TOUCHABLE is a feature length documentary that explores the status of India’s Untouchable community by following five Dalits from different stations of life. As we travel with these characters, from the pain of their survival to the grace of their resistance, we get a glimpse of the evolving legacy of one of the oldest systems of oppression in the world.
The word “Dalit” means broken people. It’s a self-designated term used by the untouchable community. Dalits are a mixed population of numerous caste groups all over India and speak various languages.
GROWING UP UNTOUCHABLE
I’m Thenmozhi Soundararajan and I’m the director of this film.
As a second generation, Indian-Tamil Dalit, I am part of a legacy that has survived a system of oppression older than any in the world and that weaves race, class, and religion into one choking noose.
Not many have heard of our experience, but try and imagine a people who have been deemed untouchable, because of the accident of being born into a low family caste. Imagine every holy text in your culture describing the only life available to you was one of disgusting and back- breaking labor, because in this life you have been born into a low caste to repay for sins in a past life. Imagine the only role models for you in these holy texts are honorable historical figures from your community that have been transformed into demons, whores, fools, and thugs.
To survive we created a reality parallel to the one we existed in that helped define another way for us to live with dignity. We returned their demons back into our heroes and role models. We transcended our jobs in their system to search for our life vocations in our families and our communities. And we ignored the living hell spelled out for our souls in their holy texts to find the truth of our gods in the living texts of the spirit found in the worship of the earth, the sky, the sea, and in each other.
This did not just mean the inability to touch a human being of another caste or sub-caste, it is an attitude on the part of a whole group of people that relates to a deeper psychological process of thought and belief, invisible to the naked eye, translated into various physical acts and behaviors, norms and practices.
As an American-born Dalit, I struggled to find my place in the world, and part of that struggle was coming to terms with the legacy of caste in my family and my country. Part of that journey of understanding is for me to tell this story. I do not know how the film will end, but I know it begins with this wish: Let no other child feel the pain of pollution; And let my country be free of this cancer.
ABOUT THE CASTE SYSTEM
Dating from 3000 B.C., it is an exclusionary system where one’s caste is decided at birth; It determines one’s profession and informs one’s social status, along with access to civil and religious rights. This system derives itself from the Laws of Manu, an Indian holy text that is the cornerstone of Hindu law. It defines the duties and occupations ordained for each caste, and lists rigorous rules for the treatment of women and untouchables.
Discriminating against Untouchables was abolished in India in 1950, however, Dalits still do not have the same rights as the higher castes in India. This vicious practice has led to both a systemic and structural discrimination against Dalits, as well as an obscene amount of violence. Some of the startling statistics include:
• Nearly 90 percent of all the poor Indians and 95 percent of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits.
• Dalits constitute the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery.
• Every hour, two Dalits are assaulted, three Dalit women raped, two Dalits murdered and two Dalit houses burned, according to the Human Rights Education Movement of India; yet only one percent of those who commit crimes against Dalits are ever convicted.
• In India alone, the combined population of Dalits and other low-caste groups equals approximately 700 million people. While Brahmins comprise just 5 to 9 percent of India’s one billion people, they control 78 percent of India’s judicial posts, approximately half of the parliament and 89 percent of the nation’s major media outlets.
HELP US TELL THIS STORY
Your financial support is key in helping us make this film. We are currently in pre-production, doing research and connecting with NGOs on the ground. We’ll be in production Spring of 2012. We are raising funds to help pay for travel to India, purchase necessary equipment and feed our crew. Your donation of any amount is helpful!
What can a film do? We believe that storytelling is key in creating social change. Can we really be free if we can’t imagine ourselves free? Stories empower us, challenge us and push us into action. By filming communities and spaces that are rarely shown, we are not only raising awareness, but also engaging the world around us with this issue. Our goal is to use this film to engage in a global discussion that holds India accountable.
Help this project by contributing here