MUMBAI Indian teachers sprinkled cow urine on low-caste students to purify them and drive away evil, reports said on Saturday, in a country where millions of people remain oppressed at the bottom of the ancient Hindu caste system.
Upper-caste headteacher Sharad Kaithade ordered the ritual after taking over from a lower-caste predecessor at a school in a remote village in the western state of Maharashtra earlier this month, the Times of India reported.
He told an upper-caste colleague to spray cow urine in a cleansing ceremony as the students were taking an examination, wetting their faces and their answer sheets, the newspaper said.
"She said you'll study well after getting purified," student Rajat Washnik was quoted as saying by the CNN-IBN news channel. Students said they felt humiliated.
Hinduism reveres the cow, and its dung is used in the countryside as both a disinfectant and as fuel. In 2001, Hindu nationalists promoted cow's urine as a cure for ailments ranging from liver disease to obesity and even cancer.
The newspaper said the two teachers were arrested after angry parents complained to police. They have been released on bail.
India's secular constitution bans caste discrimination, but Dalits -- those at the bottom of the caste system -- are still commonly beaten or killed for using a well or worshipping at a temple reserved for upper castes, especially in rural areas.
Dalits, once known as "untouchables," make up around 160 million of India's billion-plus population.
In February, the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said India is failing to protect its lower-caste citizens, who were condemned to a lifetime of abuse because of their social status.