UNTOUCHABLES by Narendra Jadhav


One Family’s Triumph Over the Caste System in Modern India
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A loving paean to courageous parents, and an indicting portrait of prejudice in modern-day India.

Economist Jadhav grew up in a family of “Untouchables,” or, more properly, Dalits (literally the downtrodden, or the oppressed, a term used primarily to refer to those descended from Untouchables). Although the 1950 constitution outlawed the caste system, discrimination against Dalits still saturates India. “Over the years,” explains Jadhav, “the caste system has taken on sophisticated dimensions; it has become subtler, though no less pernicious.” Here, Jadhav tells the story of his parents—a hard-working pair who were determined that their son would have a better life. His father, Damu, recalls the day he learned he was an Untouchable. He was a small boy, walking in a village with his own father. Having grown thirsty under the hot son, Damu spied a vat of water that someone had left under a tree—and was told he was not allowed to drink from it. “[W]hen I looked back,” recalls Damu, “[a] dog was lapping up water from the same vat. That was the first time I wondered if it were better to be born a dog.” Inspired in part by the leadership of activist Babasaheb Ambedkar, who devoted his life to organizing the Untouchables and fighting for change in India, Damu began to question the caste system. Much of this—based in part on Jadhav’s father’s written reminiscences—is told in the first-person, with Jadhav’s parents narrating, a conceit that is, at first, distracting. Concluding chapters describe Jadhav’s education and professional success—and attest to the discrimination that dogged him even after he had earned a Ph.D. and garnered a prestigious job. An engaging afterword by Jadhav’s college-aged daughter carries the generational saga one step further.

This Indian bestseller will strike a chord in the U.S.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-7432-7079-7
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2005


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