Research proposal on the untouchables in Indian caste system



Ethnographic Research Proposal




Writing a project proposal is a skill that many of you will have to master in your careers.  Whether you choose a career in academia, business, advertising, the arts, public health, or medical research, the ability to design a project and justify its importance to potential funders is essential.  Any project proposal must present its aims and methods clearly, demonstrate its importance, and indicate a solid grasp of the methods that will be used to complete the project.You should imagine that you are competing for funding for this project.  The tone of your proposal should therefore show the required formality, clarity and precision.


In this course we have read about and discussed various anthropological approaches to research, and in our “from the field” lecture series, you have heard contemporary anthropologists reflect on their own research projects and fieldwork experiences.  This assignment asks you to develop your own ethnographic research proposal on a topic of your choosing.  You will:

  • select a research topic and location
  • formulate a clear question that pertains to the topic and place
  • provide relevant background information on the context of your chosen place and topic
  • delineate appropriate anthropological research methods to answer your question
  • outline the potential significance of your research



Your final proposal should be 5-7 pages (double-spaced, 12pt font).  It should be well-written and answer three questions:  WHAT? HOW? WHY?

WHAT? (2-3 pages)

Clearly explain the topic of your project and the specific research question(s) that you seek to answer.  You should provide background and context to these questions, so that the reader is able to understand the topic that you are investigating.  However, the topic itself should not be a broad and general area of interest, but a very precise set of questions that you will seek to answer. For example, your general area of interest may be kinship in Latin America.  A specific set of research questions could then be, “How have kinship and marriage patterns changed in rural Argentina as a result of increasing urban migration amongst men over the past 50 years? How have families in this region responded to and/or reorganized around the decreasing number of men who stay in the rural areas?  When and with whom do rural Argentines get married, and how has this changed in the last half century?”  Or, for example, your general area of interest may be religion and ritual.  A specificset of questionscould then be: “How do Pentecostal snake handlers in Appalachia learn to handle snakes?  What do they believe is the relationship between people and snakes?  How do they socialize their children into this form of religious worship?”


In essence, this section should clearly define your central research question(s) and provide thebackground necessary to understand the relevance of the inquiry.


HOW?  (2-3 pages) 

How do you propose to answer your research questions?  Explain why your chosen fieldsite isthe best place to answer your central research questions.  For instance, you would not go to the BU dorms to study inter-generational interaction, nor would you go to rural Bhutan to study the impact of industrialization.  You need to provide a rationale for the match between your topic and your fieldsite.


How will you prepare for fieldwork and what will you do once you are in the field?  Describe what participant observation will entail in this location.  Where might you “hang out?”  In what particular activities will you participate?  What language(s) will you need to learn?  Where will you live?  What will you do on a day-to-day basis?  How will you acquire tacit cultural knowledge?  How will you “grasp the native’s point of view”?  If you are going to conduct interviews and/or surveys, list some questions that you might ask.  If you are going to gather oral histories, explain how and why and with whom.  Discuss how the various methods you have chosen relate to one another.  Will theyallow a wider perspective, checks and balances, triangulation, etc.?  In essence, you should explain how you intend to approach the topic of your proposal, and why you think this approach is the most appropriate.


In this section you should also show that you have done some preliminary research to determine what is relevant to your topic.  You can include, for instance, a bibliography of books, or journal articles that you will consult, or a list of people you hope to interview.  You should demonstrate that you have made an effort to identify as many sources relevant to your topic as possible. Even if you do not use them all, you should at least indicate that you know what exists.


WHY? (1 page)

In this section you should make a case for the value of your project.  Why is this project worth doing?  What is new or interesting about what you are doing?  How will it help us better understand some aspect of human social and cultural life?



You do not need to lay out your proposal according to the headings above, but you should cover each of these aspects at some point in the proposal.  Theassignment will beassessed based on the quality of your writing, the originality and clarity of your central research question, evidence that you have done some preliminary research, and the coherence of your research design (e.g. do your methods match your question).


