Who are the Dalit People?

The Dalit people of India have been the most widely oppressed caste for more than three thousand years. Indian Dalits comprise nearly 1/4 of the total population, a massive 250 million men, women, and children. Dalits are considered the "outcasts" of Indian society - the "untouchables", those the Hindu scriptures call the "unborn" - translated: it would be better if they had never been born.
Dalits are denied access to public wells, public parks, basic medical services, and education. Many restaurants even use drinking glasses reserved only for Dalits. The ruling caste tells them they are Hindu, yet they are denied access to the temples, cannot become temple priests, and are even prohibited from reading the Hindu scriptures. Seventy percent of Dalits live below the poverty line. Dalit women are widely exploited and are considered the "Dalits of the Dalits".
The caste system is an integral part of Indian society dating back to the time of the Aryan invaders to India. The Hindu religion sanctioned the caste system. Caste is considered worse than racism by the Dalits. Dalits across the nation, however, have experienced an awakening and are now demanding equal human rights and dignity. They believe that turning to an ideology of personal and spiritual freedom and acceptance, and getting an education are the keys to finding liberation. On November 4, 2001, the Dalit community gathered in New Delhi to express their cry for freedom. On that day, Indian leaders of faith stood in solidarity with the Dalits in their quest of liberation. This has led to the formation of Dalit Freedom Network International with the commitment to help the oppressed Dalits of India.


The caste system has been in place for more than 3,000 years. Each caste is historically linked to an occupation and represents a strict hierarchy of society and status, into which people are born and can never change their caste-identity. At the top of the caste system are the Brahmins, who are the priests and arbiters of what is right and wrong in matters of religion and society. Next come the Kshatriyas, who are soldiers and administrators. The Vaisyas are the artisan and commercial class, and finally, the Sudras who are the peasant and slave class. These four castes are said to have come from Brahma's mouth (Brahmin), arms (Kshatriyas), thighs (Vaisyas) and feet (Sudras).
Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Scheduled Caste who are not considered a caste. They are the untouchables, the Dalits, which means "crushed", "downtrodden", "broken".
A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society, but something, which is beyond that. The Dalits perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Sometimes Dalits perform important jobs, but this is mostly not socially recognized.
In India there are approximately 250 million Dalits who do not have access to enough food, health care, housing and clothing. They also have limited access to education and employment. Officially everyone in India has the same rights and duties, but the practice is different. Education will help provide the opportunity to change the future -- and transform a child's life now and forever.


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