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Dalit (outcast)

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Dalit (outcast)

For the type of poetry, see Dalit (poem).

India ~ 166 million[1]
   Nepal ~ 4.5 million (2005)[2]
 Pakistan ~ 2.0 million (2005)[3]
 Sri Lanka Unknown (2008)
 Bangladesh Unknown (2008)
 United Kingdom 500,000 estimated[4] (2013)
 United States Unknown (2013)
 Canada Unknown (2013)
 Malaysia Unknown (2013)
 Singapore Unknown (2013)
Languages of South Asia
Hinduism · Sikhism · Buddhism · Christianity · Islam
Related ethnic groups
Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Munda

Dalit is a designation for a group of people traditionally regarded as untouchable.[5] Dalits are a mixed population, consisting of numerous social groups from all over India; they speak a variety of languages and practice a multitude of religions. There are many different names proposed for defining this group of people, including Panchamas ("fifth varna"), and Asprushya ("untouchables").

In 2001, the proportion of Dalit population was 16.2 percent of India's total population.[6] The Dalit population is broadly distributed across Indian states and districts. In 2001, the state of Punjab had the highest proportion of its population as Dalit, at about 29 percent, and the state of Mizoram had the lowest at nearly zero. The government of India recognises and protects them as Scheduled Castes. The term Dalit has been interchangeably used with term Scheduled Castes, and these terms include all historically discriminated communities of India out-caste and Untouchables.[7][8]

While discrimination based on caste has been prohibited and untouchability abolished under the Constitution of India,[9] discrimination and prejudice against Dalits in South Asia remains.[10][11][12] Since its independence in 1947, India has implemented an affirmative policy of reservation, the scope of which was further expanded in 1974, to set aside and provide jobs and education opportunities to Dalits.[13] By 1995, of all jobs in India, 17.2 percent of the jobs were held by Dalits, greater than their proportion in Indian population.[14] In 1997, India democratically elected K. R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as the nation's President. Many social organisations too have proactively promoted better conditions for Dalits through improved education, health and employment.

Dalits and similar groups are found in India, Nepal, Pakistan,[15] Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Further wherever immigrants from these countries have gone caste has gone with them. As a result Dalits can also be found in the U.S., U.K, Singapore, Malaysia, Canada, and the Caribbean.[16][17][18]

In addition, the Burakumin in Japan, Cagots and Roma in Europe, Al-Akhdam in Yemen,[19] Baekjeong in Korea and Midgan in Somalia are or were excluded from the surrounding community in much the same manner as the Dalit. In fact, a 2012 paper [20] argued that the European Romas' DNA matches the Dalit in India.


The word "Dalit" does not appear in any sacred scriptures or historical texts of India. It is actually a word based on 17th-century European notions about the Indian caste system. The word is derived from Sanskrit, and means "ground", "suppressed", "crushed", or "broken to pieces". It was first used by Jyotirao Phule in the nineteenth century, in the context of the oppression faced by the erstwhile "untouchable" castes of the twice-born Hindus.[21]

According to Victor Premasagar, the term expresses their "weakness, poverty and humiliation at the hands of the upper castes in the Indian society."[22]

Currently many Dalits use the term to move away from the more derogatory terms of their caste names or even the term Untouchable. The contemporary use of Dalit is centered on the idea that as a people they may have been broken by oppression but they survive and even thrive by finding meaning in the struggle of their existence towards human dignity. It is now a political identity similar to the way African-Americans in the U.S. moved away from the use of Negro to the use of Black or even African-American.[23][24]

Other Terms Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi coined the word Harijan, translated roughly as "Children of God", to identify the former Untouchables. But this term is now considered derogatory when used to describe Dalits. In addition the terms "Scheduled castes and scheduled tribes" (SC/ST) are the official terms used in Indian government documents to identify former "untouchables" and tribes. However, in 2008 the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, noticing that "Dalit" was used interchangeably with the official term "scheduled castes", called the term "unconstitutional" and asked state governments to end its use. After the order, the Chhattisgarh government ended the official use of the word "Dalit".[8]

"Adi Dravida", "Adi Karnataka", "Adi Andhra" and "Adi-Dharmi" are words used in the states of Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Punjab respectively, to identify people of former "untouchable" castes in official documents. These words, particularly the prefix of "Adi", denote the aboriginal inhabitants of the land.[25]

Social status of Dalits

Dharavi is a slum in Mumbai, founded in 1880s during the British colonial era. Dalits along with their traditional profession of leather work and tanneries were expelled by the colonial government from Mumbai (Bombay) peninsula to create Dharavi.[26] Currently, about 20% of Dharavi population are Dalits, compared to 16% nationwide for India. Dalits live together with other castes, tribes, and Muslims who constitute 33% of Dharavi's population.[27][28]