Ethnographic Research Proposal


General Topic: The Discriminations against the Untouchables today in India


Specific Research Questions: What is the real state of the lives of the untouchables today in modern India, are they really treated equally after the government have officially abandoned the caste system? (Questions like this)




Nowadays everyone talks against the Reservations – why reservations are required? But now it’s time to show each & every Indian & whole world that Brahmans of India have taken more advantage of reservation since last 5000 years. Evidences have proved that Brahmans have 100% reservations in their Temple (Religious) industry, private Industries, all social benefits & Pooja path like satya-narayan (although no longer legally approved). The majority amount of the population do not have the rights to talk against the reservation due to their traditional value of Hinduism. Reservations have applied due to this ancient religion of Untouchability & Casteism which was created by Brahmins (3% People). Even in 2015, Brahmins in India are still misguiding the Mulnivasi (Native) people of India on the ground of Casteism. (Have many proves and video documentaries to prove this).



Research Proposal

The discriminations against the untouchables today

A study on caste system in India


Untouchables are a group of people excluded from a mainstream through social practices or a legal directive. India’s caste system has been practiced for over centuries, differentiating people through class, tribe, gender, region and language[1]. It was first started for the purpose of spiritual nourishment and social development of the locals. Misinterpretation and ignorance by some people in the society turned the caste system a vice. This inference is because the social structure benefits a few individuals in a society.  Since the caste system has a closed structure, this phenomenon has been passed from one generation to the other[2]. The government has put up many measures to eradicate caste system. It was banned in the year 1950 when a new constitution was adopted. A Legislation preventing injustices against Dalits, The Prevention of Atrocities Act was passed by the government in the year 1989, but the implementation has been poorly done[3]. This research work will explore the different aspects of the caste system in India and the state of the Untouchables today.

This research work will use previous literature on India’s caste system. These literature will help in understanding the caste system as well as give the important information on India’s history. It will also use recently reported cases on the discrimination of Dalits that will give information on the current state of India and that of the Untouchables. Research questionnaires will also be administered. Data obtained will be analyzed by descriptive methods.


Background of the Study

The Hindu society has practiced the caste system for quite a long time. The caste system divides the community based on their occupation and their family lineage, although the original intention was to uphold spiritual as well as the social growth of its people. Therefore, it decides the social status of a person from their birth and the system being a closed system, they will remain in that status until death[4].

There are four categories in the caste system also known as varnas ranked hierarchically[5]. These ranks are based on occupation. The ranks also determine one’s access to wealth, authority, and privilege. The Brahmans are made up of priests and teachers. They are the highest in the ranks and are considered middlemen between men and gods. The Brahmans access all the resources; they also have the highest level of education. The second rank is Kshatriyas made up of rulers and soldiers. The Kshatriyas protect and maintain law and order in the society. The Vaishya comes third and is made up of the trading community. These are merchants and peasants expected to cultivate lands, trade and lend money. The fourth caste is the Shudras, they are the laborers and artisans enjoying the lowest status, meant to serve the other three castes. The untouchables are omitted in the caste system. Hindu law books oppose the existence of the fifth group[6]. They undertake duties considered impure and polluting. They are also known as Dalits and have received discrimination from the dominating castes.

Dalits represent around one-sixth of Indian Population (about 200 million people).  These people received social injustices from those who considered themselves superior. They are locked out of villages occupied by people of higher cast class. They were not allowed to visit the same temples, had separate sitting arrangements and separate utensils in restaurants and village tea stalls. They were also rarely invited to village functions and festivals and were prohibited from entering other caste’s homes among many. These discriminations were evident even in their children. There was segregation within school children, Dalit children would be made to sit at the back of the classroom. The allocation of resources by the state also showed discrimination in the allocation of resources. The Dalits received little or no services from the government. Installation of necessary amenities like water taps, electricity, medical and sanitation facilities would be done in the upper-caste occupied sections, but the segregated Dalit areas were neglected. The occurrence of natural disasters would even worsen the state of Dalits as the government would distribute aids unequally, the best case being that of the earthquake in Gujarat in 2006.

The Government of India has done several measures to eliminate the discriminations on the untouchables. The government constitutionally abolished the untouchability in the year 1950 with the intention to introduce positive acceptance regarding education institutions as well as social services towards everyone including the Dalits. Bodies such as The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes were mandated to oversee the implementation process. However, because those involved were selected from the higher casts, did their work poorly hence continuation of these discriminations. The government passed Prevention of Atrocities Act in the year 1989 to prevent injustices against Dalits, but the implementation was also poorly done[7]. The international community brought in a UN framework aimed to eliminate these caste discriminations, but the Indian Government openly opposes these efforts terming the caste system as a cultural practice. Activists and some Members of Parliament have come out to urge the government against opposing the inclusion of the caste discrimination in the UN framework of international human rights[8].

