The life of untouchable
Untouchable. This is a word for people from the bottom of the Hindu society. Despite the fact that Indian constitution prohibited the caste system in 1950, dividing people to “better” and “worse” is still in practice in ordinary life. However, also the untouchable have gradually been drawing the fruits of economic growth and other social changes which have been visible in India in last two decades.
“The untouchable are not allowed to step over the threshold of my house, nor their shadows can touch our house or ownership,” says a young Indian Santosh. His family is a part of the caste named VAISHu (businessmen) and they are running several small shops in their village in a north Indian state Uttar Pradesh. “I know that this is an obsolete view on these people and it is not right,” says Santosh shrugging his shoulders with resignation. “It is an old tradition and the local community would exclude us if we did not follow this traditional rule.”
To be untouchable means to be one of those who are the target of contempt. The members of this social class suffer from continuous discrimination – they are expelled from temples or they cannot enter the houses of people from a higher caste. They must also use special “untouchable” dishes when they eat with the more lucky ones. The society gives them only the worst work – work with excrements, garbage or dead bodies. Indians believe that the untouchable suffer because of their bad way of life in their past lives.
Little Amid is also a member of this social group. Every morning he tries to find his living in garbage containers in one of the suburbs of New Delhi. In spite of his sad life deal, his life is not so bad. He lives in the megalopolis where people are more tolerant to the untouchables than in rural areas. However, life is not easy for Amid and his family. They do not have any real chance to escape from this social trap, which is a part of their origin. “I really wish to go to school as other children do and I would like to learn to read and write,” Amid shares his feeling sadly. If his family wish to survive, the boy must work very hard. It means that he must be able to find something valuable in the garbage. He does not have any time or money to go to school. But without education he has only minimal chances for dignified life in his adult age.
A big number of Indian untouchable children share Amid’s dream of going to school and having life as others. Yet the chance to get quality education, as the people from higher classes have, is very low. The reason is not an opportunity to go to school. There are enough schools, especially in cities. But the schools are run by state and the level of education there is very low.
“Those who have some money try to send their children to private schools. Private education gives better chances to get a good job and enables social upturn. Teachers paid by state do not often have any interest to educate and they care only about their own good,” says Ms. Patel from a small Indian NGO.
People also look on the children from state schools with scorn. “As school uniforms exist in India, every child is able to recognise who is from a good private school and who is from a state school. School uniforms often indicate the social status and class in India too. Generally, it is known that mostly children from the lower class - untouchable and Muslims - study in state schools. Thus in a state school it is not possible to find good company for the members of higher society and castes,” adds Ms. Patel ironically.
Prospects for the untouchable
The dream to gain good education is now “untouchable” for the untouchable. The Indian government know about this problem and try to solve it. The positive discrimination is an example. The untouchable and people from other low castes have easier entrance tests to universities compared to the tests which the members of higher castes have to pass. On the other side, this creates other opportunities for the aversion among castes. Many students dislike this policy. “Unfortunately, they do not realise that most of the places at the universities are still being gained predominantly by the students from higher social classes, who are Brahmans or Kshatrias,” comments on it Ms. Patel.
Education is the way to get a good job and become attractive for companies in cities. Especially companies from abroad do not care about the caste system and the status – which differs from the attitude of the local companies. “International companies want to hire employees who have a lot of knowledge and skills,” concludes Ms. Patel.