The “Touchy” Issue Of Untouchability And What We Can Do To Get Rid Of It

Posted on July 28, 2012 in Society

By Shobhit Agarwal:

Aap kuch bhi karlijiye, kuch nahin ho sakta is desh ka. Yeh India hai India. Yaha aisa hota aaya hain aur aisa hi hota rahega!’ — statement.
‘Koi bhi desh perfect nahin hota, usse perfect banna hota hain’ — reply.

The previous dialogue is from the 2006 cult movie — Rang De Basanti (RDB). As applicable and as relevant that statement is in today’s times, unfortunately, all that people remember about the film is Aamir Khan’s hairdo or AR Rahman’s music. The underlying message of the movie , that of taking responsibility for the well being of your nation in your own hands,has been lost in due time.

Article 17 of the constitution says 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 the law’. That’s how the constitution has put it. However, at the ground level, we are all well aware about the actual situation and the prevalence of untouchability in the Indian social system.

We may be imperfect as a nation in a lot of ways, but nothing gives more fodder to the naysayers, set on a character assassination spree of our nation, than the existence of untouchability. Most of us have a mindset that it is prevalent only in the rural areas, but one look at our surroundings — right from the way we treat our domestic help to the plight of the guy who cleans the city’s gutters, from our indifferent attitude to the health hazards faced by people living in slums to our extreme reactions on inter-caste marriages, we will find that we are marred by instances that have ‘untouchability’ in their core essence.

That brings us to the important question —‘What can we do to eradicate untouchability?’ This is where the significance of RDB’s dialogue mentioned above can be understood. The foremost thing we can do, is to realize that this is a disease that plagues people across all classes and masses, leaving no one ‘untouched’, and so we must come out of the ‘denial’ phase. Secondly, we need to understand that our society has been formed on a rich legacy of culture and tradition, of which untouchability was a very significant portion. Trying to convince our elders about its bizarreness and obsoleteness, especially in today’s times, is no easy task. In fact, we might even be shrugged off by them as being overtly educated and way too over smart to be questioning tradition a thousand years old. At the same time, we, on our part, need to remain convinced that this practice is a form of evil and has to be annihilated completely. Finally, the last thing we can do is spread awareness about it by making use of the greatest weapon of today’s times — technology.

Since the Indian constitution officially declares untouchability as a crime, we, as a nation with a conscience, need to make sure that all the cases of untouchability are prosecuted. With the reach of social media, all we need to do is share any such instance and hope for it to go viral and come into the knowledge of the authorities. A fine example of the use of technology to bring to light the menace of untouchability is personified by ‘ARTICLE 17’, a campaign launched by video volunteers in April, 2012, to urge the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, the government body that has been constituted to direct and implement the safeguards against untouchability, to prosecute cases of untouchability. Just record and share – even a device as small as a mobile with a camera can go a long way in wiping off untouchability, as the forum ARTICLE 17 has proved.

Since this article started with a quote from RDB, let us end it too on similar lines.
Zindagi jeene ke do tareke hota hain — ek, jo ho raha hain woh hona do; bardasht karte jao, ya phir, zimmedari uthao usse badalne ki.’