Understanding or ignoring untouchability? How Gujarat government-sponsored study examines discrimination in a ‘very casual way’

untouchFollowing is the critique , of the Gujarat government-sponsored CEPT University report, Impact of Caste Discrimination and Distinctions on Equal Opportunities: A Study of Gujarat”, prepared with the intention to underplay instances of untouchability identified in everyday life in Gujarat’s rural society in an NGO survey. Well-known sociologist Prof Ghanshyam Shah [1] argues how the report follows those seeking to legitimize the hierarchical chaturvarna social order and provide credence to harmony or samras in rural society:

 Navsarjan, an NGO working among the Dalits for over two decades, has waged several struggles against the practice of untouchability. Currently it functions in more than 3,084 villages, against discrimination and for the improvement of the economic conditions of Dalits i.e. oppressed. It works towards a more democratic and egalitarian social order. Towards the same mission, Navsarjan has documented its struggles for land rights and justice, against atrocities on Dalits, and has also published literature on education. It has studied the practice of untouchability in 1589 villages in Gujarat (click HERE).

The study has been carried out in collaboration with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center), USA, which is an NGO dedicated to advancing the human rights movement through long-term partnerships with human rights activists around the world. Some academicians who have already contributed in the subjects were consulted at various stages of the study.[2] Among the authors, three are from academic institutions in the US — David Armstrong, University of Wisconsin, Christian Davenport, University of Notre Dame, and Allan Stam, University of Michigan. A brief report of the study has been published[3].

The study was published in the late 2009. The findings of the study reveal that untouchability both in public and private spheres is widespread in interaction between scheduled castes (SCs) and non-scheduled castes (non-SCs), as well as within SCs; in fact, among several jatis in rural Gujarat. The Gujarati and English media highlighted the major findings and raised questions on the state government’s tall claim of a ‘vibrant Gujarat’[4]. Gujarati version of the report “Aabhadchhet ni Bhal” was also published for wider circulation. Though this is not the first study on the subject[5], the Government of Gujarat (GoG), however, was not willing to accept the prevalence of untouchability in Gujarat, presumably because it claims to be the best-governed state and occupies the number one position in the country on ‘development’.

It can be noted that the state government filed an affidavit before the Supreme Court in 2003 claiming there was no manual scavenging in Gujarat[6]. This was despite the published evidences documented by Praful Trivedi[7] as well as by Mari Mareel Thekaekara[8] and documentary film “Lesser Human” by K. Stalin. The government reiterated its stand in 2007 in response to a study by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, which identified 12,000 manual scavengers in Gujarat[9]. In fact, the study was sponsored by the Gujarat Safai Kamdar Vikas Nigam (GSKVN), a GoG undertaking. Similarly, to refute the findings of the Navsarjan study, the government constituted a committee under the chairmanship of the then minister for social justice, Fakirbhai Waghela. Other members of the committee were additional secretary, department of social justice and empowerment, home secretary, and director of scheduled caste welfare department.

The government ostensibly asked its officers to get affidavit from scheduled caste village residents regarding non-existence of untouchability. At the same time the GoG commissioned a study to an academic institution, the Centre for Environment Planning and Technology (CEPT) University, Ahmedabad, to verify the truth (“satatyata ni chakasani”) of the observations made in the book “Abhadchhetni Bhal” and to recommend what measures that the government should take ‘to change people’s mindset to eradicate social evil like untouchability’. Prof R Parthasarathy, an economist, along with Aparna, Harish Joshi, and Mahima Gupta, has carried out the study and submitted its report to the department of social justice and empowerment.

Since the subject is an area of my interest, I read the CEPT study to improve my understanding of untouchability. Being one of the members of Navsarjan’s board, I know that the organisation is also open to examining others’ findings on the subject so that it can evolve strategy to combat the evil. My reading was in the context of the review of the Navsarjan study on the existence or absence of untouchability in Gujarat.

