Subscribe      Donate   

Who Are Dalits : Caste System, Caste Discrimination, Dalit Statistics, Dalit Atrocities, Minority Dalits

The Dalit Of India

Who Are Dalits : Caste System, Caste Discrimination, Dalit Statistics, Dalit Atrocities, Minority Dalits


Who Are the Dalits?

Dalits, also known as "Untouchables," are members of the lowest social group in the Hindu caste system. The word "Dalit," meaning "oppressed" or "broken," is the name members of this group gave themselves in the 1930s. A Dalit actually is born below the caste system, which includes four primary castes: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriya (warriors and princes), Vaishya (farmers and artisans), and Shudra (tenant farmers and servants).

Caste And untouchability

A central feature of caste discrimination is the so-called “untouchability practices”. It stems from the notion that different caste groups have varying degrees of purity and pollution, with Dalits and other caste-affected groups being so impure that they can pollute other groups.

Paradoxically, sexual abuse and rape against Dalit women is not considered polluting to men from dominant castes.

If Dalits and other caste-affected groups challenge the untouchability practices, they often face violent sanctions and social boycott. Massive violations of human rights occur in relation to untouchability practices and other forms of caste-based discrimination.

Common untouchability practices:

  1. Segregation in housing, schools and cremation grounds
  2. De facto prohibition of inter-caste marriage
  3. Limitation or prohibition of access to public places such as roads, temples and tea houses
  4. Denial or limitation of access to public services such as water taps, health care and education
  5. Restrictions on occupation; assignment of the most menial, dirty and dangerous jobs as defined by the caste hierarchy
  6. De facto prohibition of access to ownership of land
The effect of untouchability practices and indeed the sexual abuse of “untouchable” women is that Dalits and other “untouchable” groups are kept powerless, separate and unequal.

Caste And Human Rights

The hierarchical division of a society placing inherent priviledges and restrictions by birth run contrary to the belief that “all human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights” as stated in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Caste discrimination involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste-affected communities are denied a life in dignity and equality.

According to a comprehensive UN study on discrimination based on work and descent, a number of human rights violations occur in relation to caste discrimination:
  1. The right to physical security and life and the right to be free from violence
  2. The right to equal political participation
  3. The right to fair access to justice
  4. The right to own land
  5. The right to equal access to public and social services
  6. The right to freedom of religion
  7. The right to marriage on free will
  8. The right to education
  9. The right to cultural identity
  10. The right to equal opportunity and free choice of employment
  11. The right to equal, just and favorable conditions of work
  12. The right to be free from forced or bonded labour
  13. The right to be free from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment
  14. The right to health
  15. The right to adequate food, water, sanitation, clothing and housing
Impunity for the perpetrators of crimes against caste-affected groups and non-implementation of legislation permeates the justice and law enforcement systems. Dalit cases are often not reported, investigated or prosecuted properly. Policemen, lawyers and judges often belong to dominant castes and they are unwilling to investigate, prosecute and hear cases of crimes against Dalits. Very few cases of crimes against Dalits lead to conviction.

The United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommends with specific reference to caste-affected communities that all states “take the necessary steps to ensure equal access to the justice system for all members of descent-based communities as well as ensure the prosecution of persons who commit crimes against members of descent-based communities and the provision of adequate compensation for the victims of such crimes.”

India's Untouchables

Like the "Eta" outcasts in Japan, India's Untouchables performed spiritually contaminating work that nobody else wanted to do, such as preparing bodies for funerals, tanning hides, and killing rats or other pests. Doing anything with dead cattle or cowhides was particularly unclean in Hinduism. Under both Hindu and Buddhist beliefs, jobs that involved death corrupted the workers' souls, making them unfit to mingle with other people. A group of drummers who arose in southern India called the Parayan were considered untouchable because their drumheads were made of cowhide.

Even people who had no choice in the matter (those born of parents who were both Dalits) were not allowed to be touched by those of higher classes nor ascend the ranks of society. Because of their uncleanliness in the eyes of Hindu and Buddhist gods, they were banned from many places and activities, as ordained by their past lives.

An Untouchable couldn't enter a Hindu temple or be taught to read. They were banned from drawing water from village wells because their touch would taint the water for everyone else. They had to live outside village boundaries and could not walk through the neighborhoods of higher caste members. If a Brahmin or Kshatriya approached, an Untouchable was expected to throw himself or herself face down on the ground, to prevent even their unclean shadows from touching the higher caste.

