Inspired Women Inspire Women

Kavitha beams as she works her loom.

For the first time in her life she is free. With skills she learned at a vocational training center and with the encouragement of other women in her self-help group, Kavitha is proud to have a skill she can use to support her family.


It wasn’t always this way.

Like most Dalit women, Kavitha was born into extreme poverty and faced incredible hardship as she grew up. Unable to read or write, she was forced into domestic service with very long hours for very low pay. She said, “I thought the rest of my life would be spent like this. But thanks to my training, it’s not! I am making mats for people to use in their homes now. Not only am I helping myself, I am helping others. Thank you to those who helped make this possible.”

Kavitha is one of thousands of women who now inspire others. She gives them hope.

Last March, nearly 2,000 women gathered in locations all over India in a show of solidarity and sisterhood for a day. It was a mini-conference of sorts. Vocational training graduates were honored, achievements were celebrated, and local dignitaries brought greetings. In one village, the women were able to shut down a shop that sold illegal alcohol, and they also organized a midday meal program in their local school to ensure students received adequate nutrition.


Beyond the certificates and the celebrations are the friendships made and the inspiration women give each other. Many women living in poverty are isolated. With the daily struggle to survive, there is no time for friendships, relaxing, enjoying a cup of chai, and laughing. These mini-conferences give women the chance to be with each other, share their joys as well as their hardships. They leave the day renewed, inspired to share their stories with others in similar circumstances.

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This is the way communities are transformed.

They are transformed from the inside out. From the ground up. One conference participant, an agricultural worker, said, “This was the best day I had in a long time. I was able to meet new friends, and I was inspired by seeing those in my village receive certificates of achievement. It made me want to join a vocational program myself.”

We salute these women.

We lift them up. Each one is precious. Each one has worth. Each one has gifts she can use for good. At Dalit Freedom Network, we are committed to empowering women.

Patharia- Sagar IWD 2017 (34)

It takes just $5 to send a woman to a mini-conference. It takes just $100 to start a woman on the road to freedom. Will you join us in freeing Dalit women?

Free A Woman


Speak Up By Sharing

Faces of India: DFN’s Top 5 Photos of 2016

Speak up this week by sharing our Top 5 photos of 2016 on Facebook or Twitter or email. These photos were taken on our most recent trip to India in November, and we hope you enjoy these glimpses into the lives into some of the people we serve.

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This lovely young woman was married at age 14. She’s now 19 with two children and lives in a slum area near Hyderabad. Her family receives healthcare services through the health worker in her community. What beautiful eyes and bright smile!


The intense gaze of this boy as he holds his baby sister in front of their home shows the depth of his dignity and strength. His parents work for daily wages and he he cares for his sister during the day. At this time he is unable to go to school but many children in his community attend a Good Shepherd School nearby.

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Watch out for this little guy! He attends Lower Kindergarten in a Good Shepherd School and just couldn’t stay focused on the morning assembly.


A group of children in a registered slum enjoy a special treat while they pose for the camera. Most of their parents work in the rock quarry next to the slum. These children dream of going to school.


Best friends share giggles and smiles during a break in their day at a Good Shepherd School. The joy is evident on their faces!

The DFN family thanks you for sharing these snapshots of life in India!

Other ways you can speak up for the Dalits this holiday season can be found here.



Speak Up By Gifting

You Can Speak Up for Dalits Simply by Giving a Gift!

If you are anything like us, you are immersed in Christmas preparation these days. There are trees to decorate, lights to hang, goodies to bake, and gifts to buy for those you love. This year, why not incorporate the Dalits of India into your Christmas gift-giving plans? It’s an easy way to “speak up” for Dalits this season!

DFN’s holiday catalog (new this year) offers options for every budget and need, beginning at just $5. You can purchase a month of education for a Dalit child, a desk and chair for a school, nutritional supplementation, and you can get a woman who has been impacted by the sex trade on her road to recovery!

 See Holiday Catalog


 See Holiday Catalog

We have products, too! In fact, the store has something for nearly everyone on your list. And many items are on sale!

Below are a few sale items to choose from, but you can browse the entire store here.


Small elephants are only $5 apiece. These adorable elephants are lovingly handcrafted by ladies in our vocational training centers. Silk and cotton elephants are available, but quantities are very limited, so act fast. (We also have medium-size elephants here.)


Tote bags/Sport bags: all items are now 50% off. These bags are a great way to “carry the Dalit story!”


T-shirts: save up to 30% on the latest styles.


Candles and Soaps handmade by Dalit people: all items are on sale.

So many options, so much good to be done. Thanks for your support of the Dalits of India! Every purchase makes a difference, and we appreciate you.

