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Abstract

Death is the most potent of all the sources of impurity and inauspiciousness in the life of a Hindu. This paper explores the different discourses on the nature of untouchability in Gujarat in order to delineate the relationship between the collective, permanent pollution of the lowest castes in the caste hierarchy, the so-called 'Untouchables', and their occupational specialization involving the disposal of dead animals and human corpses. It also analyses the inter-caste exchange of food and services at two levels: that between each of the untouchable castes and the other castes of a village, and that among the different untouchable castes themselves. The intra-caste sphere of temporary death pollution (sutak) incurred by individuals affected by the death of kin or affines is not dealt with here.

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