Untouchability- A Critical Analysis

This Blog is written by Pagadala Rajeev, a student in 3rd semester pursuing a B.A., LL.B at Lovely Professional University. In this blog, I’m going to discuss “UNTOUCHABILITY”.


Caste is a well-known thing for each of us. Each Indian does have a specific caste. The castes are also further divided into different types. They are named OC, BC, SC, and ST. OC caste is the upper caste. OC consists of priests, Kshatriyas, and Brahmins. Usually, they are considered respectable people in India. SC and ST are often known as Dalits. They are lower caste in India. Here conflict arises between the castes as they are differentiated as “upper and lower”. Basically, upper-caste people do the jobs like offering pooja to gods. But these Dalits are excluded from doing these jobs. They do jobs like manual scavenging, daily wage labour, and bonded labours. In manual scavenging, they don’t even have the proper equipment. They have to clean toilets, railway tracks, and manholes with bare hands. As they do jobs that are considered as untouchable in society, they are facing discrimination. Even though the constitution made the practice of untouchability punishable, it is not prevented.

Before independence that is even during British rule our country did witness a lot of social movements against this practice of untouchability. Jyotirao Phule, BR Ambedkar, and mahatma Gandhi are the leading figures of these movements. Mahatma Gandhi even went forward and said that untouchability is a sin of Hinduism.


The word UNTOUCHABILITY has neither been defined in the constitution nor in any other act. The constitutional framers gave us the word untouchability but did not define it or provided for its application. Here some questions arises, how this word has to be interpreted, and how this word has to be defined. It has been provided by judiciary In JAI SINGH vs UOI and DEVARAJIAH vs B. PADMANNA, it has been held that in article 17 of the untouchability has been placed under inverted commas, which means that this word is not to be taken from by its literal or grammatical interpretation. The meaning of the word is to be derived from its historical development and historical practice. Therefore the word untouchability under article 17 only means caste-based untouchability.

Types of Untouchability

  1. Dalits are not allowed to fetch water from common resources.
  2. Pouring drinking water into the hands instead of giving in the glass.
  3. They are not allowed to enter the house of the upper caste.
  4. Segaration in seating in schools.
  5. Dalits are not allowed to enter temples.
  6. Dalits are not allowed to walk with sandals in front of upper-caste people.
  7. Manual scavenging

These are some of the types of untouchability. There is a massive violation of the human rights of Dalits. We are daily witnessing incidents of untouchability through newspapers, news channels, and social media where Dalits are denied to enter temples, where Dalits are boycotting from villages.

Constitutional provisions

In Constitution, fundamental rights are discussed in part three, from article 12 to article 35 of the constitution. This part provides for six different kinds of fundamental rights. One amongst them is the RIGHT TO EQUALITY, which is discussed from article 14 to article 18 of the constitution. Article 14 talks about general principles of equality. Article 15 gives us five grounds and prohibits discrimination on five grounds caste, sex, religion, race, and place of birth. Article 16 talks about equal opportunity in public employment. Let us see what article 17 of the constitution provides for. The article says untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall offence punishable in accordance with the law. To understand the meaning and application of article 17 it is important to understand two words. First untouchability and second offence punishable in accordance with the law. Let’s discuss offence punishable in accordance with law as we have already dealt with the aspect of untouchability.

Article 17 deals with the problem of untouchability in two ways. First, it forbids any form of untouchability, and second, it says even after this if any person practices untouchability then that person will be punished as per law.


Part three that is from the article 12 to 35 wherever there is provision for an offense or prescribing of a punishment. That power has been divided under article 35. So for the entire part wherever punishment is to be prescribed, it can be prescribed only through article 35. Article 17 provides for a punishment that can be done through article 35. It is simply article 17 says, anyone who practices untouchability shall be punished and article 35 says, for the entire part 3 of the Constitution if any punishment is to be prescribed, it can be done through article 35. Full filling the provisions provided on Article 17 and Article 35, the parliament passed the untouchability offences act, 1955. It prescribes punishment for untouchability. But later it was realized that all the provisions and punishment prescribed under the untouchability offences act were inadequate.

Therefore in the year 1965, a committee was setup to revise the act. This committee was known as the Committee on untouchability economic and educational development of scheduled caste. This committee came up with various recommendations. In the year 1976 all the committee recommendations were included and this act was incorporated as Civil rights protection act, 1955. The new and improved untouchability offences act that is civil rights protection act. The major improvement was the enhancement of the punishment and along with it all the offences relating to untouchability were made non compoundable. The next change is a duty was imposed on public servant to investigate the matter. If the public servant doesn’t investigate the matter or will fully neglects the investigation, the act specifies the act of ignorance, this act of not fulfilling the duty will also be an offence. In such a scenario, the public servant will be deemed to be an abettor to the offence. The place of worship was also included in the act. The act says that any place of worship, if untouchability is practiced, preached or justified then it will also amount to an offence. Lastly, power has been given to the state to impose fines. The act says that in any area if a number of people are involved in discriminatory practices of untouchability then the state government has the power to impose collective fines and punishment on those people.

In the case of the people union for democratic rights vs the Union of India, it was said that the protection provided under article 5 and article 17 is available against the state as well as against the private individual. So a citizen is protected against the practice of untouchability from both state and private individuals. So the application of article 15 and article 17 is broader than the other articles.


Untouchability is evil in Indian society. It should be completely abolished. Caste and these sections are differentiated by us only. No one has any right to discriminate against someone just because he’s doing manual scavenging or some other else. Who will do that if that person stops doing that work? We have to appreciate instead of discriminate. Everyone is same in front of god. But why Dalits are been denying entry into temples? Just think before judging someone on the basis of their caste. The implementation of laws should be powerful at the ground level. Everyone have to step forward for the untouchability-free Indian society.

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