Why They Were 'Untouchable'

Indians believed that people were born as Untouchables as punishment for misbehavior in previous lives. An Untouchable could not ascend to a higher caste within that lifetime; Untouchables had to marry fellow Untouchables and could not eat in the same room or drink from the same well as a caste member. In Hindu reincarnation theories, however, those who scrupulously followed these restrictions could be rewarded for their behavior by a promotion to a higher caste in their next life.

The caste system and the oppression of Untouchables still hold some sway in Hindu populations. Even some non-Hindu social groups observe caste separation in Hindu countries.

Where do Dalits live in India?

Four states account for nearly half of the country’s dalit population, reveals the 2011 census. Uttar Pradesh stands first with 20.5% of the total scheduled caste (SC) population, followed by West Bengal with 10.7%, says the data released by the Union census directorate on 2011. Bihar with 8.2% and Tamil Nadu with 7.2 % come third and fourth. Dalits form around 16.6% of India’s population.

The 2011 census recorded nearly 20.14 crore people belonging to various scheduled castes in the country. As per the 2001 census, the number was 16.66 crore. The dalit population showed a decadal growth of 20.8%, whereas India’s population grew 17.7% during the same period. “Though there is an increase in the population of dalits in the country, many states with a considerable number of dalits don’t have any legislation to protect the interests of the community. Dalit empowerment is very poor in many states,”

Caste Discrimination 


Caste discrimination affects an estimated 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority living in South Asia. It involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Those at the bottom are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups.

They are known to be ‘untouchable’ and subjected to so-called ‘untouchability practices’ in both public and private spheres. ‘Untouchables’ – known in South Asia as Dalits – are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, and many are subjected to forced and bonded labour. Due to exclusion practiced by both state and non-state actors, they have limited access to resources, services and development, keeping most Dalits in severe poverty.

They are often de facto excluded from decision making and meaningful participation in public and civil life. Lack of special legislation banning caste discrimination or lack of implementation of legislation, due to dysfunctional systems of justice and caste-bias, have largely left Dalits without protection. Despite policy development and new legislation in some countries, fundamental challenges still remain in all caste-affected countries.

The progress that has been made is, to a large extent, a consequence of the tireless work of Dalit civil society groups in South Asia. They have also – through IDSN and by other means – managed to place caste discrimination firmly on the international human rights agenda. UN bodies and EU institutions are paying increasing attention to this issue.

The division of a society into castes is a global phenomenon not exclusively practised within any particular religion or belief system. In South Asia, caste discrimination is traditionally rooted in the Hindu caste system, according to which Dalits are considered ‘outcasts’. However, caste systems and the ensuing discrimination have spread into Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities. They are also found in Africa, other parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and in Diaspora communities.

Caste Discrimination in India

Although the Dalits have been included by the caste fraternity into Hinduism from the time the electoral system was introduced in India, the fact that it makes no difference socially is self-evident.

Dalits are almost entirely kept out of the social community of the caste Hindus, though there is a miniscule degree of openness among the Sudra hindus.

Whatever interaction takes place caste Hindus and Dalits is largely out of necessity, as in the requirement of Dalits to perform caste assigned jobs such as cleaning drains, sewers and toilets.

Very,very rarely are Dalits invited for any of the social activities that take place in caste Hindu communities.

Such segregation and social discrimination of dalits in India is far more serious in the rural areas where the practise of caste is stronger, with Dalits being secluded even in their living quarters.

Even in the urban areas, though Dalits do live in caste-Hindu localities, their houses are secluded and located usually in poor infrastructure and facility areas, amidst garbage and other waste, away from the main towns and cities. They are usually found living in Dalit 'ghettos'.

However, due to the prevalence of strict laws, the Dalits have free access to all public facilties and publica places.

Perhaps the only time the Dalits have any active social interaction with caste Hindus is during elections when politicians and their foot soldiers of all castes mix with them, to woo them for their votes. Once the elections are over, the social interaction almost entirely ceases.

In recent years, many senior and prominent politicians have taken to the practice of going and spending a day or two in Dalit untouchables homes in rural areas to connect with their plight and also to break-down caste barriers.

However, this has not spilt over to mainline society, which largely keeps away from the Dalits except in circumstances mentioned in this write-up

Caste System 

Caste systems are a form of social and economic governance that is based on principles and customary rules:

  1. Caste systems involve the division of people into social groups (castes) where assignments of rights are determined by birth, are fixed and hereditary.
  2. The assignment of basic rights among various castes is unequal and hierarchical, with those at the top enjoying most rights coupled with least duties and those at the bottom performing most duties coupled with no rights.
  3. The system is maintained through the rigid enforcement of social ostracism (a system of social and economic penalties) in case of any deviations.
  4. The doctrine of inequality is at the core of the caste system.