The purposes of this brief essay are:

(1) to offer a rejoinder to the CEPT study on Navsarjan’s study

(2) to briefly review the CEPT’s report on the issue of untouchability in Gujarat

(3) to examine role of social scientists on the issues related to public policy

(4) to understand the nature of governance vis-à-vis social issues like untouchability

 CEPT’s remarks on the Navsarjan study

The CEPT’s study, “Impact of Caste Discriminations and Distinctions on Equal Opportunities: A Study of Gujarat”, begins with comments on the Navsarjan report on grounds of methodology. Of course, method is important for any systematic inquiry. Different methods may give different results and interpretations. Granting this, we should also keep in mind that method is related to the central subject of inquiry and the purpose of the study. I have often found that when there is no substantial argument to make, several social scientists find fault with the method. One can find fault with any research method. We cannot deny that the methodology to study a complex problem like untouchability ‘has to be very discrete and carefully thought out’. This piece of advice applies to all research studies. The Navsarjan study, it may be noted, is an applied research carried out by activists.

The purpose is not to contribute to any theory; nor does it claim to offer universal generations or prepare correlation matrix. The purpose is to verify their own experiences and observations with a view to ‘sensitise’ the Dalit community and large sections of Indians on the issue of untouchability. On the basis of their study, the activists wish to develop strategies for intervention in the community, and also build pressure on the government for action.  Understandably, one may not sympathise with such objectives and/or may suggest other ways to intervene. Fine. I would expect that the authors say so. They did not even care to contact the organisation to know more about methodology and refer to the larger report.

How can we make a judgment whether one is discrete in one’s method for data collection? Can there be any one ‘very discrete’ method? Let us not forget that this is not the first study on untouchability. Activists look up to social scientists to learn from their writings and expertise. They are familiar with studies carried out by them. Navsarjan charted out the method for the study, after deliberation on the available literature. Let us not ignore that only a handful of academic sociologists and anthropologists have done empirical studies on untouchability. In fact, for economists, a study on caste and discrimination is beyond their subject matter —almost a non-issue. Sociologists who have done some work on the subject have followed survey method, based on their stray observations and available literature. Needless to mention that the sociologists coming from non-Dalit background did not have personal experience of the practice of untouchability.

A few anthropologists — ironically all foreigners — stayed in villages and followed ‘participation-observation’ method to understand Indian society from the perspective of traditional ‘untouchables’ within the caste system. Their focus was to understand everyday culture, beliefs, and socio-religious values of the community[10]. Before launching the study, Martin Macwan, principal author of the Navsarjan study, had read some of these studies. But, a study of culture was not the purpose. Majority of the team of researchers involved in the study has not only personal experiences of discrimination, but they have also lived with scheduled castes, work among them and also fought against discrimination. They need not find it necessary to use scientific jargon ‘participation observation’ method that was in-built in the study[11].

The report “Understanding Untouchability” is an outcome not only of their own experiences but also of debates and discussion among themselves as well as with scholars who are empathetic to their cause. Lots of thought have gone into preparing methods of data collection, variables, and the number of villages to be covered for the study[12]. They spent good deal of time in pre-testing their method, including variables for the investigation (p. 7). Anyone who cares to read the Navsarjan’s earlier publications[13] would find a mine of observations and debate. Some years before this research, Navsarjan launched Rampatar Chhoda, Bhim Patra Apanavo Yatra covering 473 villages. Inter-caste untouchability within the Dalit community in various spheres was observed and highlighted, and they also persuaded people to take tea together, shunning untouchability. That is the reason why the report focuses also on the same phenomenon, and highlights the issue sharply[14]. The Navsarjan report has to be read in this context and with some degree of empathy for the underprivileged and discriminated section of Indian society.

The CEPT report argues that the Navsarjan study has bias because the latter assumed that all the investigators were Dalits and they interviewed to and/or focus group discussion (FGD) with the scheduled castes (formerly called untouchables). However, it may be noted that for Navsarjan the term Dalit encompasses not only the scheduled castes (SCs) but all oppressed, including other backward castes (OBCs) and Dalit Christians. The field investigators comprised members from not only scheduled castes but also from OBCs and scheduled tribes (STs). It is also factually wrong to say that the Navsarjan study covered only the scheduled castes as respondents, as it has also covered some of the OBC sections. Nevertheless, Navsarjan acknowledges limitations of its study. At the same time, I would not argue that there was no element of ‘subjectivity’. I do not believe that science in general and social science in particular is value neutral[15].

