeasure.
This discrimination even follows after their deaths as they have a different ground for burials and cannot be cremated along with the upper castes.
Even in cities, they are employed as the house helps, labourers, cleaners. Whether it is their remuneration or gifts, it is not given to them directly. People keep them on the ground or near the door from where they have to pick it up.
Several people from the cities were asked about their views on the lower caste people and the practice of untouchability. They said that this problem in this situation is about hygiene. ‘Untouchability is a compulsion’ for them. Even if upper caste people would not be hygienic or eat nov-vegetarian even they will be asked to stay away and have a separate kitchen area and utensils, said an upper caste person.
The people who are treated in a worse way are the Dalit women, who not only face caste violence from the upper caste but also from their own communities. They constitute 16.3% of the population of the country. They are invisible to the people and are objects of sexual gratification of the upper castes. Women work as labourers and house help in the farms and houses of the upper castes, where they are often sexually violated.
There is the tradition of spending the first night with an upper-caste person before starting their household. In the southern part of India, a prevalent practice of Devadasis, in which Dalit women are forcefully married to the deities and are used as sex slaves. The priests and the worshippers rape them and are forbidden to work or marry, which reduces them to stay as prostitutes.
The government has also tried to intervene in the discrimination faced by the people. In 1933, Mahatma Gandhi had named the people of the lower castes as Harijans meaning people of the gods with a view to eradicating the discrimination. However, the society continued their stringent behaviour towards the Dalits.
According to Article 17, untouchability of any form is abolished, forbidden and punishable. The Untouchability (Offences) Act of 1955 makes all the discriminatory behaviour a punishable offence but no severe punishments were mandated. This led to another amendment in 1976, the Protection of Civil Rights Act. the act allows for punishing the people who practice and spread untouchability.
However, a large part of society still discriminates against the lower caste people. Although it is a little low in the urban setting but is practised in rural areas at a significant level. Many activists are fighting against discrimination, several laws and rights are formulated by the government.
In 2016, the Modi government initiated a campaign stand-up India for providing opportunities to the disadvantaged section of the society. However, a large part of them is not aware of the laws while some have accepted the fact and are fearful of resenting.
Despite the continuous efforts of the government to elevate the status of the lower caste people, the situation has not improved. They face discrimination from the day they are born, their schools, their workplace and in. They are not considered a part of society and often fall prey to the practice of untouchability.