Please note the last day to order a product in time for Christmas delivery is December 16. The last day to order a gift donation from the holiday catalog is December 21. Act now to avoid the last minute rush.

P.S. If you are purchasing a gift for someone, we’ll help you out with a card. Just indicate your preferences in the cart when you check out. If you have questions, feel free to email or give us a call at 757-233-9110.

How Else Can I Speak Up?

Tell people about this! Share the opportunity on Facebook and Twitter! Share this blog post using the links at the bottom of this page. See other ways to speak up here.

If you have any questions about the way this works, please e-mail us at We’ll answer your question right away!

Speak Up through #GivingTuesday

Speak Up this #GivingTuesday by Giving a Dalit Child a New School Uniform

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Give A Uniform for $25

Most Dalit children live in extreme poverty. Their families often struggle to provide basic needs, including clothing. In India, wearing a school uniform is nearly universally mandatory, including in Good Shepherd Schools. Sponsored children have their uniform provided through sponsorship donations, but there are about 14,000 students of the 26,000 enrolled in Good Shepherd Schools who are not sponsored yet. These kids need uniforms, too!

So when our team was planning what to do for #GivingTuesday this year we thought, “What about uniforms?” Besides students who aren’t sponsored yet, there are students who have outgrown their uniforms and need new, larger ones. And as anyone who has ever had a child in school knows, sometimes clothing just wears out!

It only takes $25 to purchase a new uniform.
This is an easy way to speak up for a child who needs you.

What’s Giving Tuesday?

#GivingTuesday is a global day of giving fueled by the power of social media and collaboration. Celebrated on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving (in the U.S.) and the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season, when many focus on their holiday and end-of-year giving. This year, November 29 is that day.

The Challenge & How You Can Help

It’s so simple to get involved. All you need to do is buy a uniform (Or two. Or ten!) Each uniform costs only 25.00, and you can purchase one here. Our goal is to provide a minimum of 250 uniforms between now and November 29. But we’d like to blow that goal out of the water. And we can, with your help.

Do I Have To Wait Until #GivingTuesday to Purchase a Uniform?

No! You can speak up by buying a uniform right now, and we thank you for your commitment to being a voice for Dalit children.

Buy a Uniform Now

How Else Can I Speak Up?

Tell people about this! Share the opportunity on Facebook and Twitter! Share this blog post using the links at the bottom of this page.

If you have any questions about the way this works, please e-mail us at We’ll answer your question right away!

Working to Eliminate Poverty

The Goal Is Community Transformation


Six-year-old Raja wakes up each day around 4:00 a.m. He eats a hurried and scant breakfast of rice with a few lentils, carries water from the slum’s lone spigot to his mother, and by 5:00 a.m. is making the 3-mile trek on foot to his job at the fireworks factory. All day Raja toils, stuffing gunpowder into tiny tubes, dangerous and dirty work. He’s looking forward to Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, where he knows people will enjoy lighting the firecrackers he has made. He hopes his boss will give him a few free firecrackers so he can have some fun during the festival.

After an 11-hour workday, Raja journeys back to his family’s makeshift hut to rejoin his family. His father and older sister are day laborers in an agricultural field nearby, and they won’t arrive home for another couple of hours. His mother has been busy all day taking care of Raja’s baby brother and their elderly grandparents. All of them are hungry and there’s just not enough food to go around.

After a meal of more lentils and chapati (a type of bread), Raja is tired. He heads to his mat to sleep, knowing that tomorrow will be the same as today. He can picture no other life.

Raja is a Dalit. There are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India and about two thirds of them live in extreme poverty. They are at the bottom rung of society, considered “untouchable” by many. These are the people DFN serves.

To commemorate International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, we want to shed light and be hope because all over India, communities are rising up and being transformed from the inside out.

It begins with children, and education is the catalyst. The 107 schools we support form the foundation for community transformation.

But that’s not the only thing we stand for. We desire to serve the entire person, no matter the age, in a process we call the Community Transformation Model.

Community Transformation Model

Since many Dalits actually believe they are less than human, changing this belief demands a re-visioning of society. In recent years the Indian government has sought to address discrimination against Dalits by passing new laws and initiatives. These efforts are making a difference; however, Dalits still need others to come alongside them. So that’s what we do through our education, healthcare, anti-trafficking, and economic empowerment programs.

We believe eradication of poverty is possible when people have the tools and opportunity to create secure futures for themselves and their families. So that’s why DFN stands with the Dalit people. We invite you to do the same.

Want to help? Here are two ways you can make a difference today!

