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“Untouchable” No More, but Discrimination Persists for India’s Dalits

Image: Dalit perform sanitation work deemed polluting by the caste system. Credit: Dalit Human Rights Defenders Network.

As this ancient prejudice persists, organizations like the J. Luce Foundation are working to uplift Dalit communities through education and economic empowerment.

Bihar, India: In the impoverished villages dotting this northern Indian state, a cruel legacy of prejudice endures. Dalits, once branded “untouchables” and condemned to lives of deprivation, continue to suffer indignities and violence at the hands of higher castes.

Despite laws banning the oppressive caste system, Dalits here are routinely denied access to water sources, forced into degrading labor like manual scavenging, and subjected to sexual assault and even murder for defying societal norms. According to government data from 2000, the latest available, two Dalits are assaulted every hour, three Dalit women raped daily, and two Dalit homes burned down each day across India.

India has 600,000 villages, and almost every one has a small pocket on the outskirts meant for Dalits,” said Paul Diwakar, a Dalit activist. “They are shunned, segregated from the rest.

“The term Dalit, meaning “broken” in Sanskrit, refers to those outside India’s principal caste categories who have endured generations of oppression. Making up nearly 25% of the population, or over 200 million people, Dalits predominantly follow Hinduism but also embrace Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam.

Outlawed but Persisting

After independence in 1947, India banned the practice of “untouchability” and introduced affirmative action policies to uplift Dalits, guaranteeing government jobs and educational opportunities. The 1950 constitution prohibited caste discrimination.

Yet a 2014 survey found 88% of state schools in Madhya Pradesh discriminated against Dalit children, forcing them to sit separately at meals and use marked plates. Dalit settlements are routinely denied basic services like healthcare visits.

Violence remains alarmingly common. Extremist Hindu militias like the Ranvir Sena, run by upper-caste landlords in Bihar, have massacred Dalits for seeking equality. Dalit women face high rates of sexual assault by landlords and police.

“Only about 5% of assaults are recorded, and police dismiss at least 30% of rape reports as false,” according to a 2001 Amnesty International study. “Police often seek bribes, threaten witnesses and conceal evidence.”

A Vicious Cycle

Forced by poverty into degrading labor like manual scavenging and garbage collection, an estimated 40-60% of Dalit households perform sanitation work deemed polluting by the caste system. This reinforces the stigma of impurity that has marginalized Dalits for centuries.

While discrimination has declined in cities where caste origins are less obvious, it remains entrenched in rural areas like Bihar. “In spite of progress, Dalits are still at the social and economic bottom,” said scholar Eleanor Zelliot in 2010.

As this ancient prejudice persists, organizations like the J. Luce Foundation are working to uplift Dalit communities through education and economic empowerment. But eradicating the scourge of untouchability will require a seismic shift in Indian society’s deeply rooted beliefs.

“Untouchable” No More, but Discrimination Persists for India’s Dalits (June 20, 2023)

#DalitLivesMatter – #दलितजीवनमहत्वपूर्ण
#EndUntouchability – #छुआछूतकोखत्मकरो
#StopCasteViolence – #जातिअत्याचारकोरोको
#DalitRights – #दलितअधिकार
#JusticeForDalits – #दलितोंकेलियेन्याय
#EqualityForAll – #सबकेलियेसमानता
#BreakTheHierarchy – #पदानुक्रमकोतोड़ो
#NoMoreDiscrimination – #अबभेदभावनहीं

Jim Luce
Jim Lucehttps://stewardshipreport.org/
Raising, Supporting & Educating Young Global Leaders through Orphans International Worldwide (www.orphansinternational.org), the J. Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org), and The Stewardship Report (www.stewardshipreport.org). Jim is also founder and president of the New York Global Leaders Lions Club.

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