I would not call it "relevant" because it has no relevance with the society of today which should opt for unity rather than separation. However, it is a sad reality that exists in Indian society and that, with time, we may see change completely. However, this concept of "untouchability" can expand to many other societies who hold the same concept without giving it a name. For example, the Romany gypsies are basically untouchables in Eastern Europe and are treated marginally. Even those who elect to join the mainstream culture are rejected only because of their ties to the Roma blood. Hence, untouchability can still exist in many places under many different names.
I don't see that it is possible to apply a metaphorical idea of "untouchableness" to Western society or individuals because untouchableness is a social structure of extreme longevity with very strict and painstakingly defined characteristics, roles, and attributes. It would be well to study it in Western schools, but it seems to degrade those who truly suffer from it to apply it metaphorically to people of privileged opportunity.
Untouchability, once correctly defined, would appear to no longer have relevance to today's societies. Untouchable people in India (though some other cultures also have untouchability in their class systems) are outside the caste system, this means they are lower in human worth than the lowest caste of Sudras within the caste system. Historically, untouchables, born to untouchability through generations and generations and generations, were required to be identified by such things as wearing black cords around their necks; were required to carry objects that would prevent their body fluids from mingling with the earth; were barred from cities in the afternoon and evening because their elongated shadows might be cast over an upper caste person, especially a Brahmin.
Untouchables are legally barred from entering temples; from riding a bike or walking with shoes on in front of an upper caste person's home; from living in villages, forcing them to dwell apart beyond villages. There are decided similarities to South Africa's former apartheid and to America's former segregation laws. These sorts of isolations and restrictions and dehumanizations have no place in world society today--no relevance to life and cultures today. India has recognized this with government regulation that breaks some of the worst taboos by allowing untouchables, commonly called Dalits, to occupy seats in universities and to attain positions of employment in government jobs. Over the centuries, many influential Indians, like Gandhi, have spoken out against untouchability yet it remains entrenched in Indian social and cultural life--though it no longer has relevance to contemporary life and values.
I believe that untouchability is no relevant in any aspect. Many movies, think "The Butterfly Effect" or "Back to the Future", depict the fact that every action has a reaction in society. These reactions can be on a private, social, political, or even global aspect. This being said, I think that some people find that they, or others, consider themselves to be untouchable. I would disagree given that in one way or another, all actions have a reaction (we simply fail to recognize them sometimes).
Are we talking about India in specific? If so, it seems to me (from what I have read) that untouchability remains important. States that have more dalits in them, for example, also have higher rates of malnutrition than other states in India do. As this link tells us, there is still a great deal of discrimination and dalits remain poorer and less educated than other Indians. In view of these things, it seems untouchability is still an important factor in India.
I agree that untouchability is still very relevant in today's society. I don't know much about the class separation of other societies in the modern world, but I suspect that it still exists in many places in the world. Historically, people were considered untouchable for things we wouldn't think twice about today. However, we (as in modern society) still has many things which are considered taboo. I agree with post 3 that this would make a great lesson plan or research paper. It would be interesting to compare the historical aspects of this compared with the modern. From a literary standpoint, taboos and untouchable people still play a role in much of what we write and read. Again, the things that make a person untouchable in today's literature are very different from what we saw even a few years ago.
I agree with poster 3. There is stil a lot of untouchability going on in our society. It may not be the same as historically in places like India. After all, Americans pride themselves on being able to move through social classes. But there are other factors that make a person untouchable, such as sexual orientation.
I would say that learning about untouchability is totally relevant today, particularly at the middle school or high school level. It touches upon key developmental issues for most teenagers, and learning about the historical and religious context of untouchability would be of great interest and value to most.
Teenagers naturally form into cliques, and bullying and exclusion play a large, albeit negative, part in social interactions for this age group. In every group of teens there seems to be an untouchable or two, who are relegated to that position by the more popular kids. Learning about the psychology of this, and understanding that the technique of empowering oneself by subjugating others is neither necessary nor appropriate, would be an excellent lesson for all teens. But since people are likely to reject criticism that is directed at them, the study of untouchability would be a great way to approach the topic from a more oblique and less threatening angle.
I suspect most of us will consider "untouchability" in the context of what we know about India and its cultural framework of class separation. Within that context, my impression is that the segregation between classes of people is decreasing in India, more so in urban areas and between some groups than in rural areas.
I'm sure that, at one time, isolation of persons who worked at some jobs was considered important for religious reasons and for health considerations. I hope the sanitation challenges are becoming less of a reason for discrimination in this day and age. I am not familiar enough with current Indian cultural attitudes to know if class separations are still part of religious belief systems.