Sponsor a Child

Give to Education

New Skills Equals New Hope for Women

New Skills Equals New Hope for Women


Rama, age 30, came to a Good Shepherd vocational training center in a tough situation. As a young child, she suffered an illness that left her with motor difficulties. With three young children and a husband who works for daily wages, her family’s living conditions were poor. It was a challenge to put enough food on the table for two meals each day.

But Rama persevered.

Getting to her vocational classes was difficult, but her family took extra steps to make sure Rama attended the stitching and embroidery classes offered at the center. To Rama and her family’s delight, she discovered she was very good at fine needlework. Her self esteem soared!

Rama, along with 41 other women, recently graduated with certificates in tailoring and embroidery. Now they have a marketable skill that can help their families earn enough income to provide for their families.


“I am so grateful to Good Shepherd for this chance to make a better life. Thank you! My life is richer because of this vocational center, and I’m excited about my family’s future now,” Rama said.

The director of this center tells us that Dalit women and girls remain trapped in a cycle of poverty because of a lack of education and skill building opportunities. Many young girls are pulled out of school to take over household responsibilities and never develop the required skills to enter the job market with confidence.

This is why community based vocational training is such a powerful tool. By making the destitute financially self-reliant, it breaks the cycle of poverty, breeds confidence, self-respect and turns marginalized youth into productive and responsible citizens. Teaching women a marketable skill is possibly the single most effective program for the empowerment of women, and it enables them to chart their own destinies.

Vocational Training Graduates

Vocational Training Graduates

The director said, “When a girl from the slums or village walks back home with the ability to attain a better socio-economic life, it does more to improve the perception of the girl child among her neighbors than a hundred lectures and a million pamphlets.”

Thanks to generous supporters of women through Dalit Freedom Network, Rama and hundreds of other women can be proud of their hard work, their new skills, and can move through their lives with new hope.

Please, make a difference for a woman like Rama today. It takes just $100 to get one woman on the road to a brighter future, but any amount you give will have a significant impact!

Give Now

Modern Slavery: Bonded Labor

Modern slavery exists in nearly every country, including the U.S.

In India, much of the trafficking takes place within the country, and most of the victims of modern slavery are Dalits, tribals, and others from poor and marginalized communities.

The Indian government is taking steps to address human trafficking and modern slavery within the country. Their actions include setting up Anti-Human Trafficking Units and fast-track specialist courts. The government is also addressing the pressure of poverty through programs such as the rural employment guarantee. Working with and alongside government initiatives, organizations like DFN and philanthropic individuals are tackling the issue in local communities. DFN works to prevent human trafficking through education of children most at risk, as well as through economic development initiatives,  and shelters for survivors and recovery counseling.

To commemorate the United Nations’ World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, which takes place on July 30 each year, we want you to learn about one of the most common types of modern slavery in India: Bonded Labor.


Bonded Labor

Bonded labor is the most prevalent form of modern slavery in India today, despite being against the law. Individuals and families, including children, are exploited in slave-like conditions to pay off debt.

Here’s how it works. A lender, generally a landowner or factory boss, uses a number of tactics to exploit workers. The borrower is often forced to work for very low wages in order to repay the debt. Exorbitant interest rates (from 10% to more than 20% per month) are charged, and money lent for medicine, clothes, or basic necessities is added to the debt.

In most cases, up to half of the day’s wage is deducted for debt repayment. Further deductions are regularly made as penalties for breaking rules or poor work performance. The laborer uses what little income remains to buy food and supplies from the lender, at heavily inflated prices. They rarely have enough money to live on, so they are forced to borrow even more money just to survive. Any illness or injury, often due to the appalling working conditions, spells disaster. More money must be borrowed not only for medicine but also because the injured individuals cannot work.


Sometimes the debts last a few years, and sometimes (especially in agriculture) the debts are passed on to future generations. When this happens, it becomes a vicious cycle virtually impossible to break.

What causes a person to get caught in this cycle? Many factors, including extreme poverty, lack of education and literacy (making it easier to exploit victims as they cannot keep track of their debits and credits), not owning property, and the lack of any reasonable alternative for victims are key conditions. In addition, little opportunity for alternative sources of income for basic needs drives people into a crippling debt agreement with an exploiter.

People can even find themselves trapped in bonded labor without actually borrowing money. For example, a ‘jamadar’ (agent) may offer an advance for a worker’s wages, or transport the worker to a new work site. Then, the workers discover they must pay back the advance or refund the cost of transportation.


There are millions of bonded laborers in India. The majority (as high as 80-96%) are Dalits (Untouchables) and Adivasis (indigenous tribespeople).

Other types of modern slavery include sex trafficking, domestic servitude, beggar gangs, organ harvesting trafficking, and ritual sex slavery. Future blog posts will tackle these issues head on.

