ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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This is with reference to the two articles on “Untouchability” by S Sarukkai and Gopal Guru (EPW, 12 September 2009). Both are densely argued and enlarge our understanding of untouchability by focusing the discussion, through the philosophy of touch, on the distorted mind of the brahmins. Sarukkai questions the accepted thesis of pure brahmins and impure untouchables. Instead he locates the real site of untouchability in the person who refuses to touch the untouchables. In fact, such a person becomes a “permanent untouchable” and suffers “partial death”. He calls him an “ideal untouchable” as against the “despicable untouchable”. James Baldwin writes in The Price of the Ticket that the whites “require of me a song less to celebrate my captivity than to justify their own”.

Gopal Guru endorses this thesis but also extends it to include the concept of panchmahabhute which ought to be the basis of equality, but this egalitarian principle was subverted by the brahmins to their advantage. Montaigne calls this concept of inequality as an artificial construct as both the king and the poor sit on their buttocks. In the modern context untouchability has acquired a new form as it cannot be played out in the social arena, at least in the cities.

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