SV: Untouchability

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Fri Jan 14 19:34:01 UTC 2000

Kailash Srivastava [SMTP:srivastava at OPERAMAIL.COM] skrev 14. januar 2000 18:49:
> When and how did it originate in the Indian society? Does it exist in other
> society or culture?

I don't know of many cases that are similar. However, I believe that in Europe,
the executioner and his helpers used to have a status not unlike
untouchability. They tended to be separated from the rest of society until
fairly recently. Nowadays, former hangmen run pubs (at least in England).

Workmen who emptied toilets in towns and cities also seem to have had something
of the untouchable about them. I have heard such men of the older generation
complain that when they were young, people wouldn't eat with them or even greet
them. That hardly applies any more. This kind of work is now much more
machine-driven, and noone cares about who does it. Human dirt, like most other
dirt, can be washed away with soap.

In old Norway (say, some 2-300 years ago), there was a difference between
honest (aerlig) and dishonest (uaerlig) status. Honesty was a quality you had,
and which you could loose, for instance by committing a crime. If you had lost
your honesty, you could be put to work that honest people wouldn't do - and
weren't required to -  such as helping the hangman or hauling away carcasses.
But there were never such a thing as inherited untouchability here, and I don't
think in any other European country.

Actors used to be treated as dishonest people until some three centuries ago
and were buried outside the churchyard. This changed in the eighteenth century,
in England before it happened in France.

I also believe that Japan has a group of people that has been treated pretty
much like untouchables -  they are now very vocal about their rights. But I
leave that to a japanologist.

Best regards,

Lars Martin Foss

Dr. art. Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo
Phone/Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at

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