this article opened up a whole can of worms for me, coming from a country with purity and pollution rules. In India for the past 3 millennium the artificial system of stratification, dividing people into castes, would cite purity and pollution rules that would separate people, historically into the Brahmins (Priest class), Kshetriyas (Warrior class), Vaishyas (Merchant Class), Sudra (Servant class) and then the Ati-Sudras (commonly known as Dalits). The Dalits were known to be the untouchables, as they would rest at the bottom of this perverse hierarchy. They were the ones called upon to do the menial jobs such as broom, basket and rope making, to be sex-workers, and/or domestic labors, and would be linked with scavengers, sweepers, rag-pickers, coolies, those jobs that were considered to be dirty, unimportant and unhygienic and hence associated with religious notions of purity-pollution, as would be called upon to clean up the sewer systems of human excrement, without any protective gear or apparel. Those from this class were prevented a proper education, living conditions, or even adequate health-care (Douglas, 1966).

According to Human Anthropology expert Louis Dumont, stated that those outside of this Hindu caste system altogether, such as Christians, were seen as the most impure of all (Nair, Healey, 2006). Nursing in India, would morph out of those who were given the task of doing menial unhygienic, and would involve intimate touch and close proximity to different caste members, especially those of the untouchables, and would thus be considered as a profession for the dregs, lowest in society’s hierarchy. Nurses were shunned from families, could experience a decrease in marriage prospects and would be considered to bring ill-reputation to the family’s honor.

Nursing has come a long way, to be seen as a noble profession, with the likes of Mother Teresa caring for those in the lower castes, living among them in the slums of Calcutta, India, thus bringing in notoriety and value, being praised the world over. With the Mahatma speaking against Untouchability, there has been a drastic shift in perception of care, in as much as Christians would care not just for the poor, but for those in the higher castes as well, nursing these days is considered to be noble job, demanding a higher renumeration, the world over. While we consider the ugly face of racism, in the United States, there are other faces of this social divide. Let us consider the welfare of all, as the golden rule suggests, To do to others, as we would want them to do to us.


Douglas, M. (1966). Purity and Danger. London: Routledge.
Nair, S., Healey, M. (2006).
A Profession on the margins: status issues in Indian Nursing. New Delhi: Center for Women’s Studies.