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Untouchables

As the American and Indian industries intertwine due to the lower costs of doing business in India, and more and more jobs and tasks are given to India to do, so will the cultures intermingle. And of all of these, the Caste (pronounced "cast") system is going to be among the hardest to explain on the Indian side. (Americans are going to be loath to explain SUVs.)

In the Caste system, people within Indian society are split into sub-groups, with what they do defining their place up and down the ladder. Needless to say, an academic description does it no justice, but in general, it can be split into five group: Brahmins, Ksatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras, and... The Untouchables.

These groups all have jobs that India has split into levels of importance. Brahmins are Priests and Teachers. Ksatriyas are Warriors and Rulers. Vaisyas being Farmers, Merchants, Artisians and the like. Sudras are, simply, Laborers... but Untouchables translate as "Polluted Laborers".

In terms of culture, Americans got completely fucked up with the term "Untouchable" because it was applied to the Anti-Mob crusader Elliot Ness in a bunch of media and creative properties over the last century. Within the movies and the books it's used to describe how the team Ness assembled wouldn't intermingle with the corruption on both sides of the law to bring criminals to justice. That is, they were untouchable by corruption and bribery. But to the easily-blurring public eye, "Untouchables" equals "Cool and I carry a gun".

But in fact, "Untouchable" means "I do an awful lot of work involving shit." Like, actual shit. Or corpses. Or generally icky stuff. In Indian culture, this work taints you, keeps you down in the unmentionable areas, dictates what schools your children go to, where you can be, what you can do. It's really pervasive, and a source of conflict when someone wants to buck the system.

But while mentioning this, it'd be good to mention the stupid part. Every one of these castes has sub-castes that they themselves hold each other to. Literately hundreds, thousands of them. It's kind of like you live your whole life as a Fraternity Pledge, always scraping and subverting to someone else, yet happily foisting this abuse on the people "below you" for their "own good". This goes against most Western principles that if you work really hard, or get really lucky, you'll be in that house on the hill, so get out there and do you best. No, in fact, no matter how well you do, no matter how good you are at your profession, you still sling shit and there you'll stay.

Mahâtmâ Gandhi called them "The Children of God", mostly because nobody else would claim them as children. Most of what Gandhi is famous for is fighting for the rights of the Untouchables, although in America he's mostly famous for being peaceful and bald. Viva la difference!


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