We Inform Others
We inform others about the Dalits. We believe the Dalits' plight is little known about in the UK considering they number 1 in 6 of India's population - approximately 250 million. For centuries they have been down-trodden and oppressed and denied even the basic human rights.
We educate others about the realities of life for the Dalit people in the 21st century. To date we have spoken to primary and secondary schools, Scouting groups, W.I. groups and churches and written articles for parish magazines and local newspapers. We have found there to be great interest in how both Loyola Kapepaladi school and Loyola Xavier school are transforming their students' lives and future prospects.
When we give talks about the Dalits, both school children and adults are appalled to hear about the prejudices and oppression the Dalits are still suffering.
Who are the Dalits?
The Dalits, also known as the 'Untouchables', sit on the lowest rung of India's social ladder and make up a quarter of the population - 250 million in total. The word 'Dalit' comes from the Hindi language and means 'broken' or 'crushed'. It is a word chosen recently by the Dalits themselves as it adequately describes their status. This in itself is a small, but progressive step towards their acknowledgement that the way they are treated within their own society is wrong.
On the basis of being labelled 'Untouchables' or 'Outcasts', Dalits have suffered extreme forms of disadvantage and oppression for centuries, and due to the fact that the overwhelming majority of these people are illiterate, they don't have the knowledge or power to question it.
Dalits perform the jobs that nobody else wants to do. Some of the more gruesome of these include removing bits of dead carcasses from roads, and where possible, preparing and tanning animal hides to make leather goods. More disturbingly Dalits are the people who clear both private and public latrines, often by hand, and many Dalits have died in the sewers from the highly toxic fumes caused by raw sewage.
In rural areas, Dalits often work in extremely high temperatures as 'coolie' workers (day labourers) for local landlords. Landlords take advantage of their backward, illiterate workers and pay them very little; the women are exploited and paid less than men for doing the same work and same number of hours.
If a Dalit family can't make ends meet, they will take out a loan from their landlord who is also a money lender. If the family is struggling to repay their loan, landlords demand that their children become 'bonded' labourers and work for nothing. Bonded labour is a form of modern day slavery where children as young as six carry out tasks their tiny bodies are physically unprepared for, and consequently face major health risks. Sometimes when a bonded girl marries, she must spend the first night with her landlord as a matter of his 'right'.
If a Dalit child escapes from bonded labour, they will still work in the fields with a parent or look after small groups of cows or goats, often referred to as 'grazing the cows'. Most Dalit children work as the family needs extra income.
Dalits are believed to be unclean and must not touch anybody belonging to one of the four main castes. If they do, or even if their shadow falls on a caste member, the caste member is deemed to have been polluted and must perform a series of cleansing rituals in order to rid their body of this pollution.
The Indian caste system
The Indian caste system was formed 3000 years ago and divides society into four main groups. Each caste division represents a social status and a generalized profession or employment. The four castes consist of the:
- Brahmins, (priestly and scholarly caste, designed to provide for the intellectual and spiritual needs of a community),
- Kshatriyas, (rulers and warrior caste, designed to rule and protect others),
- Vaishyas, (merchants and landowners designed to look after commerce and agriculture), and
- Shudras, (manual labourers and service providers).
A fifth group was formed more recently for those carrying out very menial and polluting work to do with bodily decay and dirt. This group is outside of the caste system and its members are labelled as 'Outcasts' - cast out from the caste system so to speak. Dalits fall into this category and are excluded from mainstream society, they are considered worthless and spiritually unclean. Since 1935 "Untouchables" have been known as Scheduled Castes, referring to their listing on government schedules.
What types of prejudices do the Dalits suffer?
It is quite inconceivable to think that human beings are thought of as pollution in the twenty-first century. Human right abuses against the Dalits are numerous and go on throughout India - they are not limited to under-developed areas. Dalit women suffer the most abuse - mental, physical and sexual. These are some of the different forms of prejudices that Dalits have to endure in the villages:
- Women are not allowed to draw water from a public well until given permission to do so. Why? Because it is feared if they touch the water source, or if a drop of their perspiration falls into the source, the source will become polluted.
- Dalit women must go home to take a drink in the middle of their working day.
- Dalits are not allowed to enter a temple or a public park.
- Dalits must sit separately from other people at community gatherings. Food is not handed to them but thrown to them.
- In Government schools, Dalit children can only sit at the back of the class. They are bullied by both children and teachers just for being an 'Untouchable'. Unsurprisingly the majority of Dalit children therefore leave school by the age of 11.
What can be done to help the Dalits?
Education is the fundamental key for the Dalit children of today and future generations. Loyola Kapepaladi school, Loyola Xavier school and Loyola College are lifting Dalit children out of their poverty and oppression by providing excellent education and pastoral care. Every child given the opportunity to study at these schools and College has a great chance of getting a good job at the end of their education, rather than ending up working in the fields or in the house as their parents have to do.
Social projects - we support several projects to help the Dalit children and their families. Please go to the What We Do page to find out more.