To say that the CEPT report is free of bias is presumptuous. Yes, as suggested by the CEPT report, it is important to find out how the SCs meet their requirements when certain services are not available in the village. Is the business of the Dalit bus operators getting affected by not taking non-Dalit passengers? Yes, it is also important to understand social transactions at the overall village level as well as amongst different social groups. One may add a number of other equally important questions which require further study. But like any other study, the purpose of the Navsarjan study is also limited. A fair reviewer should do the review within that framework of the authors. Else there is no limit to list the number of omissions and commissions in any study.

One of the major criticisms made by Parthasarathy et al is that Navsarjan has taken multiple variables. It is argued that certain behaviour assumes to have similar behaviour in other aspects. This is true and also not true. One should remember that what seems to be a ‘logical’ for us (urban intellectuals) may not always be empirical reality. Society does not function within our logical system. One does find that Dalits are not allowed to carry funeral processions through non-Dalit localities, but at the same time in the same village one gets an instance of an SC teacher or government functionary getting house on rent in non-Dalit locality. One can inquire why such so-called discrepancy (as we can see) exists.

My hypothesis is that the dominant caste’s authority matters when it comes to the use of public roads to carry dead body in procession. However, renting one’s house is personal need and choice. In empirical situation one plus one does not always become two. Often aggregate categories distort or ignore empirical variations and mislead our understanding of social situation. The CEPT report is a victim of this. Its category of artisans is a case in point; it treats carpenters, cobblers as well as scavengers at par. For me, the use of multiple variables allows us to check and cross-check the phenomenon which add to our understanding of the complex phenomenon. Of course, such approach depends on one’s inquisitiveness to search for ‘unknown’ or to probe one’s own received knowledge/categories, and also to cross-check observations[16].

However, even if we accept Parthasarathy’s argument, it does not significantly change the findings of the study. The study is not giving an aggregate number of all variables. It gives proportion of practice and non-practice of each variable. For a scholar, the best way to counter Navsarjan’s findings is to provide data collected through other methods, including different variables. I may add that the findings of the Navsarjan study largely collaborates with the findings of the earlier studies in Gujarat and also other ten states within the same framework, but with non-Dalit investigators who also stayed in villages for a week or more, and observed as well as verified with other techniques. A detailed report on each sample village, I hope, can be available at the Centre for Social Studies, Surat, and Action Aid archives.

The CEPT report asserts that the Navsarjan’s inquiry is ‘only in the private domain’; however, other forms of discrimination — such as implementation of various schemes and their impact on SCs — which may actually impede access to equal opportunities for those traditionally marginalised have not been probed (pp 5–6). Wow! What a great discovery or blindness! On page 6, the Navsarjan study under the heading ‘Access to Public Facilities and Institutions’ lists 24 spheres of public domain, including public road, water, primary health centre (PHC), state bus services, post office, panchayats, schools, milk dairies, etc. Are they in private domain? For them, it seems, government schemes are the only public domain. Yes, the Navsarjan report does not examine the functioning of these schemes. Anyone who has done even an iota of serious research would tell you that no study covers everything under the sky. However, let me mention that Martin Macwan is the founder of Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, which has done several evaluation studies of the government schemes focussing on social exclusion.

The CEPT report accuses the Navsarjan study for invalid a statement (appendix in tabulate form) — ‘when untouchability is practiced, state constructed funeral pyres and cremation locations are segregated because the smoke from the burning bodies of Dalits is thought capable of contaminating non-Dalits’. Parthasarathy argues that ‘all the SC communities bury their dead rather than cremating’ (p 5, emphasis added). Surprisingly, on the basis of the study of five villages, the authors — who are obsessed with methodology — have the tenacity to generalise for all the SC communities in Gujarat. I wish they visit more villages and will find that some SC communities by custom cremate the dead.