In the context of traditional Hindu society, Dalit status has often been historically associated with occupations regarded as ritually impure, such as any involving leatherwork, butchering, or removal of rubbish, animal carcasses, and waste. Dalits worked as manual labourers cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers.[29] Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual, and this pollution was considered contagious. As a result, Dalits were commonly segregated, and banned from full participation in Hindu social life. For example, they could not enter a temple or a school, and were required to stay outside the village. Elaborate precautions were sometimes observed to prevent incidental contact between Dalits and other castes.[30] Discrimination against Dalits still exists in rural areas in the private sphere, in everyday matters such as access to eating places, schools, temples and water sources.[31] It has largely disappeared in urban areas and in the public sphere.[32] Some Dalits have successfully integrated into urban Indian society, where caste origins are less obvious and less important in public life. In rural India, however, caste origins are more readily apparent and Dalits often remain excluded from local religious life, though some qualitative evidence suggests that its severity is fast diminishing.[33][34]

Modern India

Since 1950, India has enacted and implemented many laws and social initiatives to protect and improve the socio-economic conditions of its Dalit population.[35] By 1995, of all jobs in India, 17.2 percent of the jobs were held by Dalits, greater than their proportion in Indian population.[14] Of the highest paying, senior most jobs in government agencies and government controlled enterprises, over 10 percent of all highest paying jobs were held by members of the Dalit community, a tenfold increase in 40 years. In 1997, India democratically elected K. R. Narayanan, a Dalit, as the nation's President.[14] In last 15 years, Indians born in historically discriminated minority castes have been elected to its highest judicial and political offices.[36][37] The quality of life of Dalit population in India, in 2001, in terms of metrics such as access to health care, life expectancy, education attainability, access to drinking water, housing, etc. was statistically similar to overall population of modern India.[38][39][40] In 2010, international attention was drawn to the Dalits by an exhibition featuring portraits depicting the lives of Dalits by Marcus Perkins.

In India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, Dalits have revolutionised politics[41] and have elected a popular Dalit chief minister named Mayawati.

Societal rivalries and disputes amongst Dalits

Dalits aren't one caste but historically were different groups that were not members of the four castes or chaturvarna system. Even in modern times several are rivals and sometimes communal tensions become very high on issues. A study found more than 900 Dalit sub-castes throughout India, with internal divisions.[42] Politically, by emphasising the rights and well-being of any one caste community, however, leaders risk severing attachment to an emerging Dalit consciousness and fostering inter-caste rivalries between SCs.[43] The DLM party leader says that it's easier to organize Dalits on the basis of their caste rather than unite them to fight caste prejudice as a whole.[44]

In modern history, Balmikis have described Jatavs as oppressors of the poorer.[45] Balmikis and Pasis in the 1990s refused to support the BSP, claiming it was a 'Chamar Party'.[46] Many Dalit Sikhs that are converts to Sikhism claim a superior status over the Raigar, Joatia Chamar and Ravidasi and do not intermarry with them.[47] They are divided into gotras which regulate their marriage alliances. In Andhra Pradesh, Mala and Madiga are two Dalit caste communities who were constantly in conflict with each other due to the historical rivalry between them.[48] Although the Khateek (butchers) are generally viewed as a higher caste than Bhangis, the Bhangis will not offer cleaning services to Khateeks due to belief that Khateeks are unclean from their butchering/slaughtering profession.[49] They also consider the Balai, Dhobi, Dholi, and Mogya as unclean and do not associate with them.[50]

Dalits and religion

The Sachar Committee report of 2006 revealed that scheduled castes and tribes of India are not limited to the religion of Hinduism. The 61st round Survey of the NSSO found that 90% of the Buddhists, one-third of the Sikhs, and one-third of the Christians in India belonged to the notified scheduled castes or tribes of the Constitution.

Religion Scheduled Caste Scheduled Tribe Total
Buddhism 90% 7.40% 97%
Christianity 9% 33% 42%
Sikhism 31% 0.9% 32%
Hinduism 22% 9% 31%
Zoroastrianism  – 16% 16%(+?)
Jainism  – 2.6% 2.6%(+?)

Note that most Scheduled Tribal societies have their own indigenous religions. Mundas have a Munda religion, for example. These indigenous or native religions are infused with elements of the local dominant religions, so that Munda religion contains many Hindu elements, some Christian elements, Jain or other elements.


