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Analyzing Status Of Untouchability In India

Updated: Jan 18

Untouchability continues to be a curse in secular India and its social fabric. The word “Untouchability” is neither defined in the Indian Constitution nor any act. In simple words, untouchability can be understood as a practice where a particular class or caste of a person is discriminated based on their birth in a particular caste or on the ground of being a member of social groups involved in menial jobs. The discrimination of untouchability can be in the form of physical or social boycott from society. For instance, the members of higher castes such as Brahmin, Kshatriyas, etc. would not eat or sit with a person of the lower class. It was believed by the people of higher castes that they could become impure, even if a shadow of an untouchable person touches him.

Untouchability” is a practice that is abolished & forbidden by law and practising this activity is considered to be an offence and punishable under the law under Article 17 of the Indian Constitution.

Forms of Untouchability Practice in India:-

According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, there are various types of discrimination suffered by Dalits people, some are as follows:-

  • Segregation in sitting and food arrangements in function

  • A prohibition from eating together with upper caste

  • Separate utensils for Dalits

  • A prohibition from entering temples

  • A prohibition from sitting together to upper class i.e. sit on the land or somewhere below the upper class

  • A prohibition from using public property (ponds, wells, and temples)

These are several grounds where lower class people face troubles. After the independence, while leaders agreed to make our Constitution, they demanded a provision to eradicate this social evil from society and further to uplift the lower castes. Unfortunately, even after 73 years of independence, Untouchability is still prevailing in sections of our society.

Eradication of evil practice of untouchability

In our society, feelings of superiority of caste and birth still exist. We can see the practice of untouchability in everyday life around us, especially in rural and semi-urban areas of the country. Untouchability is one of the serious social evils which is not yet getting proper attention from the public, government & media. It is said that rural development is impossible without eradicating the practice of untouchability. Untouchability represents a hindrance in the way of all advancement works. Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our country says, “I have confidence in the central truth of every single awesome religion of the world in principle; since there is one God, there can be just a single religion.” It is said by Gandhiji that a person cannot be defined by his birth or colour. According to him, the character of an individual is the main deciding component. There are some suggestions by which we can eradicate the practice of Untouchability ;

  1. Spread of education

  2. By giving proper employment.

  3. By providing economic facilities.

  4. Abolition of the caste system.

The abolition of untouchability has been defined in Article 17 of the Indian Constitution. This is one of the few fundamental rights which are available against the arbitrary right of an individual. To make untouchability a law, parliament passed the Untouchability (Offenses) Act in 1955 which came into force on 1st June 1955. Some lacunas were found in the working of the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955 which compelled the Government to make amendments in the Act. In 1976, the Act was revamped as the Protection of Civil Rights Act. This Act lays down that whatever is open to the general public should be open to the members of the scheduled castes. No shopkeeper can refuse to sell the goods to them and no person should refuse to render any service to any person on the ground of untouchability. The Act also made penal provisions imposing imprisonment and fine.

Judicial Approach

In the case of Deverajia .v. Padmanna, the Court stated that the term "untouchability" refers to the social disabilities imposed on certain classes of people because of their birth in lower castes and would not include instigation of a social boycott because of the conduct of certain persons. The term "Harijan" prima facie refers to an untouchable. Although the word untouchability is present in the Constitution, it has not been defined anywhere in our Constitution. In this case, the Court gives a clear idea on the concept of untouchability, by framing a precise definition for the same.

In State of Karnataka .v. Appa Balu Ingale, the Court held that the purpose of Article 17 of the Constitution is to establish a new ideal for a society based on the principle of egalitarianism.

In Jai Singh .v. Union of India, the Court held that Article 17 of the Constitution is similar to the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America which abolished slavery.

In People's Union for Democratic Rights .v. Union of India, the Court held that the Fundamental Right under Article 17 of the Constitution is available against private individuals and it is the Constitutional duty of the state to take necessary steps to ensure that Fundamental Right has not been violated.

In-State .v. Gulab Singh, the Court punished the Hindus as they compelled the bridegroom of the Scheduled Caste to get down from the dola-palki passing through the village.


Raj Singh is currently pursuing law at Alliance University Bangalore.

They can be contacted at raj.singh.031999@gmail.com or https://www.linkedin.com/in/raj-singh-8a4a4b1a4

Edited By: Swathi. Ashok. Nair.


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