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Grim Reminder of Medusa's Head


G.K. Karanth

UNTOUCHABILITY IN RURAL INDIA
By Ghanshyam Shah, Harsh Mander, Sukhadeo Thorat, Satish Deshpande and Amita Baviskar
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 216, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 1 January 2008

A few months ago, several televison channels – local and national – were telecasting the reactions of young professionals or aspiring students on the policy of extending reservation for the students of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in IITs and IIMs and other centrally sponsored professional colleges. Most students were responding to the questions posed to them, vehemently and emotionally opposing ‘inequality’ and ‘discrimination’ through a policy of reservation of seats in educational institutions in India. They were all demanding equal access for opportunities for education, especially in the professional courses! It took quite sometime for some of us to discern what was being perceived as ‘inequality’ and ‘discrimination’ resulting from implementation of a policy of affirmative action. It was then that one could identify a unmistakable evidence of an ‘uneven’ social change in India. Here was an urban born generation of young boys and girls, well educated, but innocent of the ‘Medusa’s Head’-like character of caste in Indian society, and unaware of how the other two-thirds of India lived in villages and their hamlets, colonies, or `Nagars’ named after former Prime Ministers or social reformers. It seemed as though that their educational upbringing had been so geared for a global and competitive economy that some of the resilient features of Indian society had not been part of their curriculum. Perhaps, they were completely unaware of the ugly practices of caste-based discrimination, the worst form of which is Untouchability. I would make a nice present of the book under review, neatly packed in a glittering ‘gift-wrapping’ paper to them on their graduation day.   The book, Untouchability in Rurual India, is a result of an initiative by ActionAid to document the incidents and extent of Untouchability in contemporary India. The fact that such an exercise was carried out in as many as 565 villages spread across in eleven States, makes the outcome to be even more shocking and putting the country fellow persons to shame, while most others may also praise it for its representativeness or scientific validity. It belies the claim made by the state in India that there is no violation of human rights on the count of Untouchability, or practices similar to what the rest of the World would like to accuse India as of racism. The truth is, however, whether in the name of the colour or birth, men and women, are discriminated.   The Introduction the book makes quite ...


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