The Dalit population face horrible discrimination because of their low social status. The women are doubly harassed because of their status and their gender. The word Dalit is Sanskrit for “oppressed” or “downtrodden”. It also translates into “the crushed people”. This is certainly reflective of the abuse that the Dalits receive. They are the “untouchables” and their social status dictates every aspect of their lives.
The Dalit population is viewed as the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy. The caste system assigns individuals to a certain hierarchical status according to Hindu beliefs. Traditionally there are four principal castes (with many sub-categories) but the Dalits fall outside of the caste system and are seen as lowly. Their lower rank allows for discrimination at every level, from access to education to restrictions on where they can live.Most Dalits live in extreme poverty and lack opportunities for better employment or education. They are usually leather workers, street sweepers, cobblers, agricultural workers, and manual “scavengers”. They are also responsible for digging village graves, disposing of dead animals, and cleaning human excreta. They are extremely restricted; they may not use the same wells, visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls as those in higher caste systems and they are also unable to lay claim to land that is legally theirs.
According to the 2011 census, the Dalits form about 16.6% of India’s population (approx 167 million people). Versions of the Dalit population exist outside of India as well, like with the Badi in Nepal. There is also a less rigid caste system in Pakistan and Sri Lanka (except in Tamil regions) that still however discriminates against the lower caste. The Swat region in northern Pakistan also practices extreme forms of humiliation against Dalits. Dalit women are especially discriminated against. Dalit women suffer from extreme violence, which include the following: verbal abuse, naked parading, dismemberment, being forced to drink urine and eat feces, branding, pulling out of teeth, tongue and nails, rape by men of higher castes, and sexual assault from other Dalit men. While there are some laws in place meant to protect Dalit women, the women are often unaware of these laws, and their ignorance is exploited as higher caste members take advantage of them. Even if the women are aware, it is unlikely that the police will fight for the rights of Dalit women. The police take part of the violence as well, either by ignoring it or joining in the violent acts against Dalits. The result is that most of the crimes are unreported due to fear, and when crimes are reported, they are usually ignored. Less than 1% of the perpetrators of crimes against Dalit women are ever convicted. This creates the message that no one in the higher castes will protect Dalit women. It is not uncommon for Dalit women to be punished for stepping outside of their caste. One woman drew water from an upper-caste well only to have her 11-year-old daughter beat up in punishment. Acts like these are meant to keep the Dalit population in their place, which is at the bottom. Dalit women even face discrimination in their own communities, and are subject to abuse from Dalit men.Dalit girls are especially vulnerable for they are the ones often forced into prostitution. They usually fall into the Devadasi system, which is a form of religiously sanctioned sexual abuse, or temple prostitution. Since there are few alternative career routes for Dalits, young girls are often forced into this profession. The Dalits are truly the “crushed people” as they suffer at the hands of those meant to protect them and those who were lucky enough to be born into a higher caste. Just for being born as a Dalit, they suffer from vicious abuse, and the women are especially vulnerable because of their gender. They are the ones needing the most protection, but instead they are abused by both higher caste members and the men in their own community.I always wonder How can we even imagine to have a free generation if we are quiet to the plight of such a big population of slave mothers and many who seem physically free from slavery but find themselves under the domain of mental slavery facing control issues by their male counterparts.
If you wish to help you can donate by going to World Women global Council writing in your subject line specifying your donation intent for this project of sponsoring the education of young girls so parents don’t sell them or they are more vulnerable to sexual exploitation.