This article throws light upon the governmental and non-governmental efforts made to eradicate untouchability in India.
Governmental Efforts to Eradicate Untouchability:
Legislative Measures for the Removal of Untouchability:
Article 17 declares the practice of untouchability is a serious offence and It is also punishable offence. The parliament passed the untouchability offences Act in 1955. It was later substituted by the protection of Civil Rights Act 1976.
Protection of Civil Rights Act 1976:
Offences of untouchability as per the Act of 1976:
(a) Committing any kind of social Injustice, such as denying access to any shop, restaurant, public hospital, educational institution or any place of public entertainment.
(b) Preventing a person, on the grounds of untouchability, from entering a place of worship and offering prayers, or from drinking water from a public well or spring.
(c) Refusal to sell goods or render services to a person on the grounds of untouchability is an offence punishable with imprisonment for six months or a fine up to Rs. 500/- or both.
(d) Enforcing occupational, professional, trade disabilities in the matter of enjoyment of any benefit under a charitable trust etc.
The Indian constitution provides protection and safeguards for the untouchables by the way of general rights of citizenship. The object is to promote their socio-economic interests and remove their various disabilities they suffer from.
The constitution makes the following provisions: Article—15(1):
The state will not discriminate against any citizen on grounds (if religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subjected to any disability, restriction or condition with regard to:
(a) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment or
(b) The use of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of state funds and dedicated to the use of the general public.
There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matter I elating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be Ineligible for or discriminated against in respect of any employment or office under the state.
Nothing in this Article shall prevent parliament from making any law prescribing in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to any office under any state specified in the first schedule or any local or other authority within its territory any requirement as to residence within that state prior to such employment or appointment.
Untouchability is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of untouchability shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.
The throwing open of Hindu religious institutions of a public character to all classes and sections of Hindus.
The forbidding or any denial of admission to educational institutions maintained by the state or receiving aid out of the stale funds. Provision has also been made for the eradication of untouchability in the directive principles of state policy in the Indian constitution.
The government will develop the economic and educational interests of the weakest classes, especially scheduled castes and scheduled backward castes, with special precautions and will protect them from social Injustice and all kinds of exploitation.
The state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular, of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and shall protect them.
It states that in the state of Bihar, M.P. and Orissa, there shall be a Minister in-charge of welfare of the scheduled castes and backward classes or any other work.
Seats shall be reserved in the House of the People for the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes except the scheduled tribes in the tribal areas and autonomous districts of Assam.
The number of seats reserved in any state for the scheduled castes or the scheduled tribes under clause (1) shall bear of as nearly as may be the same proportion to the total number of seats allowed to that state in the House of the People as the population of the scheduled castes in the state of the scheduled tribes in the stale or part of the state as the case may be in respect of which seats are so reserved, bears to the total population of the state.
Seats shall be reserved for these scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes, except the scheduled tribes in the tribal areas of Assam, in the Legislative Assembly of every state specified in the part A and part B in the First Schedule.
The claims of the members of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes shall be taken into account, consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration in the making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the union or of a state.
There shall be a special officer for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes to be appointed by the president.
(2) It shall be the duty of the special officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes under this constitution and report to the president upon the working of those safeguards at such intervals as the president shall cause all such reports to be laid before each Mouse of Parliament.
The president may by order appoint a commission consisting of such persons in order to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations as to the steps that should be taken by the union or any state to remove such difficulties and to improve their condition and as to the grants that should be made for the purpose by the union or any state and the conditions subject to which such grants should he made and the order appointing such commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the commission.
In India, there are several non-governmental bodies which are engaged in the task of removing untouchability from India. Among them, the most remarkable organisations are Depressed Classes Union, Harijan Sevak Sangh, Scheduled Caste Federation etc.
Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Thakkar Bapa, SwamI Vivekananda, Ram Krishna Paramhansa, Raja Rammohan Ray, Swami Dayananda Saraswati are the noteworthy persons who have taken much strain and pain for the abolition of untouchability from India.
Due to the governmental and non-governmental efforts, the practice of untouchability has almost abolished. The untouchables are now having a better status than before. This is possible only by the welfare measures taken by the Indian government. It is hoped that the untouchables will become equal to higher castes and this problem will be wiped off from Indian society.
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Really speaking the whole of the freedom movement was linked with the social reconstruction and reform in the country. One of the most important aspects of the constructive programme of Mahatma Gandhi or his philosophy of Sarvodya was to eradicate the untouchability. He himself ran a paper and named it ‘Harijan’. That was the reason why during the last years of dependent India, the attention of the Government was drawn towards untouchability.