The large majority of the Dalits in India are Hindus, although some in Maharashtra and other states have converted to Buddhism, often called Neo-Buddhism.[52]

Historical attitudes

Further information: Indian caste system

The term Chandala is used in the Manu Smriti (literally: The recollection of Manu or with more latitude, The laws according to Manu) in the Mahabharata. In later time it was synonymous with "Domba", originally representing a specific ethnic or tribal group but which became a general pejorative. In the early Vedic literature several of the names of castes that are referred to in the Smritis as Antyajas occur. The have Carmanna (a tanner of hides) in the Rig Veda (VIII.8,38), the Chandala and Paulkasa occur in Vajasaneyi Samhita. Vepa or Vapta (barber) in the Rig Veda. Vidalakara or Bidalakar are present in the Vajasaneyi Samhita. Vasahpalpuli (washer woman) corresponding to the Rajakas of the Smritis in Vajasaneyi Samhita. Fa Xian, a Chinese Buddhist pilgrim who recorded his visit to India in the early 4th century, noted that Chandalas were segregated from the mainstream society as untouchables. Traditionally, Dalits were considered to be beyond the pale of Varna or caste system. They were originally considered as Panchama or the fifth group beyond the fourfold division of Indian people. They were not allowed to let their shadows fall upon a non-Dalit caste member and they were required to sweep the ground where they walked to remove the 'contamination' of their footfalls. Dalits were forbidden to worship in temples or draw water from the same wells as caste Hindus, and they usually lived in segregated neighbourhoods outside the main village. In the Indian countryside, the Dalit villages are usually a separate enclave a kilometre or so outside the main village where the other Hindu castes reside.

Some upper-caste Hindus did warm to Dalits. Some of such Hindu priests were demoted to low-caste ranks, an example of the latter was Dnyaneshwar, who was excommunicated into Dalit status in the 13th century but continued to compose the Dnyaneshwari, a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita. Eknath, another excommunicated Brahmin, fought for the rights of untouchables during the Bhakti period. Historical examples of Dalit priests include Chokhamela in the 14th century, who was India's first recorded Dalit poet and Raidas, born into a family of cobblers. The 15th-century saint Sri Ramananda Raya also accepted all castes, including untouchables, into his fold. Most of these saints subscribed to the Bhakti movements in Hinduism during the medieval period that rejected casteism. The story of Nandanar, is popular wherein a low-caste Hindu devotee, who was rejected by the priests but accepted by God. Due to isolation from the rest of the Hindu society, many Dalits continue to debate whether they are 'Hindu' or 'non-Hindu'. Traditionally, Hindu Dalits have been barred from many activities that were seen as central to Vedic religion and Hindu practices of orthodox sects. Among Hindus each community has followed its own variation of Hinduism, and the wide variety of practices and beliefs observed in Hinduism makes any clear assessment difficult.

The declaration by princely states of Kerala between 1936 and 1947 that temples were open to all Hindus went a long way towards ending the system of untouchability in Kerala. According to Kerala tradition the Dalits were forced to maintain a distance of 96 feet from Namboothiris, 64 feet from Nairs and 48 feet from other upper castes (like Maarans and Arya Vysyas) as they were thought to pollute them.[53] A Nair was expected to instantly cut down a Tiar, or Mucua, who presumed to defile him by touching his person; and a similar fate awaited a slave who did not turn out of the road as a Nair passed.[54] Historically other castes like Nayadis, Kanisans and Mukkuvans were forbidden within distance from Namboothiris. Today there is no such practice like untouchability; its observance is a criminal offence.[55] However, educational opportunities to Dalits in Kerala remain limited.[56]

Reform movements

The earliest known historical people to have rejected the caste system were Gautama Buddha and Mahavira. Their teachings eventually became independent religions called Buddhism and Jainism. The earliest known reformation within Hinduism happened during the medieval period when the Bhakti movements & Ramanuja actively encouraged the participation and inclusion of Dalits. Ramanuja took Dalit disciples publicly into his fold and even took them into temple. He put forth the Dalit born Nammalvar as the philosophical head of the sect and propagated Nammalvar's works as Dravida Veda. In the 19th century, the Brahmo Samaj, Arya Samaj and the Ramakrishna Mission actively participated in the emancipation of Dalits. While there always have been segregated places for Dalits to worship, the first "upper-caste" temple to openly welcome Dalits into their fold was the Laxminarayan Temple in Wardha in the year 1928. It was followed by the Temple Entry Proclamation issued by the last King of Travancore in the Indian state of Kerala in 1936.

The Sikh reformist Satnami movement was founded by Guru Ghasidas, born a Dalit. Another notable guru was Guru Ravidas was also a Dalit. Other reformers, such as Jyotirao Phule, Ayyankali of Kerala and Iyothee Thass of Tamil Nadu worked for emancipation of Dalits. The 1930s saw key struggle between Mahatma Gandhi and B. R. Ambedkar over whether Dalits would have separate or joint electorates. Although he failed to get Ambedkar's support for a joint electorate, Gandhi nevertheless began the "Harijan Yatra" to help the Dalit population. Palwankar Baloo, a Dalit politician and a cricketer, joined the Hindu Mahasabha in the fight for independence.

