In the readings on Tantric Buddhism, the term "untouchables" appeared quite a few times. The word untouchables refers to the lowest caste in Indian society, characterized with "dirty" jobs, extreme poverty, and even dark skin. Recently an academic from Jawaharlal Nehru University, Dr. Sukhdeo Thorat, visited Emory and delivered his paper entitled "Growing up as an Untouchable." The paper was part research, facts and theories about stigmatized identity, for example, and part real-life experience. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the presentation, but I was able to read a copy of the paper. I can only imagine the profound impact hearing the paper read aloud by its original author, who himself lived life among one of the most looked down categories in a vast nation, would have had. Regardless, seeing untouchables in the reading made me recall this paper so I thought I would discuss it here.
As an Indian Hindu, I primarily only associate India with Hinduism, and slightly with Islam because of all the religious tensions. Because of this, I wouldn't say I necessarily forget that Buddhism began in India, but Buddhism and India are not strongly associated in my brain. Seeing untouchables, part of the caste system so distinctly Indian, in relation to Buddhism also grabbed my attention. I found the suggestion that Tantric Buddhism was the end of Indian Buddhism interesting as well.
The part of the paper I found most heartbreaking was when Thorat discussed how he slowly began to learn what it meant to be an untouchable as a young curious child who merely wanted to play like all the other children. In his village, he was not allowed in certain areas and was often hit by people he did not even know for something as small as touching a water well.
Kind of a tangent, but it deals with Indian culture, and religion and culture are almost always linked.