Even the British Government took certain measures for removing untouchability .after independence of the country; the programme for removal of untouchability has been taken up in full swing. In these connections, the following efforts are most important.
The very basis of the administration that is the Constitution of India does not tolerate such discrimination. Its whole structure is based on treating all citizen of this country at par. Paragraphs 15 and 16 and 17 categorically make provisions in this regard. The text of these paragraphs is reproduced below:
Paragraph 15 of the Constitution of India:
1) The State shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds only of religion, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.
2) No citizen shall on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them, be subjects to any disability, liability, restriction with regard to.
A) Access to shops, public restaurants, hotels and places of public entertainment; or
B) The use of wells, tanks, bathing Ghats, roads and places of public resort maintained wholly or partly out of State funds dedicated to the use of the general public.
Paragraph 16 of the constitution of India:
1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the state.
2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment of office under the state.
3) Nothing in this Article shall prevent Parliament from making any law prescribing, in regard to a class or classes of employment or appointment to any office under the Government of, or any local or other authority within a State or Union Territory, any requirement as to residence within that State or Union Territory prior to such employment or appointment.”
“Untouchability’ is abolished and its practice in any form is forbidden. The enforcement of any disability arising out of ‘untouchability’ shall be an offence punishable in accordance with law.”
Eradication of untouchability according to the Directive Principles of the State Policy as laid down in the Constitution of India:
The directive principles of the state policy laid down in the Constitution of India categorically rule against untouchability. The provisions in this regard are being reproduced below to make clear the effects made by the Government for eradication of untouchability.
Directive against untouchability as contained in chapter XVI of the Constitutional of India:
The Government will develop the economic and educational interest of the weakest classes, especially Scheduled Castes with special protections and will protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation.”
Provisions for eradication of untouchability as embodied in Article-46 of the Constitution of India: the State shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people, and, in particular, of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes, and shall protect them from social injustice and all forms of exploitation”
Article 146 provides that in the States of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa there shall be a Minister in charge of Tribal Welfare who may in addition be in charge of the welfare of the Scheduled Castes and backward classes or any other work.”
Article 330 makes provision for the reservation of seats for the people of Scheduled Castes, Tribes etc, and provisions of the Article in this respect reads as follows:
1) Seats shall be reserved in the House of the People for:
a) The Scheduled Castes; b) The Scheduled Tribes except the Scheduled Tribes in the tribal areas of Assam and in Nagaland, and c) The Scheduled Tribes in the autonomous districts of Assam.
2) The number of seats reserved in any State or Union Territory for the Scheduled Castes or the Scheduled Tribes under clause 1) Shall bear, as nearly as may be the same proportion in the total number of seats allotted to that State or Union Territory in the House of the people as the population of Scheduled tribes in the State or Union Territory or part of the State or Union Territory in the House of the people as the population of the Scheduled Tribes in the State or Union Territory or part of the State or Union Territory, as the case may be, in respect of which seats are so reserved, bears to the total population of the State or Union Territory.
Reservation in appointments, in order to remove the untouchability:
The constitution has also made provision for reservation of seats in service or appointment. Articles 335 and 338 of the constitution of India provisions in this regard. The provision of the Constitution is reproduced below:
Article 335: The claims of the members of the Scheduled castes and the Scheduled tribes shall be taken into consideration consistently with the maintenance of efficiency of administration in making of appointments to services and posts in connection with the affairs of the union or of a State.’
Article 338 has something similar to say:
1) There shall be a Special Officer for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes to be appointed by the President.
2) It shall be the duty of the Special Officer to investigate all matters relating to the safeguards provided for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes under this constitution and report to the President upon the working of those safeguards at such intervals as the President may direct, and the President shall cause all such reports to be laid before the Parliament.”
Commission for enquiring the conditions of the members of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes etc.:
The constitution had made provisions for appointment of the Commission to study the conditions of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Article 340 1) has made very clear cut provisions in this regard:
“The President may be order appoint a Commission consisting of such persons as he thinks fit to investigate the conditions of socially and educationally backward classes within the territory of India and the difficulties under which they labour and to make recommendations to the steps that should be taken by the Union or any State to remove such difficulties and to improve their condition and as to the grants that should be made for the purpose by the Union or any state and other appointing such Commission shall define the procedure to be followed by the commission.
2) Enactment and measures for improving the condition of the members of the Scheduled Castes for eradicating untouchability:
Our modern society is very much governed by economic factors. If the members of a particular society are economically well off, they shall not be looked down by members of the other communities. The Government of Indian had therefore felt two basic things to perform. The first thing was to make enactments and enact legislative measures against untouchability. The second task was to improve the economic, social and educational conditions of the members of the Scheduled Castes.