Namantar Andolan was part of a 16-year Dalit campaign to rename Marathwada University as Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University. In 1977, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Vasantdada Patil, promised Dalit Panther that a renaming would happen; the Maharashtra Legislature passed a resolution to this effect in July 1978. Thereafter, there were attacks on Dalits by non-Dalits and upper caste Hindus for a fortnight. A new Chief Minister, Sharad Pawar, postponed implementation and this led to a Long March being organised by Dalit leaders and sympathisers in December 1979. Thousands of participants and prominent leaders were arrested.[57][58] The renaming, involving some compromise, finally took place on 14 January 1994.

Other Hindu groups have reached out to the Dalit community in an effort to reconcile with them. On August 2006, Dalit activist Namdeo Dhasal engaged in dialogue with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in an attempt to "bury the hatchet". Hindu temples are increasingly receptive to Dalit priests, a function formerly reserved for Brahmins.[59][60][61] Suryavanshi Das, for example, is the Dalit priest of a notable temple in Bihar.[62] Anecdotal evidence suggests that discrimination against Hindu Dalits is on a slow but steady decline.[33][63][64] For instance, an informal study by Dalit writer Chandrabhan Prasad and reported in the New York Times[65] states: "In rural Azamgarh District [in the state of Uttar Pradesh], for instance, nearly all Dalit households said their bridegrooms now rode in cars to their weddings, compared with 27 percent in 1990. In the past, Dalits would not have been allowed to ride even horses to meet their brides; that was considered an upper-caste privilege."

Many Hindu Dalits have achieved affluence in society, although vast millions still remain poor. In particular, some Dalit intellectuals such as Chandrabhan Prasad have argued that the living standards of many Dalits have improved since the economic liberalisation in 1991 and have supported their claims through large qualitative surveys.[65][66] Recent episodes of caste-related violence in India have adversely affected the Dalit community. In urban India, discrimination against Dalits in the public sphere is greatly reduced, but rural Dalits are struggling to elevate themselves.[67] Government organisations and NGO's work to emancipate them from discrimination, and many Hindu organisations have spoken in their favour.[68][69] Some groups and Hindu religious leaders have also spoken out against the caste system in general.[70][71] However, the fight for temple entry rights for Dalits is far from finished and continues to cause controversy.[72][73] Brahmins like Subramania Bharati also passed Brahminhood onto a Dalit, while in Shivaji's Maratha Empire there were Dalit Hindu warriors (the Mahar Regiment). In modern times there are several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders like Ramachandra Veerappa and Dr. Suraj Bhan. (See List of Dalits)

More recently, Dalits in Nepal are now being accepted into priesthood (traditionally reserved for Brahmins). The Dalit priestly order is called "Pandaram"[74]


Although Sikhism clearly admonishes the idea of a caste system, going to the lengths of providing common surnames to abolish caste identities, many families generally do not marry among different castes. Dalits form a class among the Sikhs who stratify their society according to traditional casteism. Kanshi Ram himself was of Sikh background although converted because he found that Sikh society did not respect Dalits and so became a neo-Buddhist.

Talhan gurdwara caste conflict

In 2003 the Talhan village Gurudwara saw what started out as a bitter dispute between Jatt Sikh and Chamars[75] turn into a social war. The Chamars came out in force and confronted the Randhawa and Bains Jatt Sikh Landlords[75] who refused to give the Chamars a share on the governing committee of a shrine dedicated to Shaheed Baba Nihal Singh.[75] The shrine pulled an annual taking of 3–7 Crore Indian Rupees of which the Jatt Sikh Landlords just "gobbled up a substantial portion of the offerings".[75] Though the Dalits form more than 60 percent of Talhan’s 5,000-strong population, local ‘traditions’ ensured that they were denied a share in the committee.[75] The landlords, in league with radical Sikh organisations and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee,[75] attempted to keep out the Dalits by razing the Shrine overnight and constructing a gurdwara on it, but the Dalit quest for a say in the governing committee could not be eliminated. Chanan Ram Pal President of the Talhan Dalit Action Committee stated,

"We fought a war for swabhimaan (self-respect). The teachings of Guru Ravidas and the access to modern education inculcated in us this desire. We are an economically independent community, many of our people are nris who send money from Dubai, the West, etc. Here, we do not work for landlords, we are self-employed. Like any other caste, we too are the offspring of Punjab. We drink its water, we live on its food. We are as good as anybody"[75]

The Village Sirpanch and active member of the Shrine committee Bhupinder Singh Bains admitted to the landlord corruption and stated,

