Dalit 101 – How do Dalits face hardship?

The Dalits face hardship socially, economically, and politically, even in modern India. Our previous entry explored who the Dalits are. Now we will turn to how the Dalits face difficulty in their daily lives.

*Please note, unless otherwise noted, the majority of this information is taken from Joseph D’Souza’s book, Dalit Freedom Now and Forever.* Joseph D’Souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. 



How Do Dalits Face Hardship?

Dalits face difficulty in a variety of ways encompassing just about every part of their lives. This difficulty can be called by many names, but no matter the name, it is unjust. Because of their position in society, Dalits are at risk of being discriminated against by police, neighbors, teachers, hospitals, local officials, religious persons, restaurants, and more. This is an almost unbelievable statistic, but it is estimated that a crime is committed against a Dalit person every 18 minutes. Following are some common and specific difficulties Dalits face.


Basic Injustices

Dalits may be refused entry to public parks and temples. Use of public wells may be denied, and some restaurants keep separate drinking glasses of clay cups for Dalit use. The Dalit person is expected to crush the clay cup after use in order to prevent “contaminating” other diners. Even Dalit-owned dogs may be abused and banned from areas where they might mate with upper caste owned dogs.


Economic and Educational Hardships

70% of Dalits live below the poverty line, and only 2-3% of Dalit women can read or write. Many Dalit villages have a literacy rate of 10-20%, while the national average is 50% and growing. Dalit children may be segregated in the classroom and treated with less respect than non-Dalit children. Girl students are sometimes told they have to clean the toilets and latrines before they can participate in the classroom.


Human Trafficking, Child Labor, and Employment

The UN International Labor Office states, “… the overwhelming majority of bonded labor victims  in agriculture, brick making, mining and other sectors are from the Scheduled Castes [Dalits].”

A report released in 2006 stated that approximately 98% of women and girls being trafficked belong to the Scheduled Castes and minorities. This survey covered a small region, but most experts believe the statistics are true when extrapolated nationally.


“I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved.”
Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (considered the “father of the Indian Constitution”) 


While Dalits make up nearly one-fourth of India’s general population, a study found that Dalits represent about 62% of the labor force in six “hazardous” industries across three states of India. If other disadvantaged communities, which are usually included under the umbrella term “Dalit-Bahujan” are considered, then the total is closer to 90%.


Government figures say there are about 12.6 million child laborers in India, but child rights activists say the number is closer to 60 million. 


Physical Violence

Chandra Bhan Prasad’s book, Dalit Phobia: Why do they hate us? cites the following stories:

Jhabbar, Punjab. January 2006: A Dalit farm laborer and activist was beaten by upper caste Jats (a people group in northern India) . His arms and a leg had to be amputated. The attack was because he dared to file criminal charges against Jat villagers who had raped his 17 year old daughter four years prior. 

Tamil Nadu. December 2005: After the Asian tsunami, Dalit survivors were thrown out of relief camps by non-Dalits who refused to share makeshift homes, common kitchens, toilets etc. 

Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu. June 2004: Non-Dalits ban Dalit-owned dogs from entering their part of town. They feared that Dalit dogs might mate with their dogs. 

The number of cases of women who were sexually exploited, with no punishment for their assailants, was highest in 2012. Dalit women bear the hardship of not one but three strikes against them: being poor, being a Dalit and being a woman. Some say there is no greater risk factor than being a female Dalit.

Dalits are still at risk of discrimination, dehumanization, degradation, and violence. And they are at risk every day.


That’s why DFN exists. To alter stories of despair to stories of hope. To come alongside India’s people to help make India great.



Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 1.17.41 PM

(Photo curtesy of Dalit Freedom Network UK)


Other posts in this series:

Who are the Dalits? 

Why do Dalits face hardship? 

What can we do about it? 

Dalit 101 – Who are the Dalits?

We at DFN want to make sure you understand just what we do, and why we exist. And that begins with an introduction of the Dalit people and their plight.

*Please note, unless otherwise noted, the majority of this information is adapted from Joseph D’Souza’s book, Dalit Freedom Now and Forever.* Joseph D’Souza is the international president of the Dalit Freedom Network. 

Who Are The Dalits?

Dalits can be found across India (as well as in other south Asian countries, and south Asian communities across the world). Of the 1.2 billion people in India, it is estimated that 300 million are Dalits. Many of them have felt marginalized, excluded or even oppressed. Some have found their access to education, healthcare and justice restricted or denied. As a result many live in extreme poverty. This makes them exceptionally vulnerable to human trafficking, modern slavery and other kinds of exploitation.

Dalit comes from an ancient word meaning ‘broken’, ‘crushed’ or ‘ground’. In some areas, Dalits are still viewed as subhuman and are treated like dirt: it would have been better if they had never been born. They often have the most degrading, menial jobs because of their position in society. For example, some still work as manual scavengers – removing human excrement by hand – a particularly demeaning job.



Such inequality is one of the consequences of the caste system, around which Indian society has traditionally been structured. In effect it creates a hierarchy. Brahmins – the priests – are the highest caste;  then Kshatriyas – warriors or ruling class; followed by Vaishyas – the merchants and artisans, and finally the Shudras – unskilled laborers. Within each caste (also called varna) there are many subcastes. Traditionally, caste determined your ritual purity, your work or role, as well as who you can marry, and with whom you associate.

The 300 million outcastes, who fall outside the caste system and are sometimes referred to generically as Dalits, have been designated as scheduled tribes (indigenous tribespeople or Adivasis) and scheduled castes (Dalits) by the Indian government. Traditionally, Dalits were considered so unclean in ritual terms that some people feared being contaminated and made unclean through direct or even indirect contact. Hence Dalits were once known as Untouchables.

Discrimination on the basis of caste is outlawed, but it persists, particularly in some rural areas. For example, Dalits may still be prevented from entering particular public parks, restaurants and temples. Some are attacked or abused simply because they are Dalits. It is estimated that a crime is committed against a Dalit every 18 minutes. For many, the circumstances are grim.



The Indian government has sought to address these issues through initiatives such as Education for All and a system that reserves a proportion of civil service jobs and higher education places for scheduled castes. This is similar to Affirmative Action in the United States. The government also introduced a law to prevent atrocities against Dalits and Adivasis. There is some evidence of change particularly among the younger generation in cities, but there is still a long way to go.

That’s why DFN exists. To alter stories of despair to stories of hope. To come alongside India’s people to help make India great.



Other posts in this series:

How do Dalits face hardship? 

Why do they face hardship? 

What can we do about it?