What steps have been taken by the Hindu reformers to eradicate untouchability?
There are no two opinions about the
urgent need for eradication of untouchability which is universally considered
as a blot on the Hindu society.
Neither in the Vedas nor
in the Dharmasastras do we find any sanction for this abominable practice.
While describing the need to maintain physical cleanliness and ceremonial
purity on certain occasions, a kind of ‘untouchability’ has been advocated by
our scriptures. However, this ‘untouchability’ has nothing to do with the brand
which the Hindu society has been stupid enough to enforce during the last few
To clarify: The following
persons have been declared as ‘untouchable’ and coming into contact with them
will oblige one to take a bath—those in the Sutaka and Asaucha (observing
ceremonial impurity brought about by birth or death in the family), a woman in her
monthly courses, those who have not washed their hands after food, those
engaged in trades which soil the body and clothes like butchery or removing
night-soil, those who have forsaken their duties as enjoined in the
Varna-Ashrama-Dharma, sinners, criminals, and so on.
It is interesting to note
that the same scriptures have shown immense wisdom in ordaining that even such
‘untouchability’ need not be observed in holy places and on holy occasions like
a Rathotsava (temple-car festival) or during national emergencies. Some of the
Dharmasastras go to the extent of permitting even the lowest of the castes and
sections of the society (whom we call Harijans today) to enter into temples.
Hence it can be safely asserted that the untouchability current in our society
is the handiwork of selfish people with a myopic vision.
Those who were engaged in
unclean vocations were segregated because of this. But it is unpardonable that
no steps were taken for their educational, economic and cultural upliftment. It
should be remembered that such segregation was on grounds of health and
sanitation; and vested economic interests helped to perpetuate the system.
Religion had no hand at all in it. That the many saints born among these
‘untouchables’ were honoured by the entire society is proof enough for this
Of late, there has been a
general awakening in the Hindu society with regard to this problem which is
also posing a danger to the solidarity of our nation. The Heads of Mathas and
other Hindu religious leaders seem to be shaking off their age-old attitudes
and apathies. Entry of Harijans into the temples, allowing free access to them
in the religious fares and festivals, inviting them to take part in community
dinners without discrimination, special efforts to propagate religion and
culture among them—these are some of the programmes that are being undertaken
to eradicate this evil. However, progress in this direction seems to be rather
tardy and needs to be speeded up.
The panacea, however, for
the problem of untouchability and the disabilities faced by the Harijans is
proper education leading to right attitudes and values, as also speedy economic
progress. This two-way progress, to be sure, will automatically wipe out this
blot that has doggedly plagued our society over centuries.