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Article 17: Abolition Of Untouchability In India

Caste is a state of mind. It is a disease of mind. The teachings of the Hindu religion are the root cause of this disease. We practice casteism and we observe Untouchability because we are enjoined to do so by the Hindu religion. A bitter thing cannot be made sweet. The taste of anything can be changed. But poison cannot be changed into nectar."

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution is a crucial provision that prohibits the practice of untouchability in any form. It is a reflection of the country's commitment to social equality and the eradication of discrimination and social segregation. The article recognizes that untouchability is a heinous practice that has been used to marginalize certain communities for centuries. It aims to create an inclusive society that is free from biases and prejudices, where every individual is treated with dignity and respect. This article is a testament to India's efforts to build a just and equal society for all its citizens.

Meaning of Untouchables:
Untouchables refers to a social group in India that historically faced discrimination and exclusion from the caste system. They were considered impure and their touch was believed to contaminate members of higher castes. The term is now considered derogatory and has been replaced by the term Dalits, which means "oppressed" or "broken people.

Article-17 Explanation:
Article 17 of the Indian Constitution prohibits the practice of untouchability in any form. It states that "Untouchability" is abolished and its practice in any form is prohibited. The enforcement of any disability arising out of "Untouchability" shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law. This article was included in the Constitution to ensure that the practice of untouchability is eradicated from Indian society and that the rights of Dalits are protected.

Despite the constitutional provisions and various laws enacted to protect the rights of Dalits, discrimination and violence against them continue to exist in many parts of India. They face social, economic, and political exclusion, and their access to education, healthcare, and employment opportunities is limited. Many Dalits are forced to work in low-paying jobs such as manual scavenging, which involves cleaning human waste, a practice that has been banned but still exists in some parts of India.

The government has initiated various schemes and programs to uplift the socio-economic status of Dalits, such as reservation in education and government jobs, financial assistance for starting businesses, and housing schemes. However, these efforts have not been enough to eliminate discrimination and violence against Dalits.

It is essential to create awareness and sensitize people about the issue of caste-based discrimination and the importance of treating everyone with dignity and respect. The government needs to take strict action against those who violate the rights of Dalits and ensure that justice is delivered to them. Only then can we truly achieve a society where every individual is treated equally, regardless of their caste or social background.

Examples of Practices considered as Untouchability:
  • Refusing to share food or drink with members of lower castes or tribes.
  • Prohibiting members of lower castes from entering temples, mosques, or other places of worship.
  • Forcing members of lower castes to perform menial tasks such as cleaning toilets or handling dead animals.
  • Denying members of lower castes access to education or employment opportunities.
  • Segregating members of lower castes in separate living quarters or neighborhoods.
  • Refusing to allow members of lower castes to use common facilities such as water sources or public transportation.
  • Imposing social restrictions on members of lower castes such as prohibiting them from wearing certain types of clothing or jewelry.
  • Subjecting members of lower castes to physical violence or harassment.

History of Untouchables in India:
The history of untouchables in India dates back to the ancient caste system, which divided society into four major castes: Brahmins (priests and scholars), Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaishyas (merchants and traders), and Shudras (manual laborers). The untouchables, also known as Dalits, were considered outside the caste system and were treated as social outcasts.

They were not allowed to enter temples or use public wells, and their touch was considered polluting to higher castes. They were forced to perform menial jobs such as cleaning latrines and handling dead animals. They faced discrimination and violence from higher castes, and their rights were often violated.

The British colonial rule in India abolished some of the worst practices of the caste system, but discrimination against Dalits continued even after India gained independence in 1947. The Indian Constitution banned untouchability and provided for affirmative action programs to uplift Dalits, but discrimination and violence against them still persist.

Today, Dalits continue to face discrimination in education, employment, and access to public services. They are often subjected to violence, including rape and murder, for daring to assert their rights. Despite efforts by the government and civil society organizations, the problem of caste-based discrimination remains a major challenge for India's democracy and social justice.

People in India were divided into four castes:
Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras. Below the Shudras were the untouchables who were considered so impure that they were not even considered part of the caste system. Untouchability was reinforced by religious beliefs and practices, particularly in Hinduism. Despite efforts to eradicate this practice, untouchability still exists in some parts of India, particularly in rural areas.

