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Cayco, Anna Isabel T.

K-05

Del Rosario, Vanessa Gabrielle V.

K-12

Medriano, Beatrice Marie L.

K-19

HI 16- K

February 9,

2016
The Caste System and the Untouchables of India
It would be wrong to assume that the caste system was purely intertwined with
Hinduism1. It is more of a combination of a religious, political, and social phenomenon. It is
where society categorizes and ranks people into interdependent groups based on ones
ancestry and occupation2. There is no solid evidence available that could trace the origins of
the caste system; however popular theory would assume that it originated during the Vedic
Age. The Aryans had conquered the Dravidians, or the current local people of Ancient India,
and imposed a strict hierarchy that would establish and maintain their power3. According to
the Manusmriti or Law of Manu4, the caste system has four main divisions or varnas of the
caste system: Brahmins or priests; Kshatriyas or warriors; Vaisyas or merchants; Shudras or
servitors; and the Untouchables, the most oppressed sector of all.
According to French philosopher Clestin Bougl says
The spirit of caste unites these three tendencies: repulsion, hierarchy, and hereditary
specialization, and all three must borne in mind if one wishes to give a complete
definition of the caste system. We shall say that society is subject to this system if it is
divided into a large number of mutually opposed groups which are hereditarily
specialized and hierarchically arranged- if, on principle, it tolerates neither the
parvenu, nor miscegenation, nor a change of profession.5
1 Bougl, Clestin Charles Alfred, and David Francis Pocock. Essays on the Caste System. (London:
Cambridge University Press, 1971), 9.
2 Berreman, Gerald, "Race, Caste, and Other Invidious Distinctions in Social Stratification", Race &
Class 8, no. 4: 387-414 (1972), doi: 10.1177/030639687201300401, (accessed February 8, 2016).
3 Isaacs, Harold R., Indias Ex-Untouchables, (New York: The John Day Company, 1964) 30-1.
4 Ibid, 25.
5 Bougl, 9.

Through his words he believes that, although the caste system promotes organization and an
assurance of an evenly distributed labor force6, it only further divides society into rigid
sectors that clash due to focusing on who is more pure, therefore resulting unequally divided
rights and privileges7.
As mentioned earlier, the Untouchables are the most oppressed out of all the varnas.
Technically speaking, they are not considered to be part of it yet they are still subjugated to
the rules of the Manusmriti. The Hindus believed that one is born into a caste depending on
how they lived their past lives. The Untouchables had to go through such exploitation
because they had to pay for their wrongdoings or karma from their earlier lives. If they were
to live their lives serving society or dharma without complaint, then there is a small
possibility that their next life will get better8. It says that the Untouchables were those whose
touch pollutes, consequently becoming the beggars, scavengers, and sweepers of the area.
They are assigned to ritually impure jobs such as handling carcasses of dead animals and
tanning their skin, while also using their meat as their food source; although, many of them
are farmers in rural India. The Hindu society subjected them to such oppression and benefited
from it. An example would be how they had to carry pots around their necks to clean the
peoples feces but they themselves cannot contaminate the soil with their own9.
American journalist and political scientist Harold R. Isaacs analyzes the caste system
by pointing out that the word varna actually means color2. It was assumed that the Aryans
were fair skinned and the Dravidians were dark skinned. As for the Untouchables, there is
some belief that oppression is a reaction from their intermarriage among the high and low,
going against the purity the Aryan Brahmins reinforced in society, therefore assuming that
the varnas could be based on race instead of religion. Presently, the Untouchables are a mix
of different skin colors. Isaac even says, If all the touchables and Untouchables were
reshuffled and somebody tore up the caste scorecards, no one-at least on the score of physical
appearance-could tell them apart.10
6 Ibid, 16.
7 Ibid, 8.
8 Isaacs, 32.
9 Ibid, 27-8.
10 Isaacs,32.

