- ‘Untouchability’ is an extreme and particularly vicious aspect of the caste system that prescribes stringent social sanctions against members of castes located at the bottom of the purity-pollution scale.
- The ‘untouchable’ castes are outside the caste hierarchy – they are considered to be so ‘impure’ that their mere touch severely pollutes members of all other castes, bringing terrible punishment for the former and forcing the latter to perform elaborate purification rituals.
- Notions of ‘distance pollution’ existed in many regions of India (particularly in the south) such that even the mere presence or the shadow of an ‘untouchable’ person is considered polluting.
- Despite the limited literal meaning of the word, the institution of ‘untouchability’ refers not just to the avoidance or prohibition of physical contact but to a much broader set of social sanctions.
- So, Article 17 of the Constitution states that untouchability has been abolished. It means that no one can henceforth prevent Dalits from educating themselves, entering temples, using public facilities etc. It also means that it is wrong to practise untouchability and that this practice will not be tolerated by a democratic government. In fact, untouchability is a punishable crime now.