This post is sponsored by Relate Church in Surrey, B.C.
Imagine passersby recoiling from your presence as you walk down the street, hurling abuses as they avoid your shadow touching them. You’ve worked tirelessly for little or no pay, doing work declared illegal by the government, but you do it to provide for your family, because you have no choice, it is assigned to you, your caste.
You are a Dalit, an ‘untouchable’ – considered less than animals and not from God. And you are one of 250 million, confined to slavery in the world’s largest democracy.
How can we know so little about this group of people in India, the world’s most progressive country? We, at the Justice Conference Surrey, speak with Dalit Freedom Network Canada, based out of Surrey to learn more about who the Dalit people are and the discriminations they face every day.
What is ‘caste’?
Caste is a rigid system of social stratification from more pure (upper) to impure (lower). Caste is determined by birth and remains fixed for life. All social interaction is dictated by caste, and norms are strictly enforced by humiliation, violence, and poverty. Dalits are born below even the lowest caste.
Who are the Dalit people and why are they sometimes referred to as ‘Untouchables’?
The Dalit people have been the most oppressed caste for over 3,000 years, living at the bottom of India’s rigid social order. The word “Dalit” means “broken, ground-down, downtrodden, or oppressed.”
The Dalits are sometimes referred to as untouchable because the mere touch of a Dalit is considered “polluting” to a person from another caste. Traditionally in tea shops and restaurants clay cups were used to serve tea to Dalits. After drinking their tea, Dalits were expected to break their cup so that no other person would be polluted by using the same cup.
What are some of the prejudices they face?
Dalits are often forced to live on the outskirts of town, separated from the rest of society. They are denied access to parks, restaurants, shops and water wells. They are frequently denied the most basic human rights, including access to health, education, justice and even water. Many are attacked simply because they are Dalits.
What are some of the jobs Dalit people are tasked with?
Due to their low social status, Dalits often have no choice but to perform occupations that are considered “polluting,” such as handling bodies in preparation for cremation, leather work, street sweeping, or removing human waste and dead animals.
Dalits also make up the vast majority of India’s slaves. Many Dalit men, women and children are stuck in bonded labour –trying to pay of huge debts to wealthy landlords. Dalit women and children are extremely vulnerable to human trafficking and it is common for them to get caught up in India’s sex trade.
How big is this problem?
There are about 250 million Dalits in India today – that’s seven times the population of Canada! The plight of the Dalits is one of the largest human rights issues in the world today. The discrimination that Dalits experience is a widespread, but the problem is most severe in rural areas of India.
Why is this allowed to continue?
Caste discrimination was officially outlawed in India over 60 years ago. But it is a deeply rooted and complex issue that persists in Indian society to this day.
What is Dalit Freedom’s role in emancipating the Dalit people?
Dalit Freedom Network began in a response to Dalit leaders cry for freedom. These men and women requested education for their children so that they may have a better future.
We responded to their plea and today Dalit Freedom Network has 107 Good Shepherd Schools that are serving Dalit communities throughout India. Over 26,000 Dalit children are receiving a quality English medium education.
Dalit Freedom Network also provides healthcare, vocational training, and micro-enterprise programs to help Dalit families achieve a better quality of life.
What can people do to help?
Raise awareness about the plight of the Dalits. One simple way to do this is to follow us (Dalit Freedom Network Canada) on Facebook or Twitter and repost our photos, facts, and updates to raise awareness in your community.
Help free a Dalit child. Become a monthly sponsor to help a Dalit child attend one of our Good Shepherd Schools. (Visit www.dalitfreedom.net for more information.)
Help build classrooms at our Good Shepherd Schools so that more Dalit children will experience freedom through education. (Visit www.dalitfreedom.net for more information.)
Dalit Freedom Network Canada will join us at The Justice Conference Surrey, Feb 21 + 22 at Relate Church for a two-day symposium of global and local justice thought leaders. Partner site ticket price is $29 until Jan 31.
Learn more about The Justice Conference: http://ow.ly/soIA1
Register here: http://ow.ly/soIHw
Find out more about The Justice Conference Surrey: https://www.facebook.com/TheJusticeConferenceSurrey
Photos courtesy of Dalit Freedom Network Canada