Who are Dalits?

The word ‘Dalit’ in Marathi literally means ‘broken’. First used by Jyotiba Phule, the term was later popularized by Dalit leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar to reflect the situation of the millions of Dalits within south Asia, who are systematically and institutionally deprived of their civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights in every aspect of life. The caste system, which has existed for more than 3000 years in India, is a traditional system of social segregation, which works on the principle of purity and pollution. Though the Indian caste system is historically linked to Hinduism, it is also followed by Muslims, Sikhs and Christians in the country. The Indian society is divided into four main hierarchical caste groups: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. Beyond this fourfold classification, there is a category of ‘ati-shudras’ or Dalits (as they are now called), which falls outside this hierarchy. Treated as untouchables, the Dalits occupy the lowest position in this abhorrent social system.

The practice of untouchability was formally outlawed by the Constitution of India in 1950. However in practice, the Dalit communities are still subjected to extreme forms of social and economic exclusion and discrimination. They are not only denied access to common property (water, land) but are also denied equal opportunities in education and work. Their attempts to assert their rights are often met with strong resistance from the higher castes, resulting in massacres, rapes and other atrocities.

As the slogans of ‘India poised’ and ‘India shining’ are being shouted from every roof top in the country, here is one reality which needs to be looked at –

* According to government statistics, an estimated one million Dalits are manual avengers who clean public latrines and dispose of dead animals!
* 80% of Dalits live in rural areas and 86% of Dalit households are landless.
* 60% of Dalits are dependent on casual labour!
* Only 37% of Dalits are literates!
* 3 Dalit women are raped every day!
* A crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes!

As per 2001 census, Dalits form 16% of total population of India i.e. around 160 million. Independent India has witnessed considerable amount of violence and hate crimes motivated by caste. Recently, in 2006, four members of a Dalit family were brutally killed by the members of the dominant caste in Kherlanji, Maharashtra. The world may have changed around them, but not for them.

But the Dalits are now redefining the word, and with it their identity – today the word Dalit does not mean ‘broken’ but it stands for anyone who practices equality, believes in equality and fight for equality!

(Source: Dalit Foundations, http://www.dalitfoundation.org/whoaredalits011 )



Posts a comment

© Indian Dalit Muslims' Voice
Back to top