[an error occurred while processing this directive]


  Field Notes From

<< Back to Feature Page

Untouchables On AssignmentArrows

View Field Notes
From Photographer

William Albert Allard

Untouchables On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Author

Tom O'Neill

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Saadia Iqbal (top) and Brian Strauss



Field Notes From Photographer
William Albert Allard
Best Worst Quirkiest
    I've always wanted to go to India and was finally able to for this assignment. It's a fascinating place with so many wonderful visual things. Being exposed to such an incredible country and seeing the beauty of some of the people I photographed was a thrill for me. 
    I just happened to come across a wedding among Untouchables that was about to take place in a village. These people have very little, but they saved what they could for finery and dressed the bride in beautiful silk garments and gold jewelry.
    Another time I encountered a midwife who had found a baby girl discarded under a bridge. She brought the infant to an organization that had been started as a haven for abandoned babies. It was a different kind of beauty to see this little baby wearing a bright-red wool cap and being held by the midwife, knowing that she had been disposed of and could have died. That was a totally different kind of beautiful moment.

    I wanted to show an example of the atrocities that are allowed to happen to these Untouchable people at the bottom of the ladder in India, but it was very difficult to photograph two young men who had been badly scarred after upper caste men threw acid on them. One boy, who would have been a handsome young man, literally had half his face destroyed.  It was just melted away.
    The boys had taken some fish from a pond that the upper caste men used to harvest fish for selling. I'm sure it couldn't have been much—just a few fish.  The upper caste men found the boys and surrounded them.  There were four or five of these young men, and a couple of them had the presence of mind to leap into the water after the acid was thrown at them. But the other two, especially the one who had lost so much of his face, did not. They fled in the other direction. The acid just ate right into them. 
    Seeing their suffering was probably my worst moment in India.

    India is the land of quirk. Everything is so bizarre, so simple, and yet so complicated. For example, one in every six Indians is an Untouchable, but they have little contact with the rest of the population because so few outsiders go into their villages. When I showed up, I attracted so much attention that any spontaneity I might have been able to photograph was lost. It was strange as well as frustrating.

© 2003 National Geographic Society. All rights reserved. Privacy Policy       Advertising Opportunities       Masthead

National Geographic Magazine Home Contact Us Forums Shop Subscribe