Any student of social-anthropology or any social activist, familiar with caste and customs, would tell them variations of customs and rituals in Indian society. Even in Ahmedabad city one finds that Valmikis cremate dead bodies.On the caste-based discriminations observed in the Navsarjan study, the authors of the CEPT report accuse that ‘the objective of listing only a few occupations as caste-based remains dubious’ (p 5, emphasis added). Let me reiterate that the study is on untouchability and not on caste system. Any student of Indian sociology would tell the authors that according to the traditional Hindu religious beliefs occupations are divided into ‘pure’ and ‘impure’ or ‘polluted’.

The latter are considered as ‘degraded’ and are assigned to those social groups consigned to the bottom of the social hierarchy. Most of these, not all, so-called ‘unclean’ occupations are associated in some way with death or with human bodily waste-events and objects surrounded by deep-seated beliefs on ritual pollution. It has also been made clear that particular occupations as such are not ‘pure’ or ‘impure’, but when members of some castes are customarily expected to practice them, they may be called caste-based. Hence, one has to see particular occupations in the context of local communities.

With this understanding, the study lists caste-based occupations. In the sample villages these occupations include collectiion of kafans in cemeteries, disposal of carcass, scavenging, saad (practice of making public announcements), and melo (delivery of bad news). When untouchability is practiced, Dalits are required to deliver bad news because belief dictates only bad or unclean people should deliver bad or unhappy news. If CEPT scholars have done real anthropological study with ‘participation observation’ method, they would have made such observations. Their claim of using participation observation method is, to say the least, rank naïve. For the CEPT researchers, these are not occupations as they are missing from the government’s census or even NSS categories for occupations!

 CEPT’s empirical study

The study was commissioned to CEPT by the GoG to review and verify Navsarjan’s findings. The core part of its comments is centred on method. Notwithstanding my disagreements, I welcome such comments, and appreciate such criticisms on method with academic spirit [17]. And, Navsarjan, I hope, would also do so. The Navsarjan report accepts that the findings or method of study do not carry a final word. In order to verify Navsarjan’s findings, however, one would expect the CEPT to study just 10 percent of the villages, may be with different methods applied, on the same practices of untouchability. Even the CEPT could have taken limited variables as they find meaningless to take multiple variables.

Instead, CEPT has completely ignored to study the practice of untouchability. Perhaps for them, like the GoG, it is a non-issue. And, they have carried out mainly a socio-economic survey  in five villages. The authors do not feel the need to argue why they have confined their study to socio-economic survey. Why have they not correlated socio-economic data with the presence or absence of untouchability? Even government census gives economic and education status of SCs. Navsarjan’s report was not focussing on socio-economic condition of SCs. It may be noted that Navsarjan never undermines the significance of economic and education factors contributing in weakening caste-based discrimination and the practice of untouchability. This is the precise reason why the organisation runs several schools, Bhim Salas, in villages for children, publishes books for children and on pedagogy, runs a skill training institute (Dalit Shakti Kendra) for the last ten years, and so on.

Instead of looking at the Navsarjan study in this context and its earlier works, the CEPT studied different villages than those studied by Navsarjan. What I fail to understand is, where was a systematic logical and discrete method applied in doing such study? What have they verified? The report on five villages is a usual socio-economic survey, nothing more. While criticising Navsarjan study for not applying ‘participation observation’ method, we are not told how many days the researchers — including the principal researcher — lived in the villages. In which locality they lived? How did they interact with members of different localities? The report does not offer a coherent narrative or any insight on the issue that one expects from any anthropologist[18].

Surprisingly, the authors of the CEPT report tells us, ‘The issues of discrimination leading to social differences are largely related to perceptions and past practices over centuries involving a historically determined context’ (p 219, emphasis added ). Why would CEPT call past practices and not call perceptions of the past? One can infer from such statement that discrimination was practiced in the past and it is not so in the ‘most progressive’ state (the expression is of the authors’, and we are left to guess the meaning of progressive, though nowadays it is frequently used by government functionaries).

