untouchable

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Below the four Varnas of the Caste System, groups were located who were considered so ritually polluted and polluting that virtually all contact with them was to be avoided. 'Untouchable' and 'Antyaja' are two names that Dr. Ambedkar used for these groups. Shri Sant Ram called them 'the Depressed Classes.' Gandhi called them 'Harijans' ('Children of God'), and nowadays they call themselves Dalits ('Oppressed').

Dr. Ambedkar himself belonged to the Mahar caste, which was considered by the Imperial Gazetteer to be a former tribal group that had been absorbed into the Caste System as an untouchable caste. As the Imperial Gazetteer reports, Mahars were often prevented from drinking from village wells, or sitting with higher-caste children in school— typical experiences of untouchables, and ones that Dr. Ambedkar himself endured (please see "Waiting for a Visa," which is also available through the Resources panel above).

Professor Rachel McDermott explores the origins of untouchable identity politics.

Professor Anu Rao discusses the historical and political nuances in the terms Depressed Class, Harijan, Dalit, and other terms used to describe untouchables.

Professor Dennis Dalton looks at how Gandhi dealt politically and socially with the problem of untouchability.