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The Black Untouchables Of India: The World’s Most Oppressed People

The Black Untouchables Of India: The World’s Most Oppressed People

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The Global African Community

Notes from a brother in India: The bigotry of Hindus with regard to skin colour


By Iniyan Elango, M.D.


Edited and Posted by Runoko Rashidi


The greatest victims of Hinduism have been the Untouchables.  Indeed, probably the most substantial percentage of all the Black people of Asia can be identified among India’s 160 million Untouchables.  These people are the long-suffering descendants of Aryan-Sudra unions and native Black populations who retreated into the hinterlands of India in their efforts to escape the advancing Aryan sphere of influence to which they ultimately succumbed.

India’s Untouchables number more than the combined populations of England, France, Belgium and Spain. The existence of Untouchability has been justified within the context of Hindu religious thought as the ultimate and logical extensions of Karma and rebirth. Indus believe that persons are born Untouchables because of the accumulation of sins in previous lives.  Hindu texts describe these people as foul and loathsome, and any physical contact with them was regarded as polluting.

Untouchables were usually forced to live in pitiful little settlements on the outskirts of Hindu communities.  During certain periods in Indian history Untouchables were only allowed to enter the adjoining Hindu communities at night.  Indeed, the Untouchables’ very shadows were considered polluting, and they were required to beat drums and make loud noises to announce their approach.  Untouchables had to attach brooms to their backs to erase any evidence of their presence.  Cups were tied around their necks to capture any spittle that might escape their lips and contaminate roads and streets.  Their meals were taken from broken dishes.  Their clothing was taking from corpses.  They were forbidden to learn to read and write, and were prohibited from listening to any of the traditional Hindu texts.  Untouchables were denied access to public wells.  They could not use ornaments and were not allowed to enter Hindu temples.  The primary work of Untouchables included scavenging and street sweeping, emptying toilets, the public execution of criminals, the disposal of dead animals and human corpses, and the clean-up of cremation grounds.  The daily life of the Untouchable was filled with degradation, deprivation and humiliation.

The basis status of India’s Untouchables has changed little since ancient times, and it has recently been observed that “Caste Hindus do not allow Untouchables to wear shoes, ride bicycles, use umbrellas or hold their heads up while walking in the street.”  Untouchables in urban India are crowded together in squalid slums, while in rural India, where the vast majority of Untouchables live, they are exploited as landless agricultural laborers and ruled by terror and intimidation.  As evidence of this, several cases from 1991 can be cited:  On June 23, 1991 fourteen Untouchables were slaughtered in the eastern state of Bihar.  On August 10, 1991 six Untouchables were shot to death in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.  On August 16, 1991, an Untouchable woman was stripped in public and savagely beaten in the southern state of Andra Pradesh.  On September 6, 1991, in the western state of Maharastra, an Untouchable policeman was killed for entering a Hindu temple.  Official Indian figures on violent crimes by caste Hindus against Untouchables have averaged more than 10,000 cases per year, with the figures continuing to rise.  The Indian government listed 14,269 cases of atrocities by caste Hindus against Untouchables in 1989 alone.  However, Indian human rights workers report that a large number of atrocities against Untouchables, including beatings, gang-rapes, arson and murders, are never recorded.  Even when charges are formally filed, justice for Untouchables is rarely dispensed.