Kalavai Venkat's "Caste: a HAF-baked Lamentation" tells that "untouchability started in 12th century"

Can somebody provide any reference from any book/scripture/history etc for the statement that "untouchability started in 12th century"? or atleast provide Earliest documented use of untouchability?

(like any reference from Swami vivekananda etc. will also be good enough)

  • When people use a sensitive word like 'untouchability', most people jump to say 'brahmins discriminated against dalits', or some such variant. While not untrue, it's partial truth. Untouchability is also practiced WITHIN a varna. for e.g., if a brahmin has not taken bath, another brahmin who has taken bath must not touch him. If a brahmin has eaten food, another brahmin must not touch him until he has washed up. If they touch, they have to bathe, only then they become clean. The point is shoucha-achara - to be clean. And in that aspect, shastras do not discriminate at all.
    – ram
    Mar 22, 2018 at 20:00
  • Someone might add 'but it is not a SIN to touch an unclean brahmin, whereas it is a SIN to touch the lower-castes'. Again, true. However you must understand that the definition comes before the label. If a person does heinous acts, then he is deemed low-caste. If a brahmin did the acts normally associated with a chandala, then the brahmin loses his 'brahmin' label, and then touching him also becomes a sin. However, its a long-chain of karma. The brahmin might have done 100 punya, and 98 papa, so he still some advantage due to the 'birth-status', but his progeny most likely won't.
    – ram
    Mar 22, 2018 at 20:04
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    Similarly, a chandla might have done 100 papa, and 98 punya, so he still has some disadvantage due to 'birth-status', but that doesn't change his jati-varna into a brahmin. People are quick to shout 'Birth doesn't determine character'. I agree. Character determines birth. If you're born in a brahmin family now, it means you practiced at least some punyam in previous birth. If you're born in a chandala family now, it means you practiced at least some papam in a previous birth.
    – ram
    Mar 22, 2018 at 20:07
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    Hinduism is only the religion where this upper and lower cast exist in their religious book
    – Ali Adravi
    Mar 23, 2018 at 16:56
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    If people are so adamant that the research in my answer is incorrect, I would like to know why. From all I can tell, Indians simply don't want to believe that lighter skinned people migrated from modern Kazakhstan despite linguistic and genetic evidence to the contrary. Apr 11, 2018 at 1:39

2 Answers 2


Untouchability is as old as the Hindu varṇa system which also includes the caṇḍālas – persons of the lowest and most despised of the mixed castes.

The Āpastamba Dharmasūtra says it's a sin to touch a caṇḍāla:

  1. Thus after having undergone a long punishment in the next world, a person who has stolen (the gold of a Brāhmaṇa) or killed a (Brāhmaṇa) is born again, in case he was a Brāhmaṇa as a Cāṇḍāla, in case he was a Kṣatriya as a Paulkasa, in case he was a Vaiśya as a Vaiṇa.

  2. In the same manner other (sinners) who have become outcasts in consequence of their sinful actions are born again, on account of (these) sins, losing their caste, in the wombs (of various animals).

  3. As it is sinful to touch a Cāṇḍāla, (so it is also sinful) to speak to him or to look at him. The penance for these (offences will be declared).

  4. (The penance) for touching him is to bathe, submerging the whole body; for speaking to him to speak to a Brāhmaṇa; for looking at him to look at the lights (of heaven).

There are references to caṇḍālas in Vālmīki Rāmāyaṇa as well.

So untouchability must be at least as old as the Āpastamba Dharmasūtra. But how old is the Āpastamba Dharmasūtra? According to Wikipedia:

Kane estimated that Apastamba Dharmasutra dates from approximately 600-300 BCE, and later more narrowly to between 450-350 BCE. Lingat states that the internal evidence within the text hints of great antiquity, because unlike later Dharma texts, it makes no mention of Buddhism. Other scholars, such as Hopkins, assert that all this can be explained to be an artifact of its relatively remote geographical origins in Andhra region, where refined Sanskrit grammar and Buddhist ideas may have reached much later, and he places the text to the 2nd-century BCE. Olivelle, and several other scholars, in contrast, state that the first version of Apastamba Dharmasutra may have been composed after others, but the extant version of the Apastamba text is the oldest Dharma text from ancient India.

