Monday, May 19, 2008

The untouchables of India

What do many higher castes Hindus in parts of India's Tamil Nadu state still not share with the Dalits, formerly known as untouchables? They insist on separate glasses for drinking tea and they do not allow the untouchables to go to the same barber shops. They ban them from temples, cremation grounds and river bathing points, among other examples. All this in a state that prides itself on being one of the most politically progressive and educationally advanced parts of the country. But studies have found at least 45 different forms of "untouchability" being practised by upper caste Hindus against the Dalits in Tamil Nadu. So a recent news item about a wall segregating local higher caste Hindus residents from their Dalit counterparts in Uthapuram village in Madurai district barely 600km (350 miles) from the state capital Madras (Chennai) didn't exactly come as a surprise. The higher caste Hindu residents say they won permission for the wall after inter-caste violence in the late 1980s. The wall kept Dalit people out of the main parts of the village. The authorities demolished part of the wall following an order from the state government to allow Dalits to go where they wanted in the village. About 800 higher caste Hindus are reported to have decided to leave the village and seek refuge on a nearby hillock in protest against the decision.

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