Not much has been done though as these prejudices are still common especially in rural areas where about 80% of India’s population live[9]. Those who try to seek justice are humiliated and beaten by the same police who should help them. They fear to report such cases as the authorities are made up of individuals from upper castes. For instance, in 2006 a Dalit activist, Bant Singh was beaten until his arms, and one leg were amputated when he tried to seek justice for his daughter who had been gang-raped. The Kherlanji massacre is also one of the cases wherein 2006, mother and daughter were stripped and made to parade the village after being beaten. The brothers were brutally beaten then all killed just because they could not let an upper-caste individuals have their land.

These cases show evidence of the continuation of Dalit discrimination by the upper-caste members, the Dalits have held demonstrations demanding for their rights and are being supported by activists and trade unions. This has drawn the attention of the international community. The upper castes are also retaliating intimidating them and beating them. Some have formed militias who have attacked the Dalits, beating them, burning their homes, raping them and even killing them. It is even believed that they do so with consent and assistance from the police, all because they demand their rights. Therefore, this research  will explore the state of lives and existence of discriminations against the Dalits.

Research Problem

Evidence have showed that upper-caste individuals receive better treatment in their temple, industry, private Industries and all social benefits. The majority of the population made up of the Dalits does not have the rights access these social benefits as well as being mistreated by the upper-castes. The Government of India has done some efforts like constitutionally abolishing these practices in the year 1950 as well as passing legislation preventing injustices against Dalits known as The Prevention of Atrocities Act in the year 1989, but the implementation poorly done. The international community has heard the cries of the oppressed and is pushing for the adoption of international human rights framework, which has received opposition from government officials.

Several research works have been done on the history of the caste system and the injustices against them. However, the state of the Dalits and the existence of discrimination against them today has not been well studied. This research will aim to fill this knowledge gap.

Research Questions

Thesis statement

The general research question of the study is, “does the discrimination against untouchables in India exist today?”

Specific Research Questions

  1. What is the real state of the lives of the untouchables today in India?
  2. What are the efforts by the government to deal with discriminations against the Dalits?
  3. Have the Dalits been given equal treatment after the government’s efforts to abandon the caste system?

Justification of the study

Dalits are estimated to be around 200 million in India. The rural population constitutes about 80% of the total population, and this margin is mainly made up of the Dalits who continue to receive discriminations of all kinds from those considering themselves better than them. Rape, murder and other forms of crimes are common against modern day Indians, the government doing little to promote equity[10]. This has affected developments in India and the whole of South Asia; it eliminates human rights entitled to every individual, constituting modern day slavery. Therefore, this phenomenon necessitates the recording of the current state and existence of discriminations facing the untouchables in the modern day India.

Significance of the Study

The findings of this study will be important to the civil society activist and Members of Parliament championing for equity and recognition of Dalits’ rights as it will expose the real state of the lives of the Indian untouchables. The international community will also use the findings to push for the adoption of UN Principles and Guidelines necessary to uphold the human rights. The international community has been made to accept that what is happening to the untouchables in India is a cultural practice and is hence acceptable. The findings will also convince the government officials opposing the adoption international human rights claiming that it is a cultural practice and that it should be treated differently from the UN human Rights system. The Dalits themselves will also benefit from the findings of this study; it will shed light on their current situation in life and that even if they lack support from their local authorities against those oppressing them, they have some hope from the international community. The findings will give them urge to fight harder for their rights. The individuals from upper-castes will also be educated from the findings of this study as they will realize how oppressing their own has ashamed their country and slowed down developments.

Limitations of the Study

Untouchables have received mistreatment for reporting cases of mistreatments; they therefore may not be willing to give information necessary for the study. Dalits also live in rural areas which may not be easily accessible. The study will also require adequate time and finances to successfully record all cases necessary, this will be a limitation. Influence of the government officials and the upper-castes may also be a stumbling block to acquiring adequate and accurate data.


Dumont explains how it was necessary to have the caste system within the Hinduism in India[11]. This goes in line with the statement that the caste system was originally started for the purpose of spiritual nourishment and social growth. He also points out the meaning of caste system and how important it was in dividing roles in the Indian society. Sekhon has shed light on the modern state of India and how its history is important and responsible to the current state. These will be two books will be important in understanding India’s history, especially on the practice of caste system. Relevant information on the modern India will also be obtained and how the history has shaped the India today.

