Traditionally, the so-called “untouchables” are the social outcasts in Hindu India.
Untouchables have been marginalized to the extent of not belonging even to the lowest (Sudras) of the four recognized castes.
Still loathed by many as ritually impure, untouchables are considered outsiders and physical contact is often avoided by members of higher castes.
Mohatma Gandhi decried this state of affairs, calling the untouchables harijans (“the children of God”). Likewise many bhakti (devotional) saints, like the Bauls of West Bengal, protest through song and openly affiliate with and embrace the so-called untouchables within their inner circle.
In contemporary India attitudes are evolving toward a more enlightened, inclusive view but caste-based discrimination persists, just as class-based discrimination is alive and unwell in most corners of the word.
The practice of untouchability was made illegal by the Constitution of India in 1950 and the former untouchables, being a mixed population, now call themselves Dalit.