Dalits comprise a staggering 25% of the total 1.2 billion population of India. These 250 million people are the “outcastes” of Indian society – the “untouchables” – those called the “unborn,” as it would have been better for them had they never been born.
The Dalits are among the poorest of the world’s poor; they are stripped of their basic humanity, denied their civil rights, and entrenched in a hierarchalsystem that denies them equality and opportunity in their society.
Seventy percent of Dalits live below the poverty line.
On November 4, 2001, thousands of Dalits traveled to New Delhi from all over India to renounce the oppressive system under which they have been living. Even though the government tried to block the ceremony, these Dalits, representing others from all of India, declared they were leaving Hinduism for religions that allowed them freedom and gave them equality. Since then, Dalits have regularly been identifying themselves with other faiths.
The Dalits are crying out for holistic reformation: ending the discrimination against them will require entire villages being transformed from the inside out. While many movements have come and gone in India, none have significantly altered the social structure of Indian villages. None have truly freed the Dalit.
The Dalit Freedom Network began in 2002 to respond to the cries of Dalits for help in their quest for freedom from caste slavery. DFN has wholly embraced the idea of village transformation. Our goal is to see 1,000 villages in India holistically transformed over the next decade.
The first step in village transformation is education. Since the majority of Dalits are illiterate and most are unable to attend school because of discrimination or financial problems, few Dalit children have a hope for a better life. Dalits need English-curriculum primary schools. The Dalit Freedom Network has committed itself to building Dalit Education Centers in Dalit villages so Dalit children have hope for the future.
To succeed with their education and to find this hope, Dalit children need to be physically and socially protected. First, Dalit children need basic medical care, which DFN is establishing through local village healthcare workers and regional healthcare centers. Next, Dalit parents need economic opportunities in order to provide for their family. DFN offer these opportunities through micro-loans, economic education, and Self-Help Groups. Last, Dalit need protection from physical persecution. The Dalit Freedom Network is the only organization wholly devoted to the protection of Dalit human rights. With a presence in Washington, DC, London, and throughout India, DFN and DFN’s partners are active advocates for the rights of Dalit men, women, and children across India.
A central office in Washington D.C acts as the hub to connect people and finances to the areas of need in India. DFN works primarily with Operation Mercy India Foundation to decide the best place to utilize these resources.
It has been years since a movement with this much potential for significant change has occurred. Please consider how you could be involved with this dynamic network.
Punjabi Dalit Women, October 2005