Images of India : Discrimination against Untouchables being tackled…

harijansEver since independence the Government has been putting money and facilities at the disposal of the Harijans – the children of God, as Mahatma Gandhi called them. But it is not easy. There has been progress in many ways: more Harijans, for instance, are each year getting education, the key to real economic emancipation and equality. One Harijan in 3,000 can read (compared with India’s average of one in six) or that Harijans who make up 15 per cent of India’s agricultural population also make up 33 per cent of India’s landless. From now on there will be quotas of caste Hindus and Untouchables in students’ hostels and housing schemes. The inducement offered to caste Hindus is that by mixing with Harijans they will qualify for the grants and advantages provided for Harijans. Meanwhile the Sanatanists of Vanarashi have adopted an effective line of protest against the ‘pollution’ of their famous Vishvanathan temple, which was recently opened to Harijans by law and governmental initiative. The Sanatanists, led by eminent religious leaders, have opened a new temple and installed a new statue of the deity leaving the 200-year-old god, ‘polluted and defiled’, to be used by all and sundry. The new temple is built in such a fashion that even Brahmins cannot come near the deity to touch it for good luck or respect; only a few priests will be allowed near the idol. While orthodoxy is dominant the Harijans will be second-class citizens. Some of them have of late taken refuge in Buddhism; there have been mass conversions in Mumbai and Central India, where the Mahars – the Untouchables of the late Dr Ambedkar’s own community – are to be found. In the rest of India, Harijans are looking not to the Buddha for their salvation but to the spread of urbanisation which, by providing them with a mantle of anonymity away from the villages and their social groupings, makes it possible for them to look their fellow-men squarely in the face. And in South India, where towns are few and literacy is high, they naturally vote for the Communists.