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Dalits - "Untouchables"

In India where hinduism is he most practised religion, the value of every individual is being determined by his or her caste. In addition to the members of the four main castes (with their hundreds of sub-castes), there are the dalits: the "caste-less". Their number is estimated to be about 160 million, about 16% of the total population.

Since independence of the country 60 years ago, the dalits have, by law, the same rights as members of any other group or caste. Nevertheless, still at present, they are being discriminated every day in every thinkable way: They are allowed to do the dirtiest jobs only, their wages are extremely low, they are not admitted to Hindu temples, in many places they are not allowed to take water from wells used by higher caste hindus, even if the next well is many kilometres away.  

Aggressions against dalits by caste hindus, even murder, are being penalised in a legally very unsatisfactory manner. Special protection measures and promotion programmes by the government have not led to a decisive break-through in the fight against the traditional caste system so deeply rooted in the society. On the contrary, Christian dalits are even excluded from every public support.

Mahatma Gandhi had the intention to endow the untouchables with human dignity as well as their recognition by the society. He called them "harijans", i.e. "children of god". The dalits themselves, however, consider this name to be an embellishment of their real circumstances of life and they call themselves "dalits", i.e. "the broken", "the crushed". The movement of solidarity with the dalits is growing on the national and the international levels. This movement is fighting for public recognition of the many millions of "untouchables".




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