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Documenting Cases Of Discrimination To End Untouchability

Video Volunteers, an international media and human rights NGO, is promoting community videos to document and highlight plights of the marginalized and poor communities around the world. On the 14th of April 2012, Video Volunteers launched the ARTICLE 17 campaign which involved documenting video testimonies of different forms of untouchability by Community Correspondents across the country and taking actions. This 14 April, 2013 marks the first anniversary of the campaign against the discrimination against the so called “untouchables.”

Untouchability is a form of discrimination, the social-religious practice of ostracizing a minority group by segregating them from the mainstream by social custom or legal mandate. The term is used in India to talk about the public treatment of especially the Dalit communities, who face work and descent-based discrimination at the hands of the dominant Hindu castes.

Girls in a garbage picker colony. They are considered as Untouchables because it is considered that the simple act of touching them brings impurity. They are excluded from the system of Indian castes.

Girls in a garbage picker colony. They are considered as Untouchables because it is considered that the simple act of touching them brings impurity. They are excluded from the system of Indian castes. Image by Yan Seiler. Copyright Demotix (1/9/2011)

Although untouchability has been made illegal in post-independence India, Dalits and other scheduled castes substantially empowered, prejudice against them are seen in the society, especially in rural areas.

Video Volunteers director Stalin K. provides a background of the campaign to end untouchability:

Ten Years ago, I started on a journey to document practices of untouchability across several states and religions of India. 25,000 kilometres, 9,000 minutes of footage and four years later, I put together a documentary called India Untouched. The main reason for making this film was to challenge the belief of most Indians that untouchability is a thing of the past.

Stalin continues:

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution states that “Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.” However, society continues to look at untouchability as a social given, grounded in ‘tradition’. Instead, we should see such practices for what they are: criminal acts.

The documenting initiative started in 2010 (see Global Voices report). The Community Correspondents of Video Volunteers have so far produced a series of 30 videos which documented untouchability practices across the nation. Here are a few examples:

The Untouchable Well: The Dalit community is only allowed to drink water drawn from the one chosen “untouchable” well in the village. Video by Video Volunteers

Untouchability in Shops: Dalits are not allowed to enter shops even if they are paying customers. They have to either throw their money into the hands of the “upper” caste shopkeepers without touching them or leave the money on the floor. Goods touched by Dalits are purified by putting them once through a burning flame. Video by Video Volunteers

Untouchability Captured and Ended on Camera: The video chronicled married Dalit women in the village removing their slippers and holding it in their hands as they crossed an “upper caste” neighborhood. The combined efforts of the Community Correspondent on the ground, the over 5000 people who signed the petition (DM) online and the national zeitgeist created by the TV show, persuaded the DM and the Superintendent police to personally visit the village to conduct a public hearing condemning the practice. The people promised the DM that there will no more complaints from the village. The practice was declared ‘abolished.’ Video by Video Volunteers

You can watch the whole set of videos from this Youtube channel. A petition campaign has started to ask the National Commission for Schedule Castes (NCSC) to take action against the documented violations.

Shekhar comments on the videos at India Unheard Blog:

After watching all these videos, I came to know that my view that the caste system in India is weakened to some extent is wrong and totally a blunder. I am forced to grasp that it is still rampant and deeply rooted.

Here are some Twitter reactions on the untouchability situation in India:

Shraddha Upadhyay (@shraddha48), a blogger from Gwalior tweets:

@shraddha48: Do read a personal experience of untouchability & endless prejudices. “What night is donned upon my nation, lord?” http://t.co/GtZRde1ndz

Community Media (@babasaheb_org) writes:

@babasaheb_org: 84 types of untouchability are being practised in the state even now http://fb.me/1D1WAjT2l

Stalin ends his post with:

It’s time we accepted that the practice of untouchability is not the vestigial remains of some backward, social phenomenon or tradition: it’s a criminal offence. Let’s start calling it what it is.

  • 4thaugust1932

    I’m a Wall Street Investment Banker.
    I’ll give $300 million for creating Independent Nation for India’s Untouchable People as per “Communal Award” in 1932.

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