The Encyclopaedia Britannica explains caste as “socially ranked occupational categories”. The caste system splits occupations into three categories: “clean”, “menial” and “defiling”. The upper-three castes are assigned “clean” occupations: priesthood, governance and business. “Menial” occupations include barber, cobbler and ironsmith. Jobs involving picking up dead animals, working with their hides and also sanitary work are considered “defiling”. Those working in “defiling” occupations are considered “untouchable” because, by touching them, a “clean” person becomes ritually “unclean”.

Renowned Pakistani historian Dr. Mubarak Ali noted that, traditionally, “untouchables” were to shout “unclean” and wear a bell to warn the approaching person that he was ritually impure.

But why are some occupations considered “degrading”? Social organisation among Hindus is based on several religious notions. The Hindu religion teaches that the soul is immortal, while the body that houses it is mortal and perishable. “The soul of the person suffers in the next birth or enjoys, according as his doings in this world are bad or good … after the death of one body, the soul takes another body according to his deeds,” Indian scholar Pandharinath H. Prabhu writes in his book Hindu Social Organisation: A Study in Socio-psychological and Ideological Foundations.

“Those of good conduct will be born as Brahmans, Kshatriyas or Vaishya, while those of bad conduct will be born as dogs, swine or Chandalas.” (The Chanadalas were lowest of low among the “untouchables”. Manu Smriti, described by the Britannica as “the most authoritative of the books of the Hindu code”, dating from circa AD 100, describes these people as the worst among the “untouchables”.)

Manu described the Chandalas as the “lowest of men” and “lowest of morals”, who, with the order of the state, “shall always execute the criminals, in accordance with the law”. (Even today, all executioners in Pakistan are Christian.)

According to Irish priest John O’Brien, sometime in the middle of the second millennium the Chandalas were divided into three castes: Chamar, Chuhra and Dom. From them, many Chuhras (sweepers) converted to Christianity in the plains of Punjab; hence, the millennia-old caste hatred still haunts them.

Tom O’Neill, a senior writer for National Geographic magazine, wrote about the case of one man, Girdharilal Maurya, a Dalit, explaining why he was not allowed to socially, politically and economically prosper. (Below is an extract.)

Hence, an advertisement requiring a Christian in this sweeping occupation means he is not just low-born but also an accursed person because of past sins and “deserving” of staying in this occupation as a punishment.