India was very appealing to the British because of the natural resources available, just
as every other country in Monsoon Asia.11 The Company (East India Company) had been in
power for almost a hundred years when the British came to India in 1858.12 They were able to
take control of India because of the effects of the caste system over the years. The caste
system produced inequality among the Indians.13 The different groups of which that society
is composed, repelled each other rather than attract, each retired within itself, isolated itself,
made every effort to prevent its members from contracting alliances or even from entering
into relations with neighboring groups.14 India was not in the least bit united and their
country was divided, full of hatred, jealousy, and distrust between neighbors15 therefore
making it easy for the British to wrest the power from the natives.16 They were able to make
agreements, military- and trading-wise, with the many independent states of India, which
resulted in their gaining total control over most of the country.17 Its nice to take note, also, of
the process of how they took control. They ruled India through the Indians, meaning it did not
require them to send thousands of soldiers to take the country by force, and despite their
small number as compared to the 300 million Indians at that time, they were able to colonize
and take (most of) India all for themselves.18
Upon coming to India, according to Celestin Bougle:
The Englishman has never claimed, indeed he has frequently disclaimed any attempt
to modify this civilization. He represents himself neither as a conqueror in the proper
11 Murphey, Rhoads. A History of Asia. (Singapore: Pearson Education Limited, 2014), 1.
12 Szczepanski, Kallie. "What to Know About India's Caste System." About.com Education.
(Accessed February 08, 2016)
13 Bougl, 9.
14 Ibid, 10.
15 Ibid.
16 "The Debate about British Rule in India." The National Archives.
http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/empire/g2/cs4/background.htm. ( Accessed February 8, 2016)

17 Ibid
18 CrashCourse. "Imperialism: Crash Course World History #35." YouTube. September 20, 2012.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=alJaltUmrGo. (Accessed February 08, 2016)

sense nor as a missionary. He preferred to respect the indigenous way and customs,
beliefs and laws. His motto has been administration with a minimum of government.
He has declared his ambition limited to assuring men that minimum of security and
justice indispensable for their earning a livelihood.19
This is what the British did with most of their conquered territories, they preserved
the culture already there. Instead of imposing their own culture to the Indians, what they did
was introduce all the paraphernalia of European inventions and institutions into the country.20
From factories, to schools, to the locomotive, slowly they developed India. Although the
British didnt change the culture, change was inevitable for India.
One would think that with the introduction of all these different jobs, as opposed to
the original jobs of Ancient India (the original four varnas: priests, warriors, merchants, and
farmers), the caste system would cease to exist. According to Bougle (as translated by D.F.
Pocock), there were cases where ancestral occupation is dropped for the sake of a job in a
newly opened factory.21 However, the caste system persisted, and just adjusted to the changes.
All these different occupations and institutions did the complete opposite, it led to the
formation of new castes.22 From the original four varnas, the fear of mixing and of being
degraded by mixing animatedly social micro-organisms, drove them (the Indians) to infinite
subdivisions instead of agglomerations.23
While those in the caste system went on subdividing themselves, those not part of the
caste, i.e., the untouchables during this period, were not that much alleviated from their
situation. The British who had an allegiance with the Brahmins, considering they were the
ruling class, focused on getting on their good sides by restoring some of its privileges that
had been repealed by the Muslim rulers.24 However, there were some actions taken in favor
19 Bougl, 80.
20 Ibid, 81.
21 Ibid.
22 Bougl, 83.
23 Ibid.
24 Szczepanski, Kallie. "What to Know About India's Caste System." About.com Education.
(Accessed February 08, 2016)

of the untouchables during the British reign, such as enacting laws protecting the very much
discriminated people of India. One of these being the Case Disabilities Removal Act, which
intends to protect the person who renounces his religion,25 the Act of 1919 which marked
the emergence of a political strategy focusing these groups and attributed separate electoral
rolls and reserved seats in legislative assemblies to the depressed classes,26 and finally in
1923 the Constitution of India created a category dedicated to the backward castes.27 This was
when untouchables, along with other backward castes, finally got their right to education,
and financial and political benefits.28 However, despite all these attempts to aid the
untouchables, they were still being discriminated up until Indias declaration of independence
in 1947, and even up until today.
Today, however, the social system in India has acquired a much more complex and
dynamic character.29 It is not as simple as it used to be, people in their respective varnas are
not limited to do and follow what is laid out for them. Untouchables have more rights,
landownership, occupation, and education are no longer dependent upon caste30, and there are
even some places that have become caste-free.31
Nonetheless, being part of the caste system, especially if you are in the lower castes,
people are bound to want to get out or be promoted to a higher caste. This process of getting
promoted is called sanskritization, which is done by adopting the religious, dietary, and other
practices of higher-status groups and by asserting higher status.32 Unfortunately, it seems to
25 Kajiji, Shabnum. "Ask Mint Money | A Hindu Convert Does Not Lose the Right to Inherit
Property." Livemint. April 16, 2012.
http://www.livemint.com/Money/dFW9T7qAhobUliiYNan1UN/Ask-Mint-Money--A-Hindu-convertdoes-not-lose-the-right-to.html. (Accessed February 5, 2016)
26 Perez, Rosa Maria. Kings and Untouchables: A Study of the Caste System in Western India. (New
Delhi: Chronicle Books, 2004), 14.
27 Ibid
28 Ibid
29 Bteille, Andr. Caste, Class, and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore
Village. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965), 5.
30 Ibid.
31 Ibid.

