Dalits the untouchables
A Dalit is not considered to be part of the human society, but something, which is beyond that. 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 4 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 well off and because of less education you will have a less good job.

Dalits are poor, deprived and socially backward. Poor means that they do not have access to enough food, health care, housing and clothing (which means that their physiological and safety needs are not fulfilled). They also do not have access to education and employment. Officially, everybody in India has the same rights and duties, but for the Dalits, pain and suffering are a part of life. They are trapped in a caste system that denies them adequate education, safe drinking water, decent-paying jobs, and the right to own land or a home. Every hour two Dalits are assaulted and two Dalit houses are burned. Every day, two Dalits are murdered. For 3,000 years they have lived in a cycle of discrimination and despair with no hope of escape.

Caste system
One of the more confusing mysteries of India is her caste system. The caste system, which has existed already for more than 3000 years, has 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.

Consequences of being a dalit
The oppression of Dalits has occurred for the past 3,000 years. They are segregated in all spheres of social life: in places of worship, education, housing, land ownership, use of common property resources such as wells and village water taps, roads, buses and other public places. They are the people who are made to do all menial and degrading jobs in our society. They are considered to be untouchable, to be too 'polluted' to touch. In their daily lives, untouchability results in the following consequences:

o In many dominant caste (rich) families, the servants are Dalits. After a Dalit servant has cleaned the rooms, pots and pans, one of the family members will sprinkle 'holy water' around the house to purify all that has been touched by the Dalit servant.
o Dalits are not allowed to wear shoes; if they wear shoes, they will be forced to take them off when coming into the presence of a dominant caste person.
o In rural areas, Dalits are not allowed to cycle through the dominant caste area of the village.
o Dalits live mainly in separate communities, outside the actual village.
o In general, Dalits are not allowed to sit at bus stops; they have to stand and wait until dominant caste people have entered onto the buses. Dalits are also not allowed to sit on the bus seats, even if they are vacant.
o Dalits are not allowed to enter many Hindu temples, for fear of their polluting the temples. Dalits have been chased out, abused and beaten up for daring to