Those who fall outside the caste system are considered “lesser human beings”, “impure” and thus “polluting” to other caste groups. They are known to be “untouchable” and subjected to so-called “untouchability practices” in both public and private spheres.

“Untouchables” are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, such as cleaning human waste. The work they do adds to the stigmatisation they face from the surrounding society.

The exclusion of ‘caste-affected communities’ by other groups in society and the inherent structural inequality in these social relationships lead to high levels of poverty among affected population groups and exclusion from, or reduced benefits from development processes, and generally precludes their involvement in decision making and meaningful participation in public and civil life.

The division of a society into castes is a global phenomenon not exclusively practised within any particular religion or belief system.

In South Asia, caste discrimination is traditionally rooted in the Hindu caste system. Supported by philosophical elements, the caste system constructs the moral, social and legal foundations of Hindu society. Dalits are ‘outcastes’ or people who fall outside the four-fold caste system consisting of the Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya and Sudra. Dalits are also referred to as Panchamas or people of the fifth order. However caste systems and the ensuing caste discrimination have spread into Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities.

Caste systems are also found in Africa, other parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and in Diaspora communities around the world. In Japan association is made with Shinto beliefs concerning purity and impurity, and in marginalized African groups the justification is based on myths.

Caste discrimination affects approximately 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority living in South Asia.

Caste discrimination involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It is often outlawed in countries affected by it, but a lack of implementation of legislation and caste-bias within the justice systems largely leave Dalits without protection.

Caste System In India

Caste System In India

       Caste System In India


The Caste System in India is a word for India's ancient social structure in which Indian society is divided into five heirarchical segments based on birth.

In India it is traditionally known as the 'Four Varna System'. 'Caste System' is the anglicized name for India's social order.

History has it that the use of the word 'Caste system' started with the Portugese who came to India and were witness to a social system they could not understand.

They, therefore ended up calling it as 'Casta' meaning undefinable. Caste is the anglicized form of 'Casta.'

The caste system was introduced in ancient India by Aryan invaders who verticialized the existing Indian horizontal social structure on the basis of what they presented as the divine order emanating from the Hindu God 'Brahma.'

In the caste system you have five segments namely Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Sudra. The fifth segment consists of what is known as 'the Untouchables' or 'outcastes' i.e they do not belong to the normal society but are outside of it, having no legitimate place as humans. This fifth segments is also now commonly known as Dalits.

According to the tenets of the caste system as laid out in various 'Smriti' (tradition or law) the Brahmin sits on the top of the caste system because he originates from the head of 'Brahma' according to caste laws.


The Brahamins are the priestly class and are traditionaly and historically known to reap the cream of all efforts of the castes below them. They are also the ones who had the prime privelege of learning and knowledge in all its manifestations through 3500 years - that's when the caste system started as is generally concurred by scholars.

Historical data has it that the Brahmins were not always at the top, but it was the 'Kshatriyas' who were. However, the Kshatriyas were edged out of the top position by the Brahmins by instituing various religious laws and todate, they continue to be at the top of India's social structure.

Below the Brahmins are the Kshatriyas, originating from the chest of Brahma and they have traditionaly been the princely or ruling class.

Next come the 'Vasihyas' or the trader/business class. This caste has traditionally controlled all the business and related occupations in India and even today most of the businesses in India are run by this class.

These three castes together control most of the wealth and power in India and hold affluent positions and jobs in society.

The fourth strata are the Sudras. The sudras have only one job and that is to serve the three castes above them.

The sudras are essentially the product of metisation (cross-breeding) between the Aryan rulers and the locals) and it is argued that it was their mixed blood that has earned them a place in the established four-caste system, albeit a very low one.

Then come those who are outcastes.i.e. they do not belong to the Indian established social structure and are known as Dalits.

Historically, the Dalits are none other but the original inhabitants of the Indian sub-continent subjugated by the Aryans conquerors.

The reasons for making these original inhabitans of India into outcastes are various and described at length in the eBook 'Truth About Dalits.'

It is the outcastes, the Dalits who along with the Sudras (to a lesser degree) face the brunt of the excesses of the caste system including discrimination, violence and seclusion from mainline society.

What is Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes? And who are Harijans?



