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    "For the ills which the Untouchables are suffering, if they are not as much advertised as those of the Jews, and are not less real. Nor arc the means and the methods of suppression used by the Hindus against the Untouchables less effective because they are less bloody than the ways   which the Nazis have adopted against the Jews. The Anti-Semitism of the Nazis against the Jews is no way different in ideology and in effect from the Sanatanism of the Hindus against the Untouchables.The world owes a duty to the Untouchables as it does to all suppressed people to break their shackles and set them free."

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in a preface to his book, "Gandhi and the Emancipation of Untouchables" - 1st September 1943   

Who are Dalits?

Caste system 
One of the more confusing mysteries of India is her caste system. The caste system, which exists already for more than 3000 years, seems to have been developed by the Brahmins (priests) in order to maintain their superiority. Eventually, the caste system became formalised into 4 distinct classes (Varnas).

At the top are the Brahmins, the priests and arbiters of what is right and wrong in matters of religion and society. Next come the Kshatriyas, who are soldiers and administrators. The Vaisyas are the artisan and commercial class, and finally, the Sudras are the farmers and the peasant class. These four castes are said to have come from Brahma's mouth (Brahmin), arms (Kshatriyas), thighs (Vaisyas) and feet (Sudras). 

Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Scheduled Caste. They literally have no caste. They are the untouchables, the Dalits, which means oppressed, downtrodden and exploited social group. 

The Dalits 
A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society, but something, which is beyond that. The Dalits perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Sometimes Dalits perform important jobs, but this is mostly not socially recognised. Dalits are seen as polluting for higher caste people. If a higher caste Hindu is touched by an untouchable or even had a Dalit's shadow across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed.

In India there are approximately 240 million Dalits. This means that nearly 25% of the population is Dalit. It also means that in a country, where everybody is supposed to have equal rights and opportunities, 1 out of 5 persons is condemned to be untouchable. 

In general one can say that being a Brahmin means that you are more privileged. This can imply having a good education and, accordingly, a more powerful position in the society. Being born as a Dalit you will be less off and because of less education you will have a less good job. In daily life it has a lot of consequences of being a Dalit

Dalits are poor, deprived and socially backward. Poor means that they do not have access to enough food, health care, housing and/or clothing (which means that their physiological and safety needs are not fulfilled). They also do not have access to education and employment. With deprived we would like to underline the injustice they face in every days life. Officially, everybody in India has the same rights and duties, but the practice is different. Social backwardness, lack of access to food, education and health care keeps them in bondage of the upper castes. 

Nevertheless, in the recent past the Dalit society has also thrown up powerful leaders, like Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. He was on of the most powerful personalities to stand for the rights of Dalits.

Sources used:
Finlay, Hugh et al, India, Lonely Planet travel survival kit, January 1996, page 48-50 
Kotler, Philip and Gary Armstrong,Principles of Marketing, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, , New Delhi, 1997, page 156.

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Last updated: February 22, 2000.