"No religion preaches the dignity of humanity in such lofty strains as Hinduism and no religion on earth treads upon the necks of the poor and the low in such a fashion as Hinduism. —Swami. Vivekananda..
"I regard untouchability as the greatest blot on Hinduism". —Mahatma Gandhi.
If one were to make any justifiable generalization about human nature, the world over, it would perhaps be that man is a bundle of prejudices. Rarely, there breathes a man who is completely free from prejudices. Prejudices are thus arbitrary opinions. Prejudices are a mark of imperfect human evolution. Prejudices are, therefore, a mark of imperfection, irrationality, arbitrariness, unfamiliarity, un-criticalness etc. And the worst prejudice is the prejudice against untouchables.
The country which tolerates the scourge of untouchability, cannot claim to be civilized. Untouchability is the greatest social evil in India. In other countries, there is a distinction of the high and the low because of birth. Certain castes in India are considered so low that the water touched by them is considered unholy. When a high caste man is touched by a low caste man, he considers himself to have been made impure and purifies himself by bath. From time to time, social reformers have come into existence to eradicate this evil. To our great anxiety, untouchability still exists in the Indian society in spite of all the steps taken against it.
The society was divided into four classes—-the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, the Vaishyas and the Sudras, who were segregated and kept away from the other three castes. It is a social prejudice, not religious, which is responsible for segregating the class. Our holy books in general and 'Bhagvadagita' is particular, does not recognize such segregation. Social prejudice is very strong. Some years ago, there were separate roads and wells for the untouchables and they were not permitted to enter into temples. They were once treated like chattels.
The social evil of untouchability has caused a great damage to the Indian religion and culture. The discarded Hindus who were disowned by the upper class people embraced another religion which granted them social liberties and status. The majority of the Christians living in India at present, were originally Hindus but were considered as untouchables. In consequence, they embraced Christianity and got the social authority to mix with the others freely. Thousands of Christian missionaries have been working in India for the last so many years and converting the innocent and poor untouchables into Christians. In this way, they are polluting the Hindu culture and religion.
India is a secular state where Christians have got every right to call themselves Christians and to spread their religion by fair and foul methods. On the contrary, the Hindus are not permitted to check this religious corruption and if they make any effort to counteract these missionaries, they are branded as communalists and are emphatically asked to behave decently like the citizens of a secular state. At present there are five thousand registered missionaries working in India for the spread of Christianity. The government is blind to this hard reality. Being conscious of this, Swami Dayanand Saraswati started a social movement called Arya Samaj to save the untouchables from the clutches of the Christians. Mahatma Gandhi throughout his life lived and worked for the welfare of the untouchables whom he lovingly and respectfully called 'Harijans'. He edited a periodical 'Harijan' to create public opinion against untouchability.
The problem of untouchability is the result of the atrocities perpetrated by the Brahmins and Kshatriyas upon the Sudras or the untouchables. It seems to be unbelievable that a pot touched by a fellow human being become permanently unholy but touched and spoiled by a dog could be purified again. We are responsible for the creation of this evil and for the great social and cultural loss which has caused to our nation.
In free India, the rights of the citizens have been recognized in the constitution. Now, untouchability is considered as a legal offence. It is said that in India there are nearly seventy million untouchables, who are sometimes described as depressed classes or Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Our National Government is very eager to bring about an over all regeneration of the Harijans. For this, various methods have been adopted Untouchability has been abolished by law. Separate seats have been allotted to the Scheduled Castes in all services of the government departments and granted concessions in age and academic qualifications at the time of the selection in government services. The State Government has set up a department, the Harijan Welfare Department, to safeguard the interests of the untouchables. Special schools for the general and technical education of the Harijans have been setup. Special scholarships are awarded to the Harijan students by the State Governments. To establish a classless society by eliminating untouchability, inter-caste dinners and marriages are encouraged and arranged. Mere legislation cannot eradicate the age old evil of untouchability. Public consciousness is very essential to achieve the goal.
We have to shake off conservatism and have to feel the pulse of time. Our own narrow minded bigotry has resulted in the wide spread conversion of countless Hindus. If the present state is allowed to continue, the secular state will be changed into a Christian State by the end of the current century. Let us remember that untouchability is due to snobbery, not to religious or hygienic causes. If Hinduism is to live, untouchability must die. Or, as Swami Vivekananda said every morning, “If untouchability lives, Hinduism will die.