"Every Sunday, the gulak was opened. Of the Rs 5–7 lakh in offerings, Rs 1–2 lakh was pilfered. The committee was against having Chamars as members as it was an old tradition. It is wrong to think like that. The dalits got very upset when they asked for some money to celebrate their festivals and the committee dominated by us doled out just Rs 10,000-Rs 15,000. The dalits wanted to become part of the committee; they fought a four-year battle in court. Today, with the dalits around, everyone keeps a watch and corruption in the shrine has been curbed,..."[75]

Bhupinder Singh Bains continued,

"Those earlier notions of untouchability, which was a Brahmanical concept, no longer prevail. Earlier, poor Chamar families were dependent on us, for example, for taking the molasses’ waste. Now they stand equal to us, with many of their children becoming Class I officers earning fat salaries. While the sons of landlords refuse to work on the land, the children of the Chamars study and get good jobs. In contrast, our sons are getting hooked to drugs as they idle their time away,..."[75]

The Chamars fought a four-year court battle with the Jatt Sikh Landlords and their allies including the Punjab Police;[75] whilst in that time there were several boycotts against the Chamars of the village. The Jatt Sikhs and their allies even cut off the power supply to their homes resulting in them not being able to obtain water.[75] In addition to that, there were various scuffles and fights in which Chamar youths armed with Lathhis,[75] rocks, bricks, soda bottles and anything they could find[75] fought against Jatt Sikh landlords their youths and the Punjab Police.[75] Dalit youngsters painted their homes and motorcycles with the slogan, Putt Chamar De (proud sons of Chamars) in retaliation to the Jat slogan, Putt Jattan De.[75]


Across India, many Christian communities in South India still follow the caste system. Sometimes the social stratification remains unchanged and in some cases such as among Goan and Mangalorean Catholics, the stratification varies as compared to the Hindu system.

A 1992 study[76] of Catholics in Tamil Nadu found some Dalit Christians faced segregated churches, cemeteries, services and even processions. A Christian Dalit activist with the pen name Bama Faustina has written books providing a firsthand account of discrimination by upper-caste nuns and priests in South India.


In Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and a few other regions, Dalits have come under the influence of the neo-Buddhist movement initiated by Ambedkar. In the 1950s, Ambedkar turned his attention to Buddhism and travelled to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) to attend a convention of Buddhist scholars and monks. While dedicating a new Buddhist vihara near Pune, Ambedkar announced that he was writing a book on Buddhism, and that as soon as it was finished, he planned to make a formal conversion to Buddhism.[10] Ambedkar twice visited Myanmar (then Burma) in 1954; the second time in order to attend the third conference of the World Fellowship of Buddhists in Rangoon. In 1955, he founded the Bharatiya Bauddha Mahasabha, or the Buddhist Society of India. He completed his final work, The Buddha and His Dhamma, in 1956. It was published posthumously.

After meetings with the Sri Lankan Buddhist monk Hammalawa Saddhatissa,[11] Ambedkar organised a formal public ceremony for himself and his supporters in Nagpur on 14 October 1956. Accepting the Three Refuges and Five Precepts from a Buddhist monk in the traditional manner, Ambedkar completed his own conversion. He then proceeded to convert an estimated 500,000 of his supporters who were gathered around him.[10] Taking the 22 Vows, Ambedkar and his supporters explicitly condemned and rejected Hinduism and Hindu philosophy. He then travelled to Kathmandu in Nepal to attend the Fourth World Buddhist Conference. He completed his final manuscript, The Buddha or Karl Marx on 2 December 1956.

The rate of conversion of Dalits to Buddhism and Christianity are reducing in modern India, due to the efforts of several Hindu Reform Movements and mass reconversion movements by hardline Hindu organisations like Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and RSS and as well as government programs and employment initiatives to alleviate the status of the Dalits.

The Prevention of Atrocities Act

The Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA) is a tacit acknowledgement by the Indian government that caste relations are defined by violence, both incidental and systemic.[77] In 1989, the Government of India passed the Prevention of Atrocities Act (POA), which clarified specific crimes against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (the Dalits) as “atrocities,” and created strategies and punishments to counter these acts. The purpose of The Act was to curb and punish violence against Dalits. Firstly, it clarified what the atrocities were: both particular incidents of harm and humiliation, such as the forced consumption of noxious substances, and systemic violence still faced by many Dalits, especially in rural areas. Such systemic violence includes forced labour, denial of access to water and other public amenities, and sexual abuse of Dalit women. Secondly, the Act created Special Courts to try cases registered under the POA. Thirdly, the Act called on states with high levels of caste violence (said to be “atrocity-prone”) to appoint qualified officers to monitor and maintain law and order. The POA gave legal redress to Dalits, but only two states have created separate Special Courts in accordance with the law. In practice the Act has suffered from a near-complete failure in implementation. Policemen have displayed a consistent unwillingness to register offences under the act. This reluctance stems partially from ignorance and also from peer protection. According to a 1999 study, nearly a quarter of those government officials charged with enforcing the Act are unaware of its existence.[77][78]