I wonder what the authors mean by ‘perception’; is it just maya (illusion) in Hindu philosophical sense; or beliefs which do not have material base or false consciousness (deviating from spirituality)? To me, all perceptions/beliefs have some kind of material/existential basis as well as normative value: the notion of right and wrong. One has to experience humiliation in everyday life to understand ‘experience’ of untouchability. Those who do not have such experience can dismiss the phenomenon as a matter of perception.   Parthasarathy et al avoid even using the word ‘untouchability’. They study discrimination, and that too in a very casual way. The practice of untouchability includes both discrimination and exclusion. All those who experience discrimination in different spheres are not the victim of untouchability.

Indian Constitution recognizes the difference. That is the reason it has Articles 14–16 which encompass the general principles of equality before law and non-discrimination. Article 15 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, or any of them. And over and above, there is also a separate Article 17 dealing with the practice of untouchability, declaring such practice as an offence punishable by law. Moreover, the Protection of Civil Rights Act, 1955, was enacted by Parliament to further this objective. It is obvious for any casual student of Indian society that all those who experience discrimination on the basis of sex, place of domicile, religion, physical disability, etc., may not experience untouchability. All discriminatory practices do not have religious and/or customary sanction through traditions. IP Desai rightly observed that the practice of untouchability has ‘both religious and secular sanctions. The sum total of the untouchable’s position in society is that he  is a right-less person. He has all duties and no rights. What are called rights are condescension or rewards for obedience’ [19].

What kind of objectivity does one have? I give two illustrations (Rajiv Shah has discussed other illustrations in counterview.org [20]). The report informs that 44 per cent of non-SCs, non-OBCs (upper or middle castes) does not take midday meal in the school. They prefer to go home for their meals (p 25). The authors leave us to speculate the reasons for this behaviour. One of the purposes of midday meal was to break social taboos. Here the responsibility of the government comes in. It is its responsibility to create such a situation so that all children take meal together as equal with dignity; and doing so is not insurmountable [21].  Similarly, the CEPT study observes but refuses to note that all labourers get less wages than the government-stipulated minimum wage. Like a positivist, the report, however, mentions, ‘Overall, male workers get paid marginally higher than female workers. Lower daily wage has been reported by SC female workers than males during all the seasons; whereas not much difference is reported amongst OBC male and female workers’ daily wages; and it is higher for female workers of other caste and community (OCC) households during winter and summer (pp 89–90)’.

Then the authors give village-wise and season-wise information on agricultural wages. What do these facts tell us? Both SC male and female get less wage than others. Is it not discrimination based on caste as well gender? Is it not violation of labour laws? Perhaps for the authors, to say so is beyond the scope of ‘scientific’ objective study, or such interpretation may displease the government, the sponsoring agency. No wonder, the government has ‘encouraged’ the researchers ‘to publish the report with supporting grant’. As mentioned above, in 2007 the GoG rejected its self-sponsored findings (under the pressure of the state’s Safai Kamdar Vikas Nigam) on scavenging in Gujarat [22].

Parthasarathy and his team do note that SC people are ‘distant observers at the time of Holika Dahan ritual on the eve of the Holi festival (p 209)’. On marriages and other social occasions, ‘social distance’ is maintained in some villages. The authors also find that SCs are called last on ritual/marriage/festival feasts and are asked ‘to bring their own utensils for food. They do not visit public temples. According to the authors, it is because the community as a whole ‘was not found to be religious’ (p 209). Is it so or is it because of the fear to get humiliated and beaten up? Navsarjan recently (June 2013) visited all the five villages studied by CEPT and found prevalence of subjugation and helplessness, and also that the government would not protect them if they do not assert for their rights. This was the main reason for not vising public temples rather than ‘less religiosity’. The CEPT study has failed to observe that in all these villages, it is obligatory for the Chamars and Valmikis to carry corpses of dead animals.

