Untouchability Is Still Widely Practised In India, Says Caste Survey Findings

Untouchability Is Still Widely Practised In India, Says Caste Survey Findings

Living in urban centres, being exposed to ‘global’ thinking and a more carnal need to survive, it’s easy to feign insulation from the inner workings of India and her social injustices/inequalities that you may have presumed exist only in negligible amounts. A recent survey by The National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) however, changed all of that.

Having conducted the second Indian Human Development Survey (IHDS-2) — the largest pan-Indian non-government household survey - the full results of this survey that was conducted over 42,000 Indian households in 2011-2012, will only be made public next year, but this data around India’s caste system proves that we still have a long way to go as far as eliminating caste-based discrimination is concerned - all this over 64 years since caste untouchability was abolished by our constitution.

Here are a few revealing insights we unveiled from this survey:

I. One in four Indians are still practising untouchability

Across the board, a whopping 27 percent of respondents agreed that they did practise untouchability in some form, which amounts to almost 1 in 4 Indian admitting to the same. As reported by The Indian Express, surveyors asked respondents, “Does anyone in your family practise untouchability?” and, in case the answer was “No”, asked a second question: “Would it be okay for a Scheduled Caste person to enter your kitchen or use your utensils?”

II. More than half of ‘The Hindi Heartland’ still practises untouchability

Northern middle states like Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Bihar, show the least amount of progress as far as the removal of this caste practice goes. Madhya Pradesh tops the charts at 53 percent, while Uttarakhand is the lowest of the lot, but still ludicrously high at 40 percent. 

III. The religious break-up says Hindus and Jains are the widest practicers of Untouchability

The survey shows that almost every third Hindu practises untouchability (33-35 percent) followed by Jains (30 percent) though researchers have warned that Jains’ results may not be entirely accurate due to a small sample size, followed by Muslims (18 percent) and Christians (5 percent). This is particularly interesting because the NCAER data is not showing that untouchability is high even in religions which have never formally been associated with the practice, like Islam and Sikhism.

IV. Brahmins are the most obsessed with retaining caste purity

Of all the insights, this is the least surprising. Over 50 percent of Brahmins admitted to practising and enforcing this system, as they have historically been the most obsessed with the same as well. A first post-analysis will reveal that the positive thing to note about this from the survey is that such Brahmins are largely contained within the Hindi heartland, as education seems to be driving such regressive value systems out.

Source: The Indian Express

V. This is not a system that is only being imposed from above

Shockingly, over 15 percent Scheduled Castes & 22 percent Scheduled Tribes admitted to practising untouchability, which clarifies that higher castes are not the only ones forcing the method downwards. It lends to the ubiquitous question—-why would the same people who are most negatively affected by the bias, reinforce it amongst themselves? Many feel this may be because caste divisions are not too different from racial and ethnic segregation, with each community feeling like a minority grouping that must protect itself from outsiders.

Additionally, 33 percent of OBCs too admitted to the practice still being inherent in their way of life, being most evident in Tamil Nadu, where they are actually the oppressors of Dalits, rather than the victims of Brahmins.

VI. Only 5.34 percent of Indian marriages are inter-caste

Strangely enough, the proportion of inter-caste marriages in both urban and rural India is largely the same with the former coming in at 5.37 percent and the latter weighing in at 5.32 percent. In both cases however, the number is exceedingly small, which alludes to an even greater amount of bias than we initially thought.

VII. West Bengal & Kerala appear to be the most progressive, practising the least amount of untouchability

Of all the states, it’s unsurprising that the ‘red states’ are leading the pack in progressive attitudes. West Bengal’s surveys indicated that only 1 percent of its people still practise untouchability, while Kerala comes in at second place with 2 percent. Our home state of Maharashtra is definitely one of the better places to live in, at 4 percent however, a large part of this can be owed to the fact that Mumbai continues to make up a huge part of its population, and rarely finds expression of such practices given its ability to shelter people from so many different castes, creeds, religions, and ethnicities all at once.


All in all, there are two ways to look at the overall results of this survey. While many have been (rightfully) expressing outrage over the shockingly large numbers of Indians who are still yielding themselves to an unjust practice, it’s important to remember that up until 64 years ago, this survey would have yielded almost 100 percent positive results towards the existence of the same in Indian households. As such, perhaps this is not necessarily a case for self-flagellation (as if we don’t have enough fodder for it already) as much as it is an opportunity to identify and investigate what the real factors leading to progress (for example: education) are and creating systems that enforce such thinking more strongly, and more widely, across the country.

It takes hundreds of years for societal and cultural attitudes to shift, from focusing on the 1 in 4 Indians who haven’t been able to eliminate such thinking from their daily life to the 3 in 4 who have, so that we can better understand how to apply the same systems and mindsets to the thorn-in-our-sides 27 percent. Surveys like this have never been more important to the overall progress of our society as a whole either, so proper funding and governmental encouragement and support for the same must be ensured as well.  

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