Regardless of the relative chronology, the ancient Apastamba Dharmasutra, states Olivelle, shows clear signs of a maturing legal procedure tradition and that there were Dharma texts in ancient India before it was composed.

Can somebody provide any reference for the statement that "untouchability started in 12th century"?

To be clear, the critic uses the words 'first recorded' and there is a difference.

Untouchability and caste inequities are first recorded in the 12th century CE when India had already been subjugated by Muslim conquerors and then Christians.

  • 2
    You should also add that untouchability is also practiced WITHIN a varna - and not simply as a poster-child to say higher castes discriminated against lower castes. For e.g., if a brahmin has not taken bath, another brahmin who has taken bath must not touch him. If a brahmin has eaten food, another brahmin must not touch him until he has washed up. If they do, they have to bathe, only then they become clean. The point is shoucha-achara - to be clean. And in that aspect, shastras do not discriminate at all.
    – ram
    Mar 22, 2018 at 19:57
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    'if a brahmin has not taken bath, another brahmin who has taken bath must not touch him' -- on the untouchability meter, does this rate lower/equal/higher than seeing/touching/talking to a caṇḍāla? At some point the argument will end with 'but you are born a caṇḍāla' - how can one defend that? Mar 22, 2018 at 20:25
  • i knew you would ask this already, so i posted comment to OP above
    – ram
    Mar 23, 2018 at 0:23
  • @SayNoToCensorship I believe Haridattas commentary on this Dharmasutras stated Chandala was a word equivalent to thief although they could've been tribals.
    – Haridasa
    Feb 24 at 1:39

The story played out in the following images leads to co-interaction of various peoples. With metropolitanism came innovations in technology and spiritual understanding. Such a functioning society creates the need for hierarchy. This comes naturally from the formation of guilds, alliances, family lines, co-ventures, and power grabs. These crystallized into the Varna. The Dalits were Dravidians living in the hinterlands. The incoming Indo-Aryans drove many south & east. Since they had no role in "civilized society" they had no caste. As the Vedic culture spread, they were looked down upon for their lack of advancement and low utility to society. Some found employ where they could doing the jobs no one else would. This took place before around the 12th century BCE.

Broad map showing Indo-European Andronovo, BMAC, Cemetary H, and Painted Grey Ware cultural complexes.

Linguistic map c 1900 BCE
Linguistic map c 1700 BCE
Linguistic map c 1500 BCE
Linguistic map c 1000 BCE
By this point castes are well established and many on this map were outside the varna. Broader linguistic map after 1500 BCE
—"Languages of Aryan Trail"

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    Aryan migration theory was heavily disputed(accused as british theory to justify their own colonization and racism and served for germans for their own racism) and now this aryan migration thory has been debunked with genes study too.
    – zaxebo1
    Mar 22, 2018 at 1:39
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    Note that these changes were concurrent with increased aridification in the Indus Valley basin Mar 22, 2018 at 1:39
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    The "Aryan Invasion" model is incorrect. Culturally, including linguistically, these maps are generally considered correct. Mar 22, 2018 at 1:41
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    See also this recent paper on the topic: biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2018/03/31/292581.full.pdf Apr 11, 2018 at 1:51
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    B. B. Lal is a renowned archeologist and former Director General of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) who has written many books and papers on the Aryan issue. (1) Please read his reference book published in 2015 "The Rigvedic People: Invaders?/ Immigrants? Or Indigenous?" by B B lal amazon.in/Rigvedic-People-Invaders-Immigrants-Indigenous/dp/… here he scientifcally debunks all the flaws in how marxists and western historians had reached to their flawed conclusions by ignoring archaeology.
    – zaxebo1
    Apr 11, 2018 at 7:08

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