be a process that has never worked for untouchables who are below the ritual barrier of
pollution.33 So untouchables are stuck being untouchables, their
Due to the inhumane situation of the untouchables, social, religious and political
movements arose in support of them and in abolishment of the Indian caste system. In 1950,
Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar led the adoption of the Constitution of India which deviates
from the the norms and traditions of the caste system. The constitution promised justice,
equality, liberty, and fraternity to all the citizens regardless of caste, creed, gender, or
ethnicity34. Under the same constitution is the Untouchability Offenses Act of 1955. Its
provisions ensure anyone from a Scheduled Caste to enjoy his or her religious, occupational,
and social rights35.
Also, the Untouchables were given privileges subjected to education and were
allowed to be a part of the government body. In fact, financial help and scholarships were
granted to the Untouchables36. They were also given seats in the lower house of the
parliament which helped them protect themselves and gave them a chance to protest from the
unjust laws. D. Sanjivayya, is one of the untouchables who have held a cabinet rank in the
central government. He served as the chief minister of a state government and was chosen to
become the President of the Congress Party in 1962. However, Dewitt claimed that giving the
untouchables special representation in the parliament is not enough to help them get justice
(Dewitt 1943, 23-30)37. In 1989, the government established Scheduled Caste and Scheduled
Tribe Act which protects the untouchables and other lower castes from the maltreatment and
abuse of atrocities, and punishes those that transgress the Act. The mere enactment of this act

32 Murphey, 47.
33 Perez, 41.
34 Overview of Dalits Human Rights Situation, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights,
acsessed February 3, 2016, http://www.ncdhr.org.in/dalit-rights-situation.
35 Untouchable, The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, accessed February 3, 2016,
http://www.britannica.com/.
36 Beatrice Pitney, Lamb, India : a world in transition (New York: Praeger, 1966), 149-152.
37 Mackenzie, Dewitt, Indias Problem Can Be Solved (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran,
1943), 23-30.

implies that the Indian government recognized and acknowledged the cases of abuse among
the Untouchables38.
Mahatma Gandhi was also known for addressing the untouchables Harijans which
means children of God. He published a magazine entitled Harijan devoted to the welfare
of the untouchables. Somehow, this helped to uplift the status of the untouchables in the
Indian society both in the past and until the present. In the present day, an AntiUntouchability Week campaign is celebrated every year on 2nd of October, the birthday
anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, as commemoration of his significant role against
untouchability39.
However, these social efforts and attempts do not seem to be enough to eradicate the
stigma of the Indian caste system. In the present day, despite the abolishment of the
untouchability, the Untouchables remained untouchables in the eyes of the Indian society
especially in the rurals of India. According to the website of National Campaign on Dalit
Human Rights, a large number of the Untouchables are still subjected to poverty and social
stratification up until today. They are not allowed to use the same wells, visit the same
temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs. They
still do the most menial tasks. With regard to education, it is true that the untouchable
children were given the opportunity to educate themselves, however, only a few have been
benefitted and among these few cases, untouchables are often made to sit at the back of the
classrooms40. A glimpse of the daily lives and experiences of the Untouchables is also
highlighted in the movie Slumdog Millionaire. It shows how Untouchable children, due to
poverty, often beg in order to survive and how the untouchable women are also prone to
prostitution41. Thus, the persisting existence of the Untouchables is a manifestation that
implementation and enforcement of these laws and principles is a failure.