Scheduled Castes is the official term found in the Constitution of India and Pakistan for those who fall outside the caste system. “Scheduled tribes” is the official Indian constitutional term for the indigenous tribes of India. More popularly known as “Adivasi”, they often suffer from poverty and discrimination, but they do not suffer under untouchability practices.
The “Harijans” is the term used by Mahatma Gandi for “untouchables”. It means “children of God – Hari”. The word is also related to the word “hari” which in Pakistan is used for the Dalit community of mud hut builders. “Harijans” is largely perceived as patronizing and is no longer used as the term is widely objected and challenged by most Dalits.

Dalit Atrocities In India


One would expect that because they have surrepititiously been included in the Hindu (Brahminical) social and religious order in India, the Dalits would be spared the violence that was perpetrated against them while they were outside the Hindu fold.

However, the contrary is true and the reason for it is that they were included into Hinduism only to serve the numbers game in the electoral process. Period.

So called 'Hindu' Dalits continue to face murder, rape, beating, tonsuring and every other conceivable form of violence, including social ostracism.

The violence is usually sparked off when a Dalit challenges the established caste laws and social order.

At other times, the violence is unleashed just in order to keep them suppressed and for this purpose even the slightest provocation results in utterly disproprotionate violence including burning of homes and entire Dalit localities and villages.

According to the National Bureau Of Crime Records, annually over 200,000 incidents of violence against the Dalits are reported in the country and this is only the tip of the iceberg because most such incidents go unreported.

Further, when such violence occurs, redressal of the incidents by the concerned authorities is almost negligible.

Ironically, among the non-casteist faiths, Sikh Dalits whose forefathers converted to Sikhism to escape caste since it propogates equality of all human beings, continue to face enormous violence of various kinds from upper caste convert sikhs.

A common occurence in the Sikh state of Punjab is social ostracism in the rural areas.

Such violence against Dalits also exist among the Muslim population int he country, which has a large section of Dalit Muslims.

The government has severe laws against all forms of discrimination against the Dalits, but on the ground it translates to very little.

Dalits In Minorty Religious Communities In India

The common feature in the minority communties in India - Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Buddhist, Jain - is that a majority of the population comprises of Dalit and Sudra converts.

The conversions of these segments of society to non-Hindu faiths primarily took place to escape the caste system as all these fatihs believe in the universal equality and brotherhood of man. 

The first minority community into which the Dalits converted to was Christianity, as early as the first century AD.

Thomas, one of Jesus twelve disciples brought Christianity to India, landing in the Malabar coast in modern day Kerala.

Historical records show that while Thomas entrusted discipleship functions to five Namboodri Brahmin familes because of their education and literacy levels, members of the Dalit and Sudra communities embraced the faith in larger numbers than the upper caste Hindus of the time.

The substantial growth of the Dalits and Sudra Christian population, however, took place during the colonial periods, with conversion taking place to Catholicism and Protestantism as well.

The second minority community into which the Dalits converted was the Muslim community.

Islam was brought into India first by traders, but it was only when Muslim invaders came to the country that conversion of Dalits and other Sudra communities to Islam took place in large numbers.

Some of them converted to escape the caste system while others converted to escape the taxes levied by Muslim rulers on non-Muslims.

Similarly, conversions to Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism took place later to escape caste as all these new faiths were a reaction against caste discrimination.

It also remains that a much smaller number of upper-castes who saw the egalitarian vaules fo these faiths too converted to them

Although the conversion has benefited the converts in many ways, they have not altogether escaped it because caste has also infected thess minority faiths because many of the converts brought caste into their new religious communities.

Who is Ambedkar and what does “Jai Bhim” mean?

Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar(1891-1956) from India was an Indian scholar, political leader and chief architect of the Indian Constitution. Born into an “untouchable” community, he spent his life fighting against the Indian caste system. He has embraced Buddhism as a protest to Hinduism and he is the icon of Dalits and his birthday 14 April is every year celebrated as Ambedkar Day.

“Jai Bhim” means victory to Ambedkar and is used as a greeting among followers of Ambedkar in the struggle against caste discrimination.


[ Get the Top Story that matters from The Ambedkarite Today on your inbox. Click this link and hit 'Click to Subscribe'. Follow us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter ]

Support Our Work!!

If you enjoyed this article, consider making a donation to help us produce more like it. The Ambedkarite Today was founded in 2018 to tell the stories of how government really works for—and how to make it work better. Help us tell more of the stories that matter from voices that too often remain unheard. As a nonprofit, we rely on support from readers like you.