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India – The Untouchables

Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; 202-808-4980
Produced by Exandas Productions
Director n/a
DVD, color, 57 min.
College - Adult
Asian Studies, Social Science, Human Rights

Reviewed by Geetha Yapa, Science Library, University of California, Riverside

Date Entered: 3/26/2008

Although we hear about many kinds of discrimination in our daily lives, it is not often that one still hears about caste discrimination. One of the most cruel and inhuman instances of discrimination continues to occur against the poorest of the poor, the Dalits in India. Dalits or the “untouchables” fall below the regular casts in India. Sixteen percent of the population of India, nearly 170 million people, belong to this group and they suffer extreme marginalization based on their birth and traditional occupations. This film highlights the cruel injustices and atrocities that are still very common in rural India, even though untouchability was outlawed by the Indian government in 1950.

The documentary consists of different segments, each dealing with an aspect of the violence and discrimination faced by the Dalits. The first segment provides a basic introduction to the way of life of those who work as servants doing menial jobs under high caste landlords. The landlord’s proud justification of the subhuman treatment of the Dalits reveals the state of ignorance and bias present in rural communities.

The sections that follow deal with topics such as social segregation and exclusion through interviews with people who are denied access to water, land, differential treatment at schools, restaurants and temples, and the inability to obtain other forms of employment based on their birth. The film also highlights the continuing violence --- beatings, rape and massacre of innocent people, all because they happen to be born into a particular community. Discussions with Hindu priests provide an overview of the history behind the caste system and how religion and belief in karma play an important part in creating and maintaining social inequalities. Finally, the avenues for escaping through education, migrating to urban areas (to anonymity) and converting to other religions, provide a glimpse of hope.

Although the video and narrative are compelling, some parts of the documentary are very hard to watch due to the nature of the content and the graphics. Recommended with reservations. Not suitable for juvenile audiences.