Untouchables: My Family’s Triumphant Journey Out of the Caste System in Modern India

ISBN: 0743270797
ISBN 13: 9780743270793
By: Narendra Jadhav

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About this book

Every sixth human being in the world today is an Indian, and every sixth Indian is an untouchable. For thousands of years the untouchables, or Dalits, the people at the bottom of the Hindu caste system, have been treated as subhuman. Their story has rarely been told. This remarkable book achieves something altogether unprecedented: it gives voice to India's voiceless. In Untouchables, Narendra Jadhav tells the awe-inspiring story of his family's struggle for equality and justice in India. While most Dalits had accepted their lowly position as fate, Jadhav's father rebelled against the oppressive caste system and fought against all odds to forge for his children a destiny that was never ordained. Based on his father's diaries and family stories, Jadhav has written the triumphant story of his parents -- their great love, unwavering courage, and eventual victory in the struggle to free themselves and their children from the caste system. Jadhav vividly brings his parents' world to light and unflinchingly documents the life of untouchables -- the hunger, the cruel humiliations, the perpetual fear and brutal abuse. Compelling and deeply compassionate, Untouchables is a son's tribute to his parents, an illuminating chronicle of one of the most important moments in Indian history, and an eye-opening work of nonfiction that gives readers access and insight into the lives of India's 165 million Dalits, whose struggle for equality continues even today.

Reader's Thoughts


The greatest thing about this biography is that it educated me on a deeper level on India's Untouchable caste. I had never heard of Babasaheb Ambedkar before, but I'm glad I got a chance to learn about this EXTRAORDINARY man who challenged both the cultural and religous system of India. Also, Untouchables unintentionally helped provide foundation for my dislike for Gandhi. Before I didn't like him mostly off of a gut feeling based upon his actions, but Jadhav's bio helped ground my intuition. Gandhi historically did not support the Dalit equality movement, and held a pitying and slightly condescending view of them. I have no respect for a man who refused to acknowledge an entire population essentially because of their existence. On the other hand, the Untouchable Ambedkar proved himself to be the true hero of India as he awoke the conscious of thousands of Dalits and endlessly strove to secure them equal rights.If you're hazy on the history of the Untouchables in India, definitely check this biography out. It'll open your eyes to the struggle thousands of Dalits underwent to free themselves from caste slavery, including the incredible personal journey of Jadhav's father.


Great biography/autobiography about one family's story of growing up in India during the era of Ghandi and social reform. Great additional chapters at the end that detail the lives of the children now living in India and how far they came from being the lowest caste.

Elena Mooney Graham

This was fine. I wouldn't kill a bear to buy this book, but I might pull it off the buck table at Borders and give it a spin.


a very moving book about the power of courage and conviction to overcome the most unimaginable deprivation and humiliation

Khandoba Salunkhe

This book is an interesting biography, especially due to the sense of humour of author.. But at some points author sounds exaggerating, and the book is not as deep into caste system as it should've been.. Still, worth reading once..


Interesting read. Talks about the issues across 3-4 generations in a memoir style.


Really interesting account of a family's overcoming their caste by education.