Ostro, Fruzzetti and Barnett account for how different parts of India have been aligned according to the marriages and kinship ties with respect to the case system[12]. They have also pointed how the “Untouchables” have suffered from individuals of upper-casts. Velassery also points out the connection between caste system and the Hindu religion as well as human rights. He explains the infringement of Dalits’ human rights and how misinterpretation of Dharma concept has fueled the discriminations. He also explains how Dharma is important to Indians leading to acceptance of case system in India by many people. These books will assist in pointing out the plights of the Dalits and the misrepresentation of religious practices by a section of the society for their own gain at an expense of others.


Study Area

The study will be conducted in India targeting the Dalits population of about 200 million within the total country’s population of about 1.2 billion people. India covers about 3,287,590 km2 and is divided into 29 states. The study will be carried out in most of the states.

Research Design

Ethnographic research design as well as case studies design will be used as they provide wide range of baseline information and reduces chances of biasness. The data obtained will be categorized to give results.

Sampling Design

The estimated population of Dalits is about 200 million spread out over the country mainly rural areas and will pose a challenge to access. Simple random sampling will be used to distribute research questionnaires in 10 of the 29 different states.


Data Collection Procedures and Analysis

The research will use primary and secondary data. Collection of the primary data will be by the use of structured interview questionnaires. The secondary data will mainly be obtained from previous literatures, journals, reports and newspapers. Videos will also be used recorded on cases of Dalits discrimination. Data will be analyzed through different ethnographic analysis as well as descriptive statistics.


There is growing democratic and peaceful movements by Dalits themselves as well as activists, NGOs and trade unions demanding equal rights when it comes to work, wages and resource distribution. They are condemning the government for ignoring the cries of those affected by caste discriminations and that it should be on the forefront in eliminating these prejudices on human rights. The support India is getting from the international community has given hope to majority of the people facing caste discrimination and recognition of human rights in India.




Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Fourteenth Periodic Reports of States Parties Due in 1996: India. CERD/C/299/Add.3, April 29, 1996.

D.B. “Sagar” Bishwakarma. General Comments of Country Report for the United Nations Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Paper prepared by the Academy for Public Upliftment for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Preparation of NGO Country Report under the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Dumont, Louis. Homo hierarchicus: The caste system and its implications. University of Chicago Press, 1980.

Hoff, Karla, and Priyank Pandey. Belief systems and durable inequalities: An experimental investigation of Indian caste. World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3351, 2004.

Hutton, John Henry. Caste in India: Its nature, function and origins.1946.

Östör, Ákos, Lina Fruzzetti, and Steve Barnett, eds. Concepts of person: Kinship, caste, and marriage in India. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982.

Sekhon, Joti. Modern India. McGraw-Hill Humanities, Social Sciences & World Languages, 2000.

Smith, Brian K. Classifying the universe: The ancient Indian varn. a system and the origins of caste. New York, 1994.

Velassery, Sebastian. Casteism and human rights: toward an ontology of the social order. Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2005.

[1] Hoff, Karla, and Priyank Pandey. Belief systems and durable inequalities: An experimental investigation of Indian caste (World Bank Policy Research Working Paper 3351, 2004).

[2] Östör, Ákos, Lina Fruzzetti, and Steve Barnett, eds. Concepts of person: Kinship, caste, and marriage in India (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982) 5-10.

[3] Velassery, Sebastian, Casteism and human rights: toward an ontology of the social order (Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2005) 7.

[4] Hutton, John Henry, Caste in India: Its nature, function and origins (1946) 47.

[5] Smith, Brian K, Classifying the universe: The ancient Indian varn. a system and the origins of caste (New York 1994) 48-50.

[6] Velassery, Casteism and human rights,  8.

[7] Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Fourteenth Periodic Reports of States Parties Due in 1996: India (CERD/C/299/Add.3, April 29, 1996).

[8] Sekhon, Joti. Modern India (McGraw-Hill Humanities, Social Sciences & World Languages, 2000) 45-50.

[9] Ibid.

[10] D.B. “Sagar” Bishwakarma. General Comments on Country Report for the United Nations Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Paper prepared by the Academy for Public Upliftment for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Preparation of NGO Country Report under the U.N. International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

[11] Dumont, Louis. Homo hierarchicus: The caste system and its implications (University of Chicago Press, 1980) 15.

[12] Östör, Concepts of person,12.

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