casteprotest

Dalits, also known as untouchables or outcasts, suffer from some of the world’s worst discrimination. They are a caste subjected to violence, discrimination, and social exclusion on a daily basis. Their caste makes them the lowest of the low in caste affected countries[1]

India is home to millions of Dalits and I’ve often wondered whether their lives will ever improve. They have been suffering for hundreds of years and one would think that living in the 21st century would surely mean that these problems would have become extinct but unfortunately, this is not the case.

 Apart from India, other countries such as Nepal, Pakistan and Nigeria are also home to millions of Dalits. But the largest population of Dalits resides in India and although economic growth has been strong over the past decade, the caste disparities are increasing and the situation of Dalits in India merits special attention[2].

The word ‘Dalit’ comes from the Sanskrit word meaning ‘ground’, ‘suppressed’, ‘crushed’, or ‘broken to pieces’.  Historically, Dalit status has often been associated with occupations regarded as ritually impure, such as any involving butchering, removal of rubbish, removal of waste, and leatherwork. Dalits work as manual labourers, cleaning latrines and sewers, and clearing away rubbish. Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual, and this pollution was considered contagious. As a result, they were commonly segregated, and banned from full participation in social life. For example, they could not enter a temple or a school, and were required to stay outside their village[3]

Even though they still suffer severe discrimination, Dalit lives in India are improving in some ways. Globalisation – the process in which borders between nations and states become increasingly irrelevant as countries become increasingly interdependent – has had a positive impact on Dalit society. Globalisation is usually accompanied by a notion of global shrinkage – the world getting smaller, as incidents in one corner of the globe have ramifications in other distant parts of the globe. Globalisation can be seen as having political, economic, cultural and social dimensions, and technological change (in this case the arrival of social media) can be seen as a catalyst for Dalits to make changes to their lives. At first glance, it may seem that Dalit society is not affected by social media in the same way or to the same extent as western society. For example, due to their position in the caste system and lack of financial resources they do not generally have easy access to the internet, but there has been talk of a website and a mobile phone app being developed, which will allow them to report abuse.

Although ordinary Dalits may not have access to the internet, there will be Dalit women community leaders in as many villages as possible in order to enable them to access the website and app. Community leaders will be trained in advocacy by Minority Rights Group International[4], an international non-governmental organization (NGO) that supports minorities and indigenous people. This will be a revolutionary step for Dalits. Information would be used in an interactive way, allowing community members to comment on it and add any additional information they see fit. Furthermore, it would be used by community organisations in order to pressurise the Government to make justice accessible for Dalit women.

Recently, another positive step has been taken. It has been reported that Dalit Camera, a popular YouTube channel dedicated to India’s Dalits, has become a rallying point for the community. It is an attempt at a historical documentation of the realities of life in India “through the eyes of the untouchable”.  Recently, they released a series of videos where Dalit women or activists were seen discussing the reaction to the Delhi gang rape and its significance for lower-caste women[5].

In addition, some Dalit Women websites exist that are not run by Dalit women themselves, such as the Dalit women freedom network, a Canadian organisation. They set out to join hands with an international network of concerned individuals who are committed to freeing India’s oppressed Dalits. They perform numerous roles, encourage people to donate in order to help Dalits, and facilitate the acquisition of vocational training skills that will enable Dalit women to achieve economic independence[6]. This shows that political globalisation can have a beneficial effect on the plight of Dalit Women as people across the globe become aware of their suffering and make online donations in order to help.

One can argue that although these are positive changes and that it seems that Dalits’ lives in India are improving, one must still realise that their battle is far from over. Dalits suffer in terms of education, food shortages, lack of healthcare and access to agriculture and there is still a lot to achieve in order to better their lives. Ongoing research and a linked integral public education programme will be required to improve the lives of Dalits in India and aid their development.

 

 References:


[1] Prins, Harald, McBride, Bunny and Walrath, Dana. Cultural Anthropology: The human challenge. p279. 2010.

[2] International Humanist and Ethical Union: The world union of Humanist Organizations. 01.01.70.  The Dalit FAQ. Accessed 08/01/14. http://iheu.org/content/dalit-faq

[3] Andharia, Jahnvi with the Anandi collective. The Dalit Women’s Movement In India: Dalit Mahila Samiti. p1. 2008. Accessed 19/04/13.

[4] Knight Foundation. Knight News challenge. How might we improve the way citizens and Governments interact? Tracking access to justice for marginalised women in India. 13.03.13. accessed 21.04.13. https://www.newschallenge.org/open/open-government/submission/tracking-access-to-justice-for-marginalised-women-in-india/

[5] Mehta, Vanya. BBC News. YouTube channel becomes rallying point for India’s Dalits. 07/01/14. accessed 09/01/14. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-25502849

[6] Dalit Freedom network Canada. Freedom begins with a school. Accessed 21.04.13. http://www.dalitfreedom.net/about/about.aspx?page=1