In two villages Valmikis are not allowed to take water from the village well. They have to wait for others to pour water in their pots. In one village, SC members perceive that they experience discrimination in village panchayat and school. I wonder why Parthasarathy’s team has ignored these spheres. The findings of the survey of five villages by Navsarjan are presented below in tabular form:

 Practice of untouchability in the CEPT’s sample villages:   

Villages Carrying corpses of dead animals Village Panchayat meetings Village temple Village festival Barber service Shops Separate cremation/burial Water School
Transad P P P Sept.
Kherva P P P
Nava Nesda P P P P P P Sept. P
Khavda P P P
Manpura P Neb. P P Sept P P
P= practice; Sept.= Separate; Neb.= Nebulous state of untouchability

What kind of ‘objectivity’ and sincerity that social scientists of academic institutions have who did not care; and despite their tall claim to follow ‘participation observation’ method, they did not observe the above practice where they stayed? What kind of mapping have they done?

 Positive thinking/mindset (?)

While commissioning the study to the CEPT, the government asked the institute inter alia to give recommendation regarding the steps to change mindset/thinking of the people ((lok-manas) towards eradicating social evils like untouchability. The CEPT report seems to have ignored this term of reference. None of its recommendations (pp 228–229) directly address this point. What emerges from its recommendation, I infer, is that, according to the authors, midday meal would ‘figure out ways and means to retain children in schools in a secular set-up’, and effective implementation of welfare schemes would bridge ‘the socio-cultural divide in the society’ and would dilute caste bias’. These suggestions are indisputable. However, whether these are enough measures to change the mindset is problematic. That requires another discussion.

However, the moot question is: What kind of mindset prevails and what kind of change can be attempted? Understandably, the government order does not spell it out. I assume that one is expected to be guided by values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. It is expected to make efforts and evolve strategies to change mindset of the people to inculcate these values. The core values of the Indian Constitution are: liberty, equality, and fraternity. Both the Directive Principles and Fundamental Rights (Articles 15–17, 21) provide legal instruments to direct the state for implantation of these values through its actions and programmes. Egalitarian society with liberty and fraternity among the citizens has been the vision of Dr Ambedkar, Jawaharlal Nehru and other architects of the Constitution. Brotherhood/sisterhood in the form of harmony among various socio-cultural communities cannot sustain for long without social and economic equality and freedom among citizens. I assume that Parthasarathy and his co-authors stand for these principles of the Indian Constitution. In fact, social scientists like Supreme Court judges, who are commissioned to evaluate government policies and their implementation, are  duty-bound to uphold constitutional principles.

But, reading the report one gets an impression that, while analysing two religious sects functioning in the sample villages, the authors tacitly endorse the views of the villagers that these sects had ‘succeeded in generating positive thinking among its followers (p 214, emphasis added)’. According to the authors the sects attack ‘conservative ideologies’ and encourage their followers ‘to have reformed perspectives towards life with socio-economic concerns (p 227 emphasis added)’. Parthasarathy et al do not explain which ideologies they consider ‘conservative’ and how do these sects attack them? Which are their ’reformed perspectives’ towards life? However, we are informed that the followers of these sects are non-SCs. Is it positive thinking and ‘reformed perspective’ when these followers do not allow SCs to enter temple, do not take steps to allow Valmikis to take water from the same village, compel SCs through customs and social norms to perform certain duties like scavenging and make them duty-bound to carry dead animals? Would they call the practice of discrimination in payment of wages a part of positive thinking?

In the 1990s, while studying the practice of untouchability in rural Gujarat, I asked an upper caste villager ‘Why are the SC women not allowed to fetch water from the village well?’ He replied, ‘There is no one in the country who is more sukhi (happy) than them (SCs). When they ask the villagers for rotalo (bread), when they ask for other eatables and food grain, they get it. If I go to ask, I would not get even a grain. When they go to well to get water, our womenfolk pour water in their pots; they do not have to do anything. What a great life they have! Are they not happier than you and me?’[23]. What do we say about this view?

