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CASTE AT BIRTH (1990) Channel 4

Writer/ Director/ Producer:  Mira Hamermesh

In CASTE AT BIRTH, Mira Hamermesh provides a revealing insight into Indian society, its conflicts and the massive discrimination against the ‘untouchables’ (who have renamed themselves Dalits) through the excuse of reserving the privileges of the higher castes.


Hindu society is divided into tiers of castes, where the ‘untouchables’ are deemed so low that they fall outside the social scales, outcasts from society.


Within Hindu notions of purity and impurity, any contact with ‘untouchables’ is polluting. In the past, they would be beaten if their shadow fell across an upper caste person. In some villages, ‘untouchables’ used to be required to wear brooms around their waists and to efface their footsteps.


In spite of the attempts to introduce equality for the 'untouchables,' guaranteed by the constitution, discrimination still goes on in a variety of ways, sometimes culmination in brutal murder.


CASTE AT BIRTH artfully contrives an open portrait of Indian society. In CASTE AT BIRTH, Mira Hamermesh follows yet another conflict. The film was inspired by friendship with the writer Mulk Raj Anand, who was the first to write about the plight of the ‘untouchables,” influenced by Gandhi’s ideas. The book UNTOUCHABLES, published in the thirties, is a Penguin Classic. 


“We have about 150 million ‘untouchables’ in India who are leading a life worse than the blacks under apartheid and yet the worlds is not aware of the magnitude of the problem…”

Swami Agnivesh, Hindu priest, 1988.



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