‘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’