Let us note that these sects believe in the Chaturvarna system. According to them it is a materialist arrangement for distribution of occupations so that people need not have to worry about their bread and butter. It is an arrangement to maintain harmony in society for roti and beti (marriage of a daughter) which enables human beings to develop and become prosperous [24]. It seems this is also a view of the preset government. In his book meant for orientation of bureaucrats, the chief minister of Gujarat wrote that the Valmikis’ centuries-old caste-based vocation—of cleaning up others’ filth, including toilets—as ‘experience in spirituality’! He writes:

“I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation … At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business”[25].

Such views and philosophies of the two religious sects CEPT report mentioned go hand in hand in legitimizing Chaturvarna social order as a ‘positive aspect towards life’. According to them, such ‘perspective’ facilitates ‘harmony’ or samras in society. In my opinion such perspective contradicts the principles laid down in the Constitution. Let me reiterate, what Dr Ambedkar and several others have said — that such social arrangement restricts opportunity. Restricted opportunity constricts ability. Constricted ability further restricts opportunity.  Caste/varna system is antithetical to democratic system and egalitarian social order [26]. Ignoring the practice of untouchability is nothing but shirking one’s own responsibility, thereby facilitating perpetual status quo in favour of the dominant castes and classes.

[1] I thank Martin Macwan, Sukhadeo Thorat, Manjula Pradeep and Gagan Sethi for their comments and suggestions on the earlier version of the paper. I also thank R. Parthasarty for his comments on the earlier draft of the paper and Tathagata Mandal for editorial assistance.

[2] They include S Thorat, professor of Economics, JNU, Delhi.

[3] “Understanding Untouchability: A Comprehensive Study of Practices and Conditions in 1589 Villages”. Ahmedabad: Navsarjan, 2009.

[4] Among other newspapers, he “Times of India” carried out stories based on the study for three days ‘No Temple Entry for Dalits in Gujarat’ (December 7, 2009), ‘Vibrant Gujarat? 98% Dalits have to Drink Tea in Separate Cups’ (December 8, 2009), and ‘Dalit Kids Shamed at Mid-day Meals’ (December 9, 2009).

[5] “Untouchability in Rural Gujarat. Bombay”: Popular Prakashan, 1976;  ‘Hope and Despair: A Study of Untouchability and Atrocities in Gujarat’ in Journal of Indian School of Political Economy, Vol. XII no. 3 and 4, July–December 2000, pp 459–472; Shah Ghanshyam, Mander Harsh, Thorat Sukhadeo, Deshpande Satish and Baviskar Amita, Untouchability in Rural India. New Delhi: Sage Publications, 2006.

[6] Safai Karmachari Andolan and 18 other organisations filed a Public Interest Litigation in Supreme Court in 2003 which named state governments, the central government ministries and departments as respondents to declare the status of the manual scavengers in their respective jurisdiction. See http://idsn.org/fileadmin/user_folder/pdf/New_files/Key_Issues/Manual_scavenging/Samajik_Parivartan_Yatra_background_note_Sep_2010.pdf.  Accessed on oct.10, 2013

[7] “Gujaratni kashtakatha, Mathe melu Uchkavani Pratha”. Ahmedabad: Janpath Prakashan, 1996.

[8] “Endless Fifth: The Saga of the Bhangis”. Bangalore: Books for Change, 1999.

[9] Darokar Shaileshkumar and H. Beck, “Study on Practice of Manual Scavenging in the State of Gujarat”. Mumbai: Tata Institute of Social Sciences, 2006.

[10] The books and article that immediately come to my mind are: “Children of Hari” (1950) by S. Fuch; “Social Revolution in Kerala Village” (1965) by A. Aiyappan; “The Brahminical view of Caste”  (1971) by G. Berraman; “The Changing Status of Depressed Caste”  (1955) by Bernard S. Cohn,  Delige; “World of Untouchables” (1997), “An Untouchable Community in South India: Structure and Consensus” (1979) by Michael Moffatt; “Kings and Untouchables: A Study of Caste System in Western India” (2004) by M. Perez.

