‘Untouchability wasn’t so much a sin as a crime’

M.S. Prabhakara, longtime northeast and South Africa correspondent of The Hindu, on the ongoing Brahmin-Dalit interaction in Karnataka:

“[The] demonstrative walkabouts by Brahmin leaders in areas one shunned as literally dirty and polluting , and by Dalit leaders in areas formally barred to Dalits, or the washing of the feet of a Dalit guru by Brahmins, are driven by a fundamentally flawed perspective that sees untouchability as a ‘sin.’ Thus the symbolic atoning by those who provided the ideology, the ‘upper’ caste Hindus like Brahmins — for it was the Brahmins who wrote the texts.

“These attempts to weld a common Dalit-Brahmin platform, united in symbolic acts of unity and togetherness, also make those Dalits who are going along with such a compact complicit in their historic diminishment and exclusion.

“The problem with such gestures is that the practice of untouchability was not so much a sin as a calculated crime, part of a social structure constructed by those who controlled the resources to facilitate the accumulation of surplus and profits in the process of material production. However, it is easier and more comfortable to everyone, even some of the victims of that crime, to give untouchability the spin of being a ‘sin,’ for acceptance of moral culpability costs nothing.

“If, on the other hand, one were to see the practice as a calculated crime for which one has to eventually pay, those who have perpetrated such crimes could, under a proper system of justice, be sent to prison.”

Read the full article: Untouchability: a sin and a crime

Also read: ‘Brahmins need a deeksha to awaken empathy’

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6 Responses to “‘Untouchability wasn’t so much a sin as a crime’”

  1. courting contempt Says:

    “If, on the other hand, one were to see the practice as a calculated crime for which one has to eventually pay, those who have perpetrated such crimes could, under a proper system of justice, be sent to prison.”

    “one” shifts here from the person observing, to the person observed, “those” shift from the long dead creators to criminals under existing laws. Methinks Hindu’s copy editors took an afternoon siesta too long.

    I would also like to see many, many colonial rulers who raped and pillaged in India in a calculated and criminal manner go to jail, but I think they have laws against digging up the dead without permission.

    In the context of my dear departed ancestors, I think whatever their just deserts, they are probably getting it in the next world.

    Marxists, like Prabhakara, don’t understand that the term “sin” is far, far worse to a properly religious person than “crime”. Of course, they would dismiss all religion as superstition anyway so any comparison means nothing to them. And all morals are generally the creation of the property owning class to exploit the fruits of labour. Likewise laws. So wait. What’s the difference between crime and sin again?

    This is stupid. 1500 years of discrimination are going to be solved by 100 years of caste war? That somehow less than 1% of the population managed to set up an elaborately cruel system that no one else was really complicit in sustaining and nourishing?

    When untouchability is being recognized as wrong what is exactly “being complicit” in recognizing the wrong?

    I think this is another instance of Marxists completely failing to understand social reality because of their strict doctrinal adherence to a completely alien frame of reference.

  2. J Vachani Says:

    Couldn’t agree with courting contempt more! If all you have is Marxist lexicon, then the whole world is only a class struggle. That the caste system is a terrible blot needs no repetition. That its origins in the varna-jati system needs to be understood. That the process of what MN Srinivas called Sanskritisation is taking place is an inevitable part of acceptance and will settle down into another equilibrium over time- not unlike desi Marxists seeking to become more Marxist than the Russians! That people are making attempts to rectify the wrongs of the past needs to be lauded. By being contemputous of such efforts only the author’s ideology emerges unscathed.

  3. Kitapati Says:

    “That its origins in the varna-jati system needs to be understood.”

    Can you please explain how the 3000 odd castes of India originated from obscure sanskrit verses.

  4. H.R.Bapu Satyanarayana Says:

    The argument is fatally flawed for it has no relevance to present day for the boot is on the other leg if it is seen in proper light

  5. J Vachani Says:

    Dear Kitapati,

    There are several scholarly books and important treatises on the subject. In brief, the word “caste” comes from Portuguese “casta” for “pure” which the British used to describe the traditional jati (professions/work) and varna (based on gunas or qualities) system of India. If you are interested, you can look up source material. Some references:

    i) Andre Beteille, eminent sociologist, “Caste, Inequality and Affirmative action”
    ii) Dr Edmund Weber, “Ambedkar and Hindu Culture”
    iii) Origin of Caste, by Dr Oliver Cox

    You can also check out in the Gita Sloka IV.13 (“Chaturvarnyma mayaa sristam gunkarma vibhagsah” ie the 4 orders were created based on behaviour/qualities and on works/deeds/professions) and

    Sloka XVIII.41 ( “Brahmana Kshatriya visham sudranam cha paramtapa, karmani pravibhaktani svabhavaprabhavaigunaih.” ie The division of labour into four categories – Brahman, Ksatriya, Vaishya and Sudra – is also based on the Gunas inherent in peoples nature).

    Notice birth and discrimination are not mentioned. These are corruptions that emerged much later.

  6. ‘Untouchability wasn’t so much a sin as a crime’ « Dalit News from Kerala Says:

    […] September 23, 2010 at 8:43 PM (Uncategorized) https://churumuri.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/untouchability-wasnt-so-much-a-sin-as-a-crime/ […]

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