Dalits and contemporary Indian politics

While the Indian Constitution has duly made special provisions for the social and economic uplift of the Dalits, comprising the so-called scheduled castes and tribes in order to enable them to achieve upward social mobility, these concessions are limited to only those Dalits who remain Hindu. There is a demand among the Dalits who have converted to other religions that the statutory benefits should be extended to them as well, to "overcome" and bring closure to historical injustices.[79]

Another major politically charged issue with the rise of Hindutva's (Hindu nationalism) role in Indian politics is that of religious conversion. This political movement alleges that conversions of Dalits are due not to any social or theological motivation but to allurements like education and jobs. Critics argue that the inverse is true due to laws banning conversion, and the limiting of social relief for these backward sections of Indian society being revoked for those who convert. Bangaru Laxman, a Dalit politician, was a prominent member of the Hindutva movement.

Another political issue is over the affirmative-action measures taken by the government towards the upliftment of Dalits through quotas in government jobs and university admissions. About 8% of the seats in the National and State Parliaments are reserved for Scheduled Caste and Tribe candidates, a measure sought by B. R. Ambedkar and other Dalit activists in order to ensure that Dalits would obtain a proportionate political voice.

Anti-Dalit prejudices exist in fringe groups, such as the extremist militia Ranvir Sena, largely run by upper-caste landlords in areas of the Indian state of Bihar. They oppose equal treatment of Dalits and have resorted to violent means to suppress the Dalits. The Ranvir Sena is considered a terrorist organisation by the government of India.[80]

In 1997, K. R. Narayanan was elected as the first Dalit President.

In 2007, Mayawati, a Dalit, was elected as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the most populous state in India. Some reports claimed her 2007 election victory was due to her ability to win support from Dalits and the Brahmins, the so-called upper most castes. However, surveys of voters on the eve of elections, indicated that caste loyalties were not necessarily the voters’ principal concern. Instead, inflation and other issues of social and economic development were the top priorities of the electorate regardless of caste.[81][82][83][84] Mayawati's success in winning broad support across castes has led to speculations of her as a potential future Prime Minister of India.[85]

Some Dalits have been successful in business and politics of modern India. Indian law and constitution does not discriminate against Dalits.[86][87] Despite anti-discrimination laws, many Dalits still suffer from social stigma and discrimination. Ethnic tensions and caste-related violence between Dalit and non-Dalits have been witnessed. The cause of such tensions is claimed to be from economically rising Dalits and continued prejudices against Dalits. Dalits suffer discrimination in education, jobs and health care.[88][89] A 2006 article in BBC News reported incidences of violence, disputes and claims of discrimination against the Dalits in Maharashtra. The article also noted that families belonging to non-Dalit castes living in the same village claim they do not treat Dalits differently. The interview quoted a carpenter caste person saying "We tell them anything and they tell us you are pointing fingers at us because of our caste; we all live together, and there are bound to be fights, but they think we target them."[90]

Kevin Reilly and others note that Dalits as well as tribal people have benefitted from broad and mandatory job reservations, school admission quotas, and affirmative action programmes since 1947. Dalits also have reserved seats in India's parliament and state assemblies and are enjoying greater political power.[86]

Dalits and international comparative sociology

William Darity and Jessica Nembhard have compared the economic disparities between Dalits and other castes in India, to economic disparities between ethnic/race/caste groups observed in other nations such as Australia, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Malaysia and South Africa. They claim their comparative inquiry across diverse countries refute several conventional wisdoms about intergroup disparity. They note that India has lower level of intergroup inequality than many other nations; however, given India's general poverty and lower gross per capita income, the average quality of life for Dalits and non-Dalits is lower than other countries.[91]

Dalits in the United Kingdom

After the second world war substantial immigration took place from nations and countries of the former British Empire largely including the Indian Subcontinent,[92] which now consists of modern day Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. These immigrations were largely driven by post World War II labour shortages. Among the South Asian immigrants were Dalits, and like the rest of the Sub continent diaspora, they settled and established their own communities.