Abolishment of Untouchability:
The Indian Constitution, adopted in 1950, abolished untouchability and made it a punishable offense. The government has also implemented various affirmative action policies such as reservations in education and employment for the socially and economically disadvantaged castes. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 provides for special protection and punishment for crimes against members of the lower castes.

However, despite these efforts, untouchability still persists in some parts of India. Discrimination based on caste continues to be a major social problem, particularly in rural areas where traditional beliefs and practices are deeply ingrained. The government and civil society organizations continue to work towards eradicating this practice through education, awareness campaigns, and legal measures.

Cases related to Untouchability:
State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan (1951): This landmark case challenged the constitutional validity of the Madras Government Order of 1927 which reserved seats in educational institutions and public services for certain castes. The Supreme Court held that such reservations violated the right to equality under Article 14 and the prohibition of untouchability under Article 17.

Sardar Syedna Taher Saifuddin Saheb v. State of Bombay (1962): In this case, the Supreme Court held that the practice of excommunication or social boycott by a religious community amounted to untouchability and was therefore unconstitutional under Article 17.

State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas (1976): In this case, the Supreme Court held that the denial of employment to a person on the basis of their caste or descent amounted to untouchability and was therefore unconstitutional under Article 17.

People's Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (1982): In this case, the Supreme Court held that the practice of manual scavenging, which involves cleaning human excreta with bare hands, was a form of untouchability and violated the prohibition under Article 17.

State of Gujarat v. Hon'ble High Court of Gujarat (1998): In this case, the Supreme Court held that the practice of segregating Dalit prisoners from other prisoners in jails amounted to untouchability and was therefore unconstitutional under Article 17

Advantages of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution:
Article 17 of the Indian constitution abolishes untouchability and makes it a punishable offense.

This article provides several advantages, including:
  • Protection against discrimination: Article 17 provides legal protection to Dalits against discrimination based on their caste or social status. It ensures that they are treated equally and have access to the same opportunities as other citizens.
  • Punishment for offenders: The article makes it a punishable offense to practice untouchability, which acts as a deterrent to those who would discriminate against Dalits. Offenders can face imprisonment and fines, which can help to curb discrimination.
  • Empowerment of Dalits: Article 17 empowers Dalits by giving them the legal right to fight against discrimination and seek justice. It helps to raise their voice and assert their rights, which can lead to greater social and economic mobility.
  • Promotion of social equality: Article 17 promotes social equality by eradicating the practice of untouchability. It helps to create a more inclusive society where every citizen is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of their caste or social status.
  • Strengthening democracy: Article 17 strengthens democracy by ensuring that every citizen has equal rights and opportunities. It helps to create a more just and equitable society, which is essential for the functioning of a democratic system.

Challenges of Article 17 of the Indian Constitution:
Despite the advantages of Article 17, there are several challenges that need to be addressed:
  • Lack of enforcement: The implementation of Article 17 is weak, and offenders often go unpunished. This lack of enforcement undermines the effectiveness of the article and perpetuates discrimination against Dalits.
  • Deep-rooted social prejudices: Discrimination against Dalits is deeply ingrained in Indian society, and it will take time to change these attitudes. Even though Article 17 has been in place for over 70 years, untouchability still exists in many parts of the country.
  • Caste-based politics: Caste-based politics is a significant challenge to the implementation of Article 17. Politicians often use caste as a tool to gain votes, which perpetuates discrimination and hinders efforts to eradicate untouchability.
  • Lack of awareness: Many people are not aware of their rights under Article 17, which makes them vulnerable to discrimination. There is a need for greater awareness and education about the article and its implications.
  • Inadequate legal support: Dalits often face legal challenges when fighting against discrimination, and they may not have access to adequate legal support. This can make it difficult for them to seek justice and assert their rights under Article 17.

Article 17 of the Indian Constitution is a crucial provision that aims to eradicate untouchability and ensure equal rights for all citizens. However, there are several challenges that need to be addressed to effectively implement this article. The lack of enforcement, deep-rooted social prejudices, caste-based politics, lack of awareness, and inadequate legal support are some of the significant challenges that need to be overcome.

It is essential to address these challenges and work towards creating a society where every individual is treated with dignity and respect, irrespective of their caste or social status. Only then can we truly achieve the goal of a just and equitable society.

End- Notes:
  • Quote by Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar

Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Shilpi Kumari
Awarded certificate of Excellence
Authentication No: NV330847506583-4-1123

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