All thoughtful people are agreed that untouchability is a blot on
the Hindu Society. Is there any authority for such discrimination in
the Sastras? If not, how did this practice develop? What steps have
been taken by the Hindu reformers to eradicate this evil?
There are no two opinions about the urgent need for eradication of
untouchability which is universally considered as a blot on the
Hindu society. Neither in the Vedas nor in the Dharmasastras do we
find any sanction for this abominable practice. While describing the
need to maintain physical cleanliness and ceremonial purity on
certain occasions, a kind of untouchability has been advocated by
our scriptures. However, this untouchability has nothing
to do with the brand which the Hindu society has been stupid enough
to enforce during the last few centuries.
To clarify: The following persons have
been declared as untouchable and coming into contact with them will
oblige one to take a bath: those in the Sutaka and Asaucha
(observing ceremonial impurity brought about by birth or death in
the family), a woman in her monthly courses, those who have not
washed their hands after food, those engaged in trades which soil
the body and clothes like butchery or removing night soil, those who
have forsaken their duties as enjoined in the Varna Ashrama Dharma,
sinners and criminals and so on.
It is interesting to note that the same
scriptures have shown immense wisdom in ordaining that even
such untouchability, need not be observed in holy places and on holy
occasions like a Rathotsava (temple car festival) or during national
emergencies. Some of the Dharmasastras go to the extent of
permitting even the lowest of the castes and sections of the society
(whom we call Harijans today) to enter into temples. Hence it
can be safely asserted that the untouchability current in
our society is the handiwork of selfish people with a myopic vision.