The report conducted by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance in collaboration with the University of Hertfordshire, the University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University, and reported by The Guardian alleges that caste discrimination is "rife" in the United Kingdom.[93] The report claims that this conclusion was reached via surveys and focus groups.[93][94] The report also alleges that casteism persists in the workplace and within the National Health Service[95] and even at the doctors surgery.[93]

British Indians are, however, divided on the issue of the prevalence of caste discrimination in Britain,[96] and discrimination claims are disputed by the Hindu Council of the UK [95] who assert that the issue was being "manipulated" by Christians and other anti-Indian activists eager to convert Hindus from their faith.[97]

Hindu groups assert that caste issues will be resolved in a generation and that it is dying out[98] and that there is a trend in inter-caste marriages that should resolve the issue.[98] Some believe that caste discrimination is non-existent.[99] Some have stated that the government does not have the right to interfere in the community's internal affairs.[94] The Hindu Forum of Britain conducted their own research and concluded that caste discrimination was “not endemic in British society”, and that these reports aim to increase discrimination by legislating social interactions and personal choices that are expressions of people's freedom, and any barriers should be removed through education and awareness, not through legislation.[94]

Two reports were conducted on the matter. The first report was conducted by the Anti-Caste Discrimination Alliance in collaboration with academics from the universities of Hertfordshire and Manchester and the Manchester Metropolitan University.[94] The second report was conducted by the government organisation NIESR the National Institute for Economic and Social Research.

The first report conducted by the ACDA and reported by The Guardian and The Telegraph[100] found that the Caste system is wide spread[93] and affects tens of thousands of people[93] at work,[93][100] at schools[93][100] within the National Health Service[95] and even at the doctors surgery.[93] A second report was conducted and authorised by the government through NIESR, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research. The study has found evidence that caste discrimination and harassment is likely to occur in Britain. Evidence has been found in respect of work and the provision of services.[98] Whilst not ruling out the possibility of caste discrimination in education, no incidents enabling a conclusion that caste discrimination was likely to occur in education were found.[98] The report found favourable aspects for anti legislation groups in using educational methods instead of legislation.[98] However, non-legislative approaches were ruled less likely to be effective in the private sector and would not assist those where the authorities themselves were discriminating.[98] One of the criticisms of discrimination law in caste discrimination cases would be the difficulty there would be in proving caste discrimination and harassment.[98] Legislation not only provides structures for redress but also leads to much greater understanding of the issues and reduces the acceptability of such discrimination and harassment.[98]

In addition, more recent studies by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research on alleged caste discrimination in Britain admit to being largely inconclusive, and that any caste discrimination was "not religion specific and is subscribed to by members of any or no religion".[101] Equalities Minister Helen Grant has expressed concern that there is insufficient evidence of caste-based discrimination in Britain to require specific legislation, and Shadow Equalities minister Kate Green has also said that the impact is on a relatively small number of people.[101] Religious studies professor Gavin Flood of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies concludes that the Hindu community in Britain is particularly well integrated, and that necessitates the loosening of caste ties.[102] Also, casteist beliefs are prevalent mainly among first generation immigrants, with such prejudices declining with each successive generation due to greater assimilation.[101]

Currently the amendment is still under consideration and a verdict for the caste discrimination clause section 9 (5)a has not yet been delivered. Opinions are being sought from both Hindu and Sikh groups in the UK who are both for and against anti caste discrimination legislation.[103]

Two British politicians have supported anti-caste legislation Lord Avebury[103][103] and Lady Thornton.[103]

The Sikh diaspora in the United Kingdom

Although caste is presented as a Hindu concept, caste has and continues to influence Sikhs, Muslims and Christians. Caste divisions exist among Sikhs, Muslims and Christians whose families came from the sub-continent, as well as Hindus.[95] The Sikh diaspora in the United kingdom is highly affected by caste, with Sikh gurdwaras being built along caste lines. The Ramgarhia Sikh gurdwaras are an example of caste-based gurdwaras in Britain. Caste-based gurdwaras exist all over Britain and most gurdwaras in Britain are controlled by members of a single caste[104] Caste remains a vitally important factor in Sikh religious organisations[105] Caste factors are so acute that Sikhs of different caste are not able to share one gurdwara.[105] In most British towns and cities with a significant Sikh population, rival gurdwaras can be found with caste specific management committees.[105] The Sikh diaspora has maintained the same social structure of caste as in their homeland of Punjab.[104] The caste system and Caste identity is very entrenched and reinforced among Sikhs in Britain.[106] The main divisions among Sikhs in the United Kingdom are the Jatt Sikhs, Ramgarhia Sikhs and the Dalit diaspora among the Sikhs being the Mazhabi Sikhs and Ramdassi Sikhs. The Dalit Sikh diaspora have largely been segregated into Valmiki and ravidassia temples.