38 The Context of Caste Violence, Human Rights Watch, accessed February 1, 2016,
https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-04.htm#P550_72244.
39 Archana Singh, Untouchability of India, Women Planet, accessed February 3, 2016,
http://www.womenplanet.in/society/untouchability.

40 Overview of Dalits Human Rights Situation, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights,
accessed February 3, 2016, http://www.ncdhr.org.in/dalit-rights-situation
41 Meena Varma, Indias Elephant in the Room, The Guardian, accessed February 1, 2016,
http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/feb/10/india-slumdog-millionaire-caste.

It should be noted that the Indians are not the only people who subjugate their people under a
caste system. There is evidence of social stratification based on race or ethnicity found in
Japan, Rwanda, and the United States of America. However, French anthropologist Louis
Dumont argued that the caste system and racial stratification are not to be considered as
interchangeable42. What draws the line between the two is that they differ in ideologies. The
caste system is based on hierarchy while racial stratification is based on equality.
Nonetheless, the caste system and racial stratification are considered congruent since they
both base the political, economic, and social freedom of a person by their identity that is a
product of their ancestry43.
Japanese sociologist Hiroshi Ishida explains the case of the Eta and Hinin people in
Japanese history44. During the Tokugawa period, the social stratification placed the
shogunate, warrior bureaucrats, as the highest position, followed by the samurai, peasants,
artisans, then merchants. The lowest of the low were the Eta, whose name means "heavily
polluted", and the Hinin, which means nonhuman. The collective term for them is burakamin
or "those who live in hamlets." They share plenty of similarities with the Untouchables. They
were also physically indistinguishable from the rest of Japanese society and could be
identified by their impure occupations, like butchering, tanning, grave digging and guarding,
and handling corpses. It was during 1871 that the Meji government formally uplifted their
unclean status and established them as "new common people".
In pre-colonial Rwandan history, the king and pastoral aristocracy or the Tutsi used
their established power to enforce the social stratification45. At the bottom of the hierarchy
were the Twa people. Compared to the Untouchables, they were only a small minority in
society. Their jobs, which included pottery, court jesting, and hunting, were not as horrid as
the Untouchables'. They were not allowed to intermarry as well. The social stratification
officially ended in the 1950's.

42 Dumont, Louis, Homo Hierarchicus, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970), 225.
43 Horowitz, Donald, Ethnic Groups in Conflict, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985), 21-3.
44 Ishida, Hiroshi, "Stratification and Mobility: The Case of Japan," in Asia Case Studies in the Social
Sciences, ed. Myron L. Cohen, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1992), 542-3.

45 Southall, Aidan,Stratification In Africa, in Essays in Comparative Social Stratification, eds.


Leonard Plotnicov and Arthur Tuden, (Pittsburg, Pa.: University of Pittsburg Press, 1970), 242.

The case of the racial stratification in America is much more complex than the
Untouchables in India, since this includes a mix of different races. The hierarchy was that
white "ethnics" were to exclude any other ethnicity. According to Cameron McCarthy's
article regarding multiculturalism back in 1991, there was an existing attempt by policymakers to assimilate non-whites into American society; however it only restrained their
opportunities to succeed beyond the level of the white middle class46. This was a much more
humane situation than the slave codes in 1600's. According to the Virginia Slave Codes of
1662, all African Americans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans were to be marked as
slaves47. Minor offenses, especially with African Americans, such as "associating with
whites" or "not working hard enough" could lead to drastic physical abuse. Unlike the
Untouchables, slaves had the option to be free through "purchasing their freedom from a
willing owner" or through manumission, which is the legal process of becoming free. Even
so, a free slave could still face discrimination depending on the state such as not being
allowed to intermarry with whites and buying land.
Finally, in the Philippines we also have a society arranged somehow similar to how
the caste system is set up. The Brahmins can be likened to the Politicians, the Kshatriyas
would be the businessmen, the Vaishyas would be people in the middle class, and the Shudras
would be people in the lower class such as farmers and those who provide service for other
people. Our very own untouchables, who may not go through all the horrible things the
original untouchables go through, would probably be those in the marginalized sector. The
informal settlers, the homeless, and the beggars, or anyone struggling to survive every single
day of their life.
The caste system was put up so people in certain varnas could stay in their
respective varnas. This can also be seen in the Philippines. The wealthy people stay wealthy,
and pass on their wealth, as well as their professions, down the line. An example of this
would be the problem of the so called Political dynasties wherein a single family will be
holding the positions of congressman, mayor, vice mayor, and so on and so forth, in a single
city or province for countless number of terms, their name will be all the people of that place
will know from their birth up until their death. A good example would be the Marcoses,
46 McCarthy, Cameron, "Multicultural Approaches to Racial Inequality in the United States," Oxford Review
of Education 17, no. 3 (1991): 301-16, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4618595 (accessed February 8, 2016).
47 Tischauser, Leslie, Jim Crow Laws, (California: ABC-CLIO,LLC, 2012), 2-5.

