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Biggest caste survey: One in four Indians admit to practising untouchability

Going by respondents’ admissions, untouchability is the most widespread among Brahmins, followed by OBCs.

Written by Seema Chishti | New Delhi | Updated: November 29, 2014 11:52 am
untouchability Across India, 27 per cent respondents agreed that they did practised untouchability in some form. (Picture for representational purpose only. Source: Express photo by Swati Chandra)

Sixty-four years after caste untouchability was abolished by the Constitution, more than a fourth of Indians say they continue to practise it in some form in their homes, the biggest ever survey of its kind has revealed.

Those who admit to practising untouchability belong to virtually every religious and caste group, including Muslims, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Going by respondents’ admissions, untouchability is the most widespread among Brahmins, followed by OBCs. Among religious communities, it is the most widespread among Hindus, Sikhs and Jains, shows the survey, which was conducted in over 42,000 households across India by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) and the University of Maryland, US.

Source: The India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2) Source: The India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2)

NCAER, established in 1956, is India’s oldest and largest independent, non-profit economic policy research institute. The results are part of the India Human Development Survey (IHDS-2) — the largest pan-Indian non-government household survey — carried out in 2011-12 for economic and social variables across multiple categories. The full results of the survey will be available in 2015.

Surveyors asked respondents, “Does anyone in your family practise untouchability?” and, in case the answer was “No”, asked a second question: “Would it be okay for a Scheduled Caste person to enter your kitchen or use your utensils?”

Across India, 27 per cent respondents agreed that they did practised untouchability in some form. The practice was most prevalent among Brahmin respondents (52 per cent). 24 per cent of non-Brahmin forward caste respondents admitted to it — lower, interestingly, than OBC respondents, 33 per cent of whom confirmed its prevalence in their homes. 15 per cent of Scheduled Caste and 22 per cent of Scheduled Tribe respondents admitted to the practice.

Broken up by religious groups, data from the survey shows almost every third Hindu (30 per cent) admitted to the practice, followed by Sikhs (23 per cent), Muslims (18 per cent) and Christians (5 per cent).

Jains topped the list, with 35 per cent respondents accepting that they practised untouchability. The survey has, however, warned that the result for Jains is “not conclusive” because of the small size of the sample.

Lead researcher Dr Amit Thorat, an associate fellow at NCAER, said, “These findings indicate that conversion has not led to a change in mindsets. Caste identity is sticky baggage, difficult to dislodge in social settings.” Currently, as per a government order of 1950, the SC quota in government jobs applies only to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits, not Christian and Muslim Dalit caste groups.

Spatially, untouchability is most widespread in the Hindi heartland, according to the survey. Madhya Pradesh is on top (53 per cent), followed by Himachal Pradesh (50 per cent), Chhattisgarh (48 per cent), Rajasthan and Bihar (47 per cent), Uttar Pradesh (43 per cent), and Uttarakhand (40 per cent).

West Bengal appears to be the most ‘progressive’ — with only 1 per cent of respondents confirming they practised untouchability. Kerala comes next in the survey, with 2 per cent, followed by Maharashtra (4 per cent), the Northeast (7 per cent), and Andhra Pradesh (10 per cent).

Survey results suggest that high incomes do not dent the practice, but education, especially among Brahmins and OBCs, makes a difference.

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    1. Mohamed Ameen
      May 18, 2017 at 8:57 pm
      If the harijan converts (to Islam) want to go back to original caste based Hinduism voluntarily let them do by all means No force on religious or ideological thoughts. Do we not have atheist Hindus in Indian communist ideology What do we do with them? The names of Hindu castes in the State for the benefit of others: Pariah, Pallan, Sakkilia, Dalit, Harijans, Mudaliar, Nadar, Pillai, Devar, Maravar, Vanniar, Naidu, Vellalar, Kallar, Naidu, Brahmins and Kaundas, Many academic researchers have done profound research on this in Tamil Nadu Walk into any Muslim college in Tamil Nadu or Trivandram ask the Muslim students to indicate their original Hindu caste on a plain piece of paper… you will come up with zero information. Over a period of about 800 years, they have destro the castes. You do the same thing in a Christian college, every Christian student knows his Hindu caste. This is the revolution that Islam has brought about in parts of India including Tamil Nadu and Kerala
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      1. Mohamed Ameen
        May 18, 2017 at 8:43 pm
        Muslims do obligatory five time prayers in their Mosques and they stand behind a leader in rows and worship the arrangement is first come first served and anyone can choose stand in prayer right behind the leader(Imam) in the first row regardless of his previous Hindu castes, a Harijan Muslim can become the Imam and lead the prayer I can show hundreds of such examples Can you show that in Hindu temples In Tamil Nadu Islam brought a revolution destroying untouchability caste system by inter marriages People can tell that from the physical features of Tamil Muslims who were Paravars and Pallavars before Walk into a Muslim college and ask the Muslim students to write on a ballot their original Hindu caste You will get zero reply simply because they do not know It applies to me also My forefathers (may be Pariahs) got converted 500 years ago
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        1. Mohamed Ameen
          May 18, 2017 at 8:35 pm
          Many Hindu brothers say that 90 of the Muslim converts were from Paravars and Harijans a few hundred years ago Okay for argument sake let it be a reality Does RSS want to convert them back to Hindu Dal Mukkulathar, etc And look at their social status now, their business a en, their educational and economic development and the respect and dignity they hold among other people in TN Look at the Dalits who became christians They are segregated inside the churches and temples and in burials Islam brought a revolution. This would not have happened to them had they remained Harijans Compare this with Harijans ( about 10 lakhs) who were converted to Christianity in Tamil Nadu Unfortunately they still remain Dalits, still discriminated, still drink from separate cups, still unable to be buried in the same grave yard where high caste Christians are buried . Inside the village church they are segregated Islam brought a revolution in uplifting the downtrodden in India .
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          1. R
            Rahul
            May 11, 2017 at 3:00 am
            I want to address some more things 1. How the heck do some states have a certain number of Untouchability practicers, but a much lower percentage of Dalits themselves face discrimination? There are less Dalits than Non-Dalits in each of these villages. Also, they are in the same 1,503 villages, and the 971 urban neighborhoods surve . Also, couldn't you guys explain what kinds of untouchability they practice, because a lot of it could be just marriage related. Also, what is their definition of untouchability? 2. The allowing people in is a privacy and hygiene thing. But one thing is that, that could be indicating some sort of bias, so the bare maximum of casteist Indians is only 30 . 3. How is this survey directly clashing with other surveys? Other surveys show more than 50 of villages practice untouchability! You guys also had your expectations for the numbers, how were they achieved?
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