This will automatically solve their problem. The Government of India therefore in 1955 passed ‘untouchability Offence Act.’ As a result of this Act practicing untouchability was made penal offence. On the basis of this law the untouchability was made penal offence. On the basis of this law the Harijans were allowed entry into temples, use of public places of worship and facilities, use of places of recreation, public inhabitants educational institutions etc, people were warned against harassing the Harijans and the so called untouchables.
Intensive propaganda and greater outlay on Harijan Welfare:
Mere enactment of laws is not sufficient. This proved to be true in regard to the eradication of untouchability also. The Government on one hand passed laws against untouchability and on the other hand carried out intensive propaganda against the social evil. Harijan weeks were observed, films and other audio visual programmes against untouchability were carried out.
Apart from it, different plans made a good deal of provisions for providing assistance to Harijans and taking steps against untouchability. They also made reservations and fixed quota in appointments. These steps by the Government of India yielded good results.
3) Bettering the economic lot of the Harijans:
Apart from allocating higher funds for Harijans Welfare, the Government made various other efforts for improving their economic condition. It was a known fact that the Harijans were under the financial debt. The first task was to make them free from these debts. They had been subjected to bounded labour and did not own land. All these factors made them economically weak.
Government of Uttar Pradesh and various other governments particularly after 1969 have made vigorous efforts and also enacted laws for freeing these Harijans from debts and getting them land. The laws that have passed in this regard relate to the following reliefs:
1) Laws for getting them immunity from debts:
Almost all the State have now passed laws for granting immunity to the Harijans from old debts. The Harijans that were under the debts of the elders are free now.
2) Laws against bounded labour and slavery:
In various States like Bihar and Orissa, the Harijans have been subjected to bonded labour. They had been made practically the slaves of the Mahajans and other landlords. Laws have been passed against this practice. The laws have provided relief to the Harijans.
3) Distribution of land to Harijans and providing them assistance for cultivation:
Most of the Harijans of the country do not own land .they worked like laborers on the fields. Now the surplus land that has been secured as a result of ceiling laws and the land that was lying unnecessarily with the individuals and Gramsavha is now being distributed to the Harijans. State like Andhra, Bihar, Orissa, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat etc, have made laws and also taken steps for this.
The Harijans are being made the owners of the land and given Pattas. They are also being given financial assistance by the Government as well as by the banks to enable them to cultivate the land.
4) Assistance for Cottage Industries Animal Husbandry etc:
The Harijans are being given financial assistance not only for agriculture but also for establishing Cottage industries and also running Animal Husbandry. Center’s have been established where the Harijans are given training for establishing the Cottage industries, poultry farming, Animal Husbandry etc, the idea is to train them and provide them with necessary resource for improving their economic conditions.
5) Facilities in Education:
Members of the Scheduled Castes are being given all of facilities in the field of education. They are being given reservation of seats in admission, scholarship, free books and other forms of assistance. In the competitive examination also they are being given some reservation. All this is being done so that they may be able to improve their economic lot. Once the economic lot is improved the evil practice of untouchability shall automatically vanish.
6) Greater Political Power:
The Harijans are being given reservation not only in Parliament and Legislative but also being given position and power in political field. Various offices of political power such as Ministers, heads of political organisation are appointed from amongst the Harijans. All this is being done so that it may be proved that untouchability shall not be tolerated. The persons when in power can do it that no exploitation of Harijans was done. In various State Government departments solely devoted to the Welfare of Harijans have been set up. Uttar Pradesh is one such State.
7) Non-governmental efforts for eradication of untouchability:
Government undertook the task of eradicating untouchability only after the country’s freedom. Prior to that it was non-government bodies including Indian national Congress and Gandhi's Sarva Sava Samiti that made efforts for the eradication of the untouchability. Now various voluntary organisations are in the field. Some of these existed even before and some of them have now come into being. Organisations like Harijan Sevak Sangh, Indian Depressed Class League, Seva Sangh, Depressed Classes Conference and Scheduled Caste Federation are making effort to eradicate untouchability.
Apart from it, there are various State level organisations in Mysore, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar etc; these bodies are providing facilities to Harijans young boys and girls for education. They are setting up Harijan hostels, institutes for training Harijans Women in useful crafts and so on.
The Government of India and the State Government provide financial assistance to these bodies. These bodies in their turn collect donations and also finance their programmes. The job of these bodies is to assist the Government in the task of eradication of untouchabillity.