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

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Evidence from Uttar Pradesh

Does Untouchability Exist among Muslims?

Untouchability forms a crucial criterion for inclusion in the list of Scheduled Castes. It is rarely discussed with reference to Muslims. A household survey was conducted in 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh to examine contradictory claims about the practice of untouchability by non-Dalit Muslims and Hindus towards Dalit Muslims in Uttar Pradesh. A section of Dalit Muslim respondents report existence of untouchability in dining relations, habitation, social interaction and access to religious places. Surprisingly, a higher proportion of non-Dalit Muslims corroborate these claims.

One issue has cropped up time and again in social science literature and political discourse: is there a group of people among Muslims comparable to those included in the list of Scheduled Castes (SCs) in terms of their socio-economic conditions, social status, and experience of untouchability? In the absence of any reliable data and studies, this issue is rather difficult to explore. It is especially so because no castes, other than those that follow Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, are included in the schedule, and government agencies follow official classification while collecting data.

While the practice of untouchability among Hindus is a widely documented phenomenon, its existence amongst Muslims and Christians in India is rarely discussed. One of the most extensive and systematic documentation of the incidence and sites of practice of untouchability in contemporary India, by Ghanshyam Shah et al (2006), focused only on castes included in the schedule, thereby ignoring Muslim and Christian communities. One of the reasons that researchers on such important subjects do not go beyond the official SC list is the unavailability of data. As official agencies, including the Office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner and the National Sample Survey Office, collect data only according to official categorisation, researchers find it convenient to toe the line of prescribed norms.

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