Who are the Dalits?

The “untouchables.”

The Dalits, also known as the “untouchables” and “outcastes,” make up nearly one quarter of India’s 1.2 billion society, with population estimates of 250 million people. The Dalits are history’s longest standing oppressed people group.

By all research and reports, the Dalits also constitute the largest number of people categorized as victims of human trafficking and human enslavement in any single nation on earth. On November 15, 2008, in New Delhi, at a UN Delivery of Justice Colloquium, the Honorable Dr. Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court of India stated that “there was no bigger problem in India today than human trafficking. In May 2009, India’s Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, remarked that by his estimates “at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.”

The term “Dalit” means “those who have been broken and ground down by those above them in the social hierarchy in a deliberate and active way.” Because of traditional social structures in India, the Dalits are at risk of discrimination, dehumanization, degradation, and violence every day.

On December 27, 2006, Prime Minister Singh became the first leader of his nation to compare the condition of Dalits with that of black South Africans under apartheid: “Even after 60 years of constitutional and legal protection and support, there is still social discrimination against Dalits in many parts of our country. Dalits have faced a unique discrimination in our society that is fundamentally different from the problems of minority groups in general. The only parallel to the practice of untouchability was apartheid.” Dr. Singh continued that it was “modern India’s failure that millions of Dalits were still fighting prejudice.”

That apartheid is still in evidence today. In 70% of India’s villages, for example, non-Dalits will not eat or drink with Dalits. Traditionally, when Dalits enter a tea shop and request a cup of tea, they are served in a clay cup rather than a glass or metal cup that others receive. After drinking their tea, they are expected to crush the cup on the ground so that no other person risks being polluted by the cup the Dalit touched.

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