by Michael Connellan, Jeevika Trust Trustee
Those in India’s lowest castes, and marginalised tribal groups, are officially known today as Dalits, which translates as ‘oppressed.’ Throughout history, and in today’s India, Dalits face extreme prejudice, exclusion and violence at the hands of higher caste groups.
Traditional practice slanders Dalits as ‘untouchable’ – meaning they are considered too polluting for other caste groups to interact with. This can see them barred from the homes of others, blocked from sharing village wells and paths with others, and blocked from livelihoods.
Overall, 27 per cent of Indians openly claim to practice untouchability – even though the practice is illegal.
The situation is worst in rural India. According to the India Human Development Survey, higher caste people living specifically in village areas are the most likely to indulge in discrimination through ‘untouchability’.
More than 100 million Indians are ‘untouchable’ in the eyes of those who practice it. Untouchability is a major factor in keeping impoverished Indians poor.
Rights groups claim almost one in three schools in India block Dalit children from sitting with other pupils. No wonder a reported 70 per cent of Dalit women in India are illiterate.
Rural villages are home to more than 90 per cent of India’s ‘untouchable’ population. But Jeevika Trust works in India’s rural communities to improve conditions & opportunities for Dalit & other marginalised people, providing opportunities for sustainable income generation, improved village facilities, better access to health & government services & a better understanding of their legal rights