As Sikh Dalits worship in segregated temples they have formed umbrella groups consisting of a network of lower caste temples throughout the UK.[108] Caste tensions erupt between higher caste Jatt Sikhs and lower caste Sikhs.[108] Physical violence is also known to erupt between the two communities when an inter caste marriage takes place between the two communities.[108] In the city of Wolverhampton incidents of Jatt Sikhs refusing to share water taps and avoidance of making any physical contact with lower castes has been reported.[108] At a sports competition in Birmingham in 1999, Jatt Sikhs refused to eat food that had been cooked and prepared by the Chamar community.[108]

Many upper-caste Sikhs hardly ever refer to Chamar places of worship with respectable terms.[109] Many simply refer to them as the "Chamar Gurdwara".[109] The majority of higher caste Sikhs would not eat in a Ravidassi house or in the Ravidassi temples[109] Many Chamars have stated that they are made to feel unwelcome in Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples[109] it has also been found that many Sikhs do not wish to give Chamars equal status among their own gurdwaras and communities.[109] Consequently this has resulted in the Sikh Chamars (Ramdassi Sikhs) uniting with fellow Chamars, not necessarily of the same Sikh religion. Together they moved off and formed the Ravidassi Temples.

Like the Chamars, the Mazhabi Sikhs too were subjected to the same forms of inequality and discrimination in gurdwaras from Upper caste Sikhs; and The Mazhabi Sikhs unified with the Hindu Churas and formed the Valmiki Temples that exist around Britain.

The caste social structure and segregation among Sikhs in Britain can also be seen beyond and outside gurdwaras. A pub in Bedford, a town in the east of England is known as "The Chamar pub" due to perceptions about its clientele.[110] The former mayor of Coventry, a person of Dalit origin, felt it necessary to shift his campaign from a mostly Indian ward to a non-South Asian constituency in order to get elected to that post.[110]

Social segregation and caste boundaries are well defined and maintained among British Sikhs through marriages. Inter-Caste marriages are highly frowned upon if not prohibited between Sikhs of different castes especially with Dalit Sikhs, and are very rare. There was great opposition and fury when a Ramgarhia groom desired to marry a Jatt Sikh bride.[111] The bride's kin even threatened to kill the Ramgarhia groom.[111] Despite the Jatt Sikhs and Ramgarhia Sikhs, both traditionally considered "Upper caste Sikhs" in Britain; fierce opposition occurred as the Jatt Sikhs viewed themselves to be superior in caste rank, in the traditional Sikh caste Hierarchy.[111] Sikh marriages in Britain are highly caste endogenous and this forms a basic requirement among Sikh marriages.[111] The social segregation of Sikh Dalits is well maintained through clear prohibition and discouragement of Inter-caste marriages with them.

Sikh gurdwaras in Britain generally do not accept inter-caste marriages.[112] A tiny minority of Sikh gurdwaras may perform marriage ceremonies for inter-caste marriages but generally they are grudgingly accepted and solemnised in some gurdwaras, however they are not welcomed outright.[112] Gurdwaras may place hurdles in the way of solemnising such marriages, for example, insisting on the presence of the words Singh and Kaur in the names of the bridegroom and bride, or deny such couples open access to gurdwara-based religious services and community centres associated with gurdwaras.[112]

Theoretically the position of Sikhism is that it is an inclusive, casteless, classless and egalitarian faith which implies an acceptance of inter-caste marriages.[112] However in practice this is not the case. Caste should have no place in Sikh marriages but in practice it is influential.[113]

Dalit literature

Main article: Dalit literature

Dalit literature forms an important and distinct part of Indian literature.[114][115] One of the first Dalit writers was Madara Chennaiah, an 11th-century cobbler-saint who lived in the reign of Western Chalukyas and who is also regarded by some scholars as the "father of Vachana poetry". Another early Dalit poet is Dohara Kakkaiah, a Dalit by birth, six of whose confessional poems survive.[116]

Modern Dalit literature

In the modern era, Dalit literature was energised by the advent of leaders like Mahatma Phule and Dr. Ambedkar in Maharashtra, who focused on the issues of Dalits through their works and writings; this started a new trend in Dalit writing, and inspired many Dalits to come forth with writings in Marathi, Hindi, Tamil and Punjabi.[117]

By the 1960s, Dalit literature saw a fresh crop of new writers like Baburao Bagul, Bandhu Madhav[118] and Shankar Rao Kharat, though its formal form came into being with the Little magazine movement.[119] In Sri Lanka, Dalit writers like K.Daniel[120] and Dominic Jeeva gained mainstream popularity in the late 1960.

See also


Further reading

External links

  • Dalits in India
  • Dalits in Nepal
  • Dalits in Pakistan
  • Dalits in Bangladesh
  • Dalits in Sri Lanka
  • Dalits in Japan
  • Dalits in Yemen
  • Dalits in Africa
  • Dalits in the UK
  • Dalits in diaspora communities

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