Who Are The Dalits?
The Dalits are the most exploited people in the world and represent a people group in India formerly known as the “untouchables”. They are considered totally impure and unworthy to be considered a part of the caste system. The word “Dalit” means downtrodden, broken, or crushed.
Strictly speaking, they have been born outside the caste system and are considered soulless, outcast people with no connection to Brahma, the Hindu god who created the caste system from his body. One out of every four Indians is a Dalit.
They are considered so impure that their mere touch severely pollutes members of all other castes. According to Hindu belief, their sub-human position is the consequence of their karma and sinful behaviour in a previous life.
What Does Untouchability Mean?
Untouchability is a distinct Indian social institution. It legitimizes and enforces practices of discrimination against people born into particular castes, and legitimizes practices that are humiliating, exclusionary, and exploitive.
The Father of modern day Dalits, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar stated in the New York Times on November 29, 1930, “Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove this stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it.”
The institution of “untouchability” refers not just to the avoidance of physical contact but to a much broader set of social sanctions. Dalits have been deprived of all religious privileges such as temple worship, access to the Vedas (Scriptures), and the priesthood. They have also been denied participation in social ceremonies and festivals and denied access to public parks, services, and utilities, including water sources and wells.
The Dalits also have the least access to education and health care, and experience dehumanization at the hands of the “higher” castes.
In December 2006, the Prime Minister of India openly acknowledged the parallel between the practice of untouchability in India and Apartheid in South Africa. He described untouchability as “a blot on humanity.”
English Education – the Pathway to Dalit Empowerment
For Dalits, an English education is the only way forward. Without it they cannot qualify for the benefits and privileges of government reservation and affirmative-action programs. Without an English-based education Dalit students can never advance to higher-level English schools or gain entrance to a Central Government university. All the Central Government-run higher educational institutions use English as their medium of instruction. Central universities and medical schools also instruct in English and only admit students through English language examination papers.
The dilemma facing the Dalit school children is the result of the government’s policy of requiring all educational curricula taught in primary and public schools to be taught in the regional languages. This makes it virtually impossible for Dalit children to advance in English education.
Dalits also need an English-based education so they can compete in a global economy. In the new Indian economy, globalization and information technology are communicated in English. Dalit leaders believe that knowledge creates all other avenues of freedom and that education is the primary key to any advancement the Dalits hope to have in this world. This is why Dalit Freedom Network Canada and partners in the USA, United Kingdom, and several other countries are committed to establishing English education centers for Dalit children in India.
Dalits See Religious Exodus as the Ultimate Solution
In 1956, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the Moses of the Dalits, spearheaded the first major socio-spiritual movement of the Dalits. He concluded that if Hinduism was not able to reform itself and annihilate the caste system, then conversion was the ultimate solution for the Dalits.
Ambedkar championed religious freedom for the Dalits, thereby leading hundreds of thousands of Dalits into Buddhism. As a result of his courageous stand, Dalits have been embracing other faiths in various individual states of India. This ongoing exodus from Hinduism is because the Dalits continue to endure centuries-long oppression, struggling for human rights, equality, personal dignity, and spiritual freedom.
Now, more than sixty years later, these same spiritual aspirations have ignited a renewed “Freedom Movement” that has mobilized Dalits from every part of the country. On November 4, 2001, Ram Raj, chairman of All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Tribes, gave a national call to “quit Hinduism.”
Hundreds of thousands of Dalits throughout India responded and converged on the Capital in spite of government opposition and intervention. By mid-morning over 100,000 Dalits had gained access to New Delhi and were ready to begin the historic ceremony of conversion to Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.
One Dalit leader expressed the sentiments of them all when he quoted Dr. Ambedkar’s famous words: “I was born a Hindu, but I will not die a Hindu.”
State Governments Enact Anti-Conversion Laws
In view of the historic developments among the Dalits, it is not surprising that a number of State Governments enacted anti-conversion laws in an attempt to stop the exodus of Dalits from Hinduism to other religions. As of 2017, six states have passed “anti-conversion” laws and a seventh is in the process of passing legislation.
Upper caste Hindu leaders, together with right-wing fundamentalists known as Hindutva and other political factions, see the empowerment of the Dalits as a threat to their religious and political power base. They have portrayed religious conversions as illegitimate and subversive. Every attempt is made to maintain the power structure of the upper castes. Without the slavery of the caste system, the whole edifice of the upper caste power structure comes apart, religiously, socially, and politically.
The right-wing fundamentalist groups are determined to prevent any changes of the Dalit status by enacting these “anti-conversion” laws.
Indian Christian Leaders Declare Support for the Dalit Struggle
When Dr. Ambedkar led the Dalit exodus from Hinduism in 1956, the Christian Church of India was unprepared for such a historic development. Having been influenced by British colonialism and riddled with caste-based politics, the Church had no appeal whatsoever to Dr. Ambedkar, who sought a religion that would unite his people and bring cohesion and equality to all the sub-castes and untouchables.
Fifty years later, Dr. Joseph D’Souza and leaders of All India Christian Council determined that they would never let this kind of lost opportunity happen again. In their historic meeting in Hyderabad in early 2001, Christian leaders representing over 5,000 church denominations and Christian organizations unanimously declared their solidarity for the Dalit people and committed to help free the Dalits and their children from centuries-old enslavement.
This action was followed by total support of the second Dalit exodus from Hinduism in New Delhi on November 4, 2001. On this historic occasion many hundreds of Christian leaders and observers from the West were present to witness and express solidarity for the Dalits as they sought liberation.
Three Christian leaders were given opportunity to speak and express public support of the Indian Christian Church. One speaker declared: “The whole Church of India is with you, we are your friends.” He declared that they were there because Jesus loved the Dalits and Christians were committed to bringing the love of Jesus to the Dalits in word and in deed.
The speakers assured the Dalits that the Christian Church of India supports the Dalits’ freedom of choice to choose their own destiny.
Dr. Joseph D’Souza believes that the Church’s open stand with the Dalits and their movement for liberation has put the Indian Church on the right side of history.
A New Day Dawns for the Dalits
Even though the attacks against the Indian Christian community and Dalits continue, the pursuit of freedom for Dalit families and their children also continues, unabated. Dalit leaders believe that with the support of Christians and compassionate people worldwide, a new day of hope has dawned for them and their children. They have asked that we help educate their children and give them dignity and hope for the future through a Christian worldview. We invite you to stand with the Dalits in their quest for freedom.
You Can Change Their Lives and Give Them Hope for the Future
- Sponsor a Dalit child’s education
- Contribute to the building of schools for Dalit children
- Empower Dalit women through vocational training and small business grants
- Pray for India
- Share this ministry with friends
For more information on the Dalits, or to sponsor a Dalit child’s education, contact:
DALIT FREEDOM NETWORK (US)
1062 Laskin Road, #21A
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
DALIT FREEDOM NETWORK CANADA
P.O. Box 45645,
Surrey, BC V4A 9N3
Toll Free: 1-888-592-2238
Read more at Who are the Dalits? What Does it Mean to be One?