The nonfiction biography, Untouchables, by Narendra Jadhav is an awe-inspiring story set around the 1900s in India. It is about the journey of an untouchable family breaking out of the oppressive caste system. Jadhav writes this true story based on his father’s diaries and many family stories, which talks about his parents’ struggle for equal rights and justice in the low times of India. For thousands of years, Dalits (untouchables) have been treated harshly and not only by the gore (British) but also by their fellow Indians who believe that Dalits should not even be treated as human beings. Jadhav’s family rebel against the caste system because they want to free themselves and their children from the life of an untouchable, which is filled with fear, abuse and cruel humiliation. This book, Untouchables, gives voice to those who are not able to speak out and tell their story. This book tells the story of India’s 165 million Dalits, who are still struggling for equality and justice today. In my experience, while reading the book Untouchables, there were many tiny details that appealed to me. There were many unique and small moments throughout the book that brought on a rush of emotion. But, out of all these small moments and characters, one character stood out to me the most. Sonu, Jadhav’s mother, not only spoke to me but inspired me as well. It’s difficult for me to highlight a specific reason why she stood out to me. Maybe it is because she is not the normal “hero” character. She does not protest when she is married at the age of ten for a huge dowry. She follows her husband to unknown situations and places because it’s her duty to. She follows the social norm and does not stand up to it. While other readers may believe that she is a coward for not standing up, I see her as a brave girl, wife and mother. She is courageous because she does what many fail to do. She follows and walks behind her husband through the good and the bad. She does not leave him even when he cares more about equality than her. She stays by him when he talks and praises a white girl over her. She follows her duty to him by doing everything she can to please her man. These are the aspects in Sonu’s character that is very inspiring. She makes me wonder how many wives would stand by their husband during this situation. I would like to think, if I was ever faced with this situation, I would act like Sonu and follow my husband because I vowed to be by his side through everything. Therefore, I believe Sonu is a very feminine but strong woman who inspires me to be strong as well.The narrative nonfiction, Untouchables, started with very strict and educational facts about India and its caste system. But just a couple more pages later, the book dived into the personal stories of Damu (father) and Sonu (mother). As I kept on reading the stories of Jadhav’s parents, I realized that it was very difficult for me to find a strong plot line. Many of these random stories from Damu and Sonu started to pile together and it was hard to see how it all related to breaking out of the caste system. To be honest, I was quite bored throughout the beginning of the story and I kept on putting my book down. But as I pushed through the chapters, I realized that many of these stories tied together around the end to form a strong plot. There were still some random stories scattered throughout the book that did not spark any emotion from me. But when I was around the last chapters, I saw how the characters developed and how this Indian family came about to live a free life. Overall, I liked this book. I also liked how much I learned about India and the caste system and Hindi vocabulary. It’s truly interesting to learn about their culture. I believe, teenagers would love this part of the book. However, if I had to recommend this book overall, then this would not be a great book for teenagers to read. To read the book Untouchables, there is a strong need for patience and understanding. Even I couldn't grasp many parts of this book. I would recommend this book to someone who is older and maybe wiser than teenagers. This book would be a great read to those who have patience and more understanding. Even though I enjoyed reading this book as a teenager, I feel like I would have loved this book when I am old enough to grasp all the concepts. All in all, Untouchables was a good book to read but it would have been better if I had waited to read this book when I was older.


Tear-jerking... my first non-fiction exposure to cultures outside the U.S. My aunt had me read it.


Interesting story and you learn a great deal about the caste system in India. It is discouraging that every culture seems to need to create cultural systems where some people are looked down upon.


There seems to be disagreement on what this book is. My library has it classified as a biography. Maybe it is narrative nonfiction, a classification that I haven't been able to get my mind around. The book is about the author's parents. They were Dalit (Untouchables) Indians who grew up in small villages, moved to Mumbai, were involved in the political movement to bring equality to the Dalits. The father, Domu was only semi-literate. The mother, Sonu, never learned to read. The author has them take turns telling their story. It is a glimpse into rural India in the early 20th century and the migration into the large cities. We see them struggle with jobs, living conditions and discrimination. We have the perspective of an under-class Indian family as the country attains its independence from the British and sets up its government. We see the father's determination to see that his children get educated. And we see the children thrive.It almost reads like a novel and I learned a lot about India and the Dalits.


This was a good story but, sadly, I am not proficient enough in Indian history or vocabulary to fully appreciate it, I think. :( I got too lost in the foreign words, which came about 2-3 every sentence. It was too tiring for me to pick through. :( I wanted to like it, though. :(


What I learned from this book... all about the life in the lowest Indian caste. It's a compelling family story about rising from the life society dictates into a life of your own creation. Without education... this family never would have made it out.


It was absolutely extraordinary to learn about a completely different culture and about the outrageous conditions that have happened and still are. The first step to stopping poverty is to spread awareness of it, and this book does an exceptional job at voicing the problems. "Untouchables" was a very inspiring novel about standing up for what you believe in and not backing down no matter how inferior you seem.Absolutely life changing.


This is an incredible story. The obstacles his family had to surmount were staggering. He did a lovely job of writing about his parents.

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