[11] I am happy that an economist has found value in anthropological method, and has claimed that the CEPT researchers followed ‘participation observation’ method. Often economists look down upon the method. They treat it as anecdotal and story-telling. (For an interesting debate, see P. Bardhan (Ed) “Conversations between Economists and Anthropologists: Methodological Issues in Measuring Economic Change in Rural India”. New Delhi: OUP, 1989). In my opinion, this is a very difficult method.  It requires not only a good deal of training and understanding of the subject but also willingness to live with the subjects for a very long period. I do not think CEPT researchers had that training, patience and perspective. The report mentions Prof Biswroop Das was their consultant for this method. As far as my knowledge goes, Prof Das is not an anthropologist. And, from my familiarity with his published works, he has never followed nor does he claim to have followed this method in any of his studies. I may be wrong.

[12] With some common sense and with some familiarity with present-day social life, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the study should have counted opinion of non-Dalits regarding the practice of untouchability. Needless to add that normally even at the village level most, not all non-Dalits would say the practice of untouchability is wrong. Hence they would deny. Moral values and practice do not go together.

[13] Particularly, Kothari and Gajjar, Nokha Chile Navsarjan (2002), Broken People (1999), Macwan and Desai, Atrocities against dalits (1995), Desai and Maheria, “Dalit Assertion for self-esteem: From Sambarda to Swamannagr” (1997 and 2002), and different issues of Navsarjan’s monthly journal Dalit Shakti.

[14] For a Dalit activist this is normally considered a politically incorrect move because one alienates a section of one’s followers. Navsarjan did.

[15] http://www.academia.edu/4409943/Emerging_Issues_in_Social_Science_Research_and_Public_Policy_in_India.

[16] Untouchability is largely perceived in the confinement of the ability to touch and not to touch. Different empirical studies cover different variables during pre-Poona Act, Post Poona till Independence, from 1947 to 1989 and post atrocities Act till 2010. In fact, besides the studies in different parts of the country at different points of time Martin Macwan has compiled the variables used by several scholars. During his work in the area for past three decades Macwan had taken note and complied various variables which were observed in the Gujarat villages. One of the purposes of the Navsarjan study was to develop an action program where the information on prevalence rate of various variables in particular geographic area will become very important.

[17] Comments and review of books and reports are normal and healthy practice in academic life. 

[18] On the other hand, Navsarjan has data on how many nights the investigators stayed in the villages and which sub-caste families that they had their food to check on the sub-caste bias/influence on the investigators.

[19] Untouchability in Rural Gujarat, Popular Prakashan, 1976 p.2

[20]https://counterview.org/2013/07/03/gujarat-government-sponsored-study-by-cept-university-scholars-justifies-caste-discrimination-as-an-issue-of-perceptions/ and https://counterview.org/2013/07/04/cept-university-study-data-go-to-suggest-that-economic-discrimination-of-lower-castes-remains-intact/.

[21] On this point see earlier studies and Ghanshyam Shah, “Mid-day Meals in Gujarat: An Evaluation”. Surat: CSS, 1988, 151.

[22] The Study on Practice of Manual Scavenging in the State of Gujarat, carried out by TISS, authored by Darokar and Beck (September 2006), Indian Express (Ahmedabad) January 27, 2007.

[23] Ghanshyam Shah, ‘Hope and Despair’ in Journal of Indian School of Political Economy, Vol. XII Nos 3 and 4, July–December 2000. P.465. Such practices prevail in a few villages and not all.

[24] Pandurang Shastri Athavale, Vijigishu Jivanvad, Bombay: Sat Vichar Darshan Trust, 1992, p.38. For further analysis of their ideology and Hindutva. see Ghanshyam Shah, ‘The BJP and Backward Castes in Gujarat’ in South Asia Bulletin, Vol. XIV no.1. 1994, pp 57–65.

[25]  http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/true-lies/entry/modi-s-spiritual-potion-to-woo-karmayogis. Access on Oct. 12, 2013

[26] See Dr. Ambedkar, (Compiled by Vasant Moon) Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Writings and Speeches Vol.1. Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1979, pp 3–98.


2 thoughts on “Understanding or ignoring untouchability? How Gujarat government-sponsored study examines discrimination in a ‘very casual way’

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