Binays, Aquinos. Aside from political dynasties, the concentration of power is also seen in
the businesses that have flourished in the country. Everyone is aware of the Sys, Pangilinans,
Lopez, Ayalas, the list goes on and on. These people are at the top and will always and
forever remain at the top.
On the other hand, those in the bottom tend to always stay at the bottom. Just as the
privileged, the less fortunate also pass down their professions. Farmers, jeepney drivers,
beggars, and even thieves will more or less pass on their occupations down to their kids.
The way our system has been set up, it is almost impossible for those at the bottom to get to
the top, although it isnt unheard of. There are some rags to riches stories that weve all
heard of. But thats just about as far as our similarity with the caste system can go.
The difference lies in how we view these people. In the Philippines, we do not look
down at our marginalized, not in the way the Indians look down and despise their
untouchables. This is because in India their goal is to be and to remain pure, and the
untouchables are the least pure of the impure. Whereas in the Philippines, this would never be
the case for us. We are known to be the melting pot of all sorts of cultures, therefore we do
not look down at the mixed nationalities of our fellow countrymen. We do not oppress them
and treat them like dirt. So, yes, the caste system has its similarities with other countries, just
as in the Philippines, but it is an entire different system altogether.
Dean Vera asserted that Indias caste system can be likened to the British social
structure with its king and queen, land lords, merchants and, at the bottom, its peasants,
craftsmen, and workers48. In the modern day, caste can be simply between the rich and the
poor. Being at the top of the food chain, the rich have the resources meanwhile, the poor who
have barely enough are often subjected to their power and wealth. The rich, who can be
considered the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and the Shudras, do the decent jobs such as
being the priests, warriors, merchants, and servitors while, the poor, which can be considered
the untouchables, do the dirty jobs.
Dean Vera offered two main reasons for the persistence of the caste system. First, the
caste system served as cement for the widely diversified society of a vast subcontinent. In
other words, the caste system become the common ground that somehow unites and makes
the society a distinct one with a distinct caste system. Second, the caste provided an element
48 Dean, Vera, New patterns of democracy in India, (Cambridge : Harvard University Press, 1959),
35-39.

of order and stability under conditions of flux49. This claim is further expounded in the article,
The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All of Herbert Gans where mentioned that one of the
functions of poverty is that it guarantees that societys dirty workwill be done50. In the case
of India, without the Untouchables, there will be no one to serve and satisfy the needs of the
society, especially the upper class. This suggests that the caste which divides the society
based on social status or ranking is essentially important that of to achieve order and
organization, and also to meet and maintain the needs of society.

49 Ibid.
50 Herbert, Gans, The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All, accessed February 4, 2016,
http://www.sociology.org.uk/as4p3.pdf.

CITED WORKS:

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Tanjore Village. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1965. / DS 422. C3 B6513


Bougl, Clestin Charles Alfred, and David Francis Pocock. Essays on the Caste

System. London: Cambridge University Press, 1971. / DS 422. C3 B4


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Press, 1985.
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Southall, Aidan. Stratification In Africa. In Essays in Comparative Social
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http://asianhistory.about.com/od/india/p/indiancastesystem
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http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/empire/g2/cs4/background.htm.
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v=alJaltUmrGo.
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http://www.britannica.com/.
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152.
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Doran, 1943), 23-30.


The Context of Caste Violence, Human Rights Watch, accessed February 1, 2016,

https://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/india/India994-04.htm#P550_72244.
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http://www.womenplanet.in/society/untouchability.
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problem-part-6/3243.
Dean, Vera, New patterns of democracy in India, (Cambridge : Harvard University

Press, 1959), 35-39.


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http://www.sociology.org.uk/as4p3.pdf.