Written By Nischal Srinivasan (Grade 10)
India’s history is marred with social inequalities and a deeply entrenched caste system that subjected certain communities to unimaginable oppression and discrimination. Among these marginalized groups were the untouchables and the unseeable, who faced the harshest treatment at the hands of society.
The Plight of the Untouchables:
Imagine a world where the very touch of your skin is enough to evoke fear, disgust, and hatred from those around you. For the untouchables of India, this was an everyday reality. These individuals, at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system, were condemned to a life of extreme social segregation and untouchability practices. Their existence was defined by the crushing weight of discrimination that denied them the most basic human rights and dignity.
In villages and towns across the country, the untouchables were relegated to the fringes of society, forced to live in separate quarters away from those of higher castes. They were forbidden from entering temples, schools, and even public places like wells and ponds. Imagine being thirsty on a scorching day, but not being allowed to satisfy it because you were considered too impure to share the same water source as others.
But perhaps the most heart-wrenching aspect of their plight was the burden of the degrading tasks they were forced to perform. Cleaning human waste became their assigned duty, pushing them further into the depths of social banishment. Instead of being treated as fellow human beings, they were deemed untouchable, as if their very presence could contaminate others.
The Emergence of the Unseeable:
Within this already oppressed and marginalised community existed an even more wretched subgroup – the unseeable. Their name evokes a sense of invisibility, as if they were destined to fade into the darkness of the night. The unseeable, also known as Thurumbar, Thurumba Vannar, or Puthirai Vannar in certain regions, were subjected to even greater depths of discrimination and inhumane treatment.
Picture a life where the sun’s warm embrace is denied to you, and the only time you are allowed to move freely is under the cover of darkness. The unseeable faced this reality every day, as they were only permitted to travel at night, hidden in shadows to avoid the sight of those of higher castes. As if their mere existence was too repulsive to be witnessed in daylight.
To make their presence known without disturbing the privileged, some unseeable were compelled to drag a palmyra palm behind them, signalling their approach so others could avoid crossing their path. This cruel practice humanizes the anguish and loneliness that defined their lives, marking them as outcasts, forever separated from the human connections that bring joy and meaning to existence.
Untouchables and Unseeable – Victims of Caste-Based Discrimination
The stories of the untouchables and the unseeable are not mere historical footnotes; they are reminders of the dark legacy of caste-based discrimination in India. These examples evoke powerful emotions of empathy and sorrow, shining a light on the resilience and strength these communities had to summon in the face of relentless oppression.
As we reflect on this tragic past, we must use it as a catalyst for change. It is a collective responsibility to ensure that no one in our society suffers such abhorrent treatment. By acknowledging this shared history and embracing the diversity of our nation, we can pave the way for a more compassionate and equitable future, where every individual is recognized as worthy of respect, dignity, and opportunity, regardless of their caste or background. Only then can we truly progress towards a just and inclusive society that values the inherent worth of every human life.
Steps Taken to Address Discrimination:
Recognizing the need to address the social injustices faced by these communities, the Indian government implemented several measures:
Reservation Policies: The Constitution of India introduced reservation policies for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in education, government jobs, and political representation. This affirmative action aimed to uplift the marginalised groups and provide them with equal opportunities.
Land Reforms: The government-initiated land reforms to address the skewed ownership pattern of land. By redistributing land to landless and marginalised farmers, it aimed to empower these communities economically.
Social Welfare Schemes: Various social welfare schemes like Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), SANKALP Scheme, Stand Up India Scheme, and Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana were introduced to enhance skill development, promote entrepreneurship, and provide financial assistance to the disadvantaged sections of society, including SCs and STs.
Legal Recognition: The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 recognized Hindu Dalits, Dalits who had converted to Sikhism and Buddhism as Scheduled Castes. Efforts are ongoing to include Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Scheduled Castes category through legal proceedings.
The history of untouchables and unseeable in India reflects a dark chapter of social discrimination and marginalisation. The deeply ingrained caste system perpetuated oppressive practices against these communities, denying them basic human rights and dignity. However, efforts have been made through various government policies and social initiatives to address their plight and uplift them socioeconomically. It is crucial that society continues to work towards creating an inclusive and equal India, where every individual is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their caste or social background.
Featured Image Courtesy – CNN