If you want to make a difference for those impacted by bonded labor, it takes as little as $30 to free a child for one month or $150 to free a woman through vocational training.

To see all giving opportunities, including traditional child sponsorship, please visit our campaigns page.

Thanks for standing with the Dalit people!

At-Risk Girls and Women Discover Rescue is Real

These beautiful girls were rag pickers.


Up at 4:30 a.m. and out of the house by 5, three girls in Bangalore climb through dumpsters and walk the streets looking for bits of paper and plastic they can turn into a few rupees. Exposed to filth and toxins, they cover their faces with rags and their eyes sting as they go about their work. The stench is sometimes overwhelming, the heat almost unbearable.




At the end of the day, home is little refuge. Living conditions are miserable and their fathers are either absent or addicted to alcohol. Their mothers have no education and no vocational skills.

It was altogether a bleak life. But not any more.


Today, these three girls describe their former life as “a living hell.” In their slum, most of the girls earn income by garbage collection, begging, petty theft or prostitution.

But these three have a brighter future. And so do their mothers.

Because of your support of our women’s shelters, these girls are safe. They are getting an education. They have dreams for their future. And their mothers have access to training programs. Cosmetology, tailoring, computers, English language conversational skills. These are the tools that hold the keys to a better life.




Now these girls describe their lives with words like “safety,” “gratitude,” even “love.”

What a difference a little bit of love makes.

If you want to make a difference, please consider giving today. Any amount will make an impact on a girl or a woman. Just write “girls and women” in the comments field when you give.
 To help others understand what life is like for a great many people in India, please share this post using the links at the bottom of the page.

Dalit 101 – What can we do?

We have discussed who the Dalits arehow their lives can be difficult, and why they still face hardship, despite laws designed to protect them.

We will now turn our attention to what can be done. And there is good news! We at DFN, with the help with our generous and faithful supporters and our Indian partners, offer hope and opportunity to thousands of Dalit people


What Can We Do?


Although the Dalit plight can feel daunting, we at DFN look through a lens of hope, possibility, opportunity, and ultimately freedom from the Dalits’ vulnerability to poverty, oppression, and modern slavery. It’s what drives us personally, and it’s what drives our work on behalf of Dalit communities. We believe every person is valuable, every person has the right to safety, health, and dignity, and that every person should have opportunity.

The Dalit Freedom Network began in 2002 in response to the cries of Dalits for help in their quest for freedom from the lingering effects of caste. Out of that pivotal moment came our mission:  to end atrocities and help the Dalit people achieve fundamental rights through a foundation of education, healthcare, and economic empowerment.

Through the implementation of our holistic community transformation model, we have a goal of transforming 1,000 villages in India over the next decade. And it all begins with education.



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The first step to village transformation is the education of its children. Since the majority of Dalit adults are illiterate and unable to provide a quality education for their children, few Dalit children have a hope for a better life. DFN is standing with them by offering hope and opportunity through the cornerstone of our community transformation model: education.

In each of our 107 Good Shepherd Schools, nearly 26,000 students learn English and are taught the values of freedom, equality, and human dignity for all. GSS students are becoming a generation of thinkers and change agents who will carry forward the principles of liberty and justice. The instruction provided in our schools adheres to the most stringent India standards, and many of our students earn top-tier scores on nationalized tests. 

There are more children in India than any other country in the world. Every day, many of them live in real danger of being trafficked, maimed, or sold into slavery. Nearly 30% of students receiving an English-medium education at our Good Shepherd Schools have parents who are bonded laborers. When you fund the education of a child, you make an investment in their freedom and their future. Without your help, most cannot stay in school or escape the poverty that puts them at risk for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, or bonded labor.

Children receive financial assistance to attend a GSS through our education fund, either through traditional child sponsorship (sponsorship FAQs here) or through funding scholarships. No matter how you get involved, you provide curriculum and supplies, books, uniforms, and a midday meal (where necessary) in a caring environment.

A word about our 2015 graduates:

440 Dalit students graduated from a Good Shepherd School this year. We at DFN are so proud of each of these young people! As they head out into the world, whether it is to work or continued education, they are poised to create transformational change in their communities. Most are headed to junior college for two years and then to formal university to become doctors, nurses, teachers, programers, engineers, or wherever their desire and hard work takes them.

 Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through education? See our opportunities here.




Many Dalit people cannot afford visits to a doctor or a hospital and suffer—sometimes even die—from diseases that are curable. DFN and its partners in India provide basic public healthcare in villages and administer vaccines to children in our schools. As Dalits gain access to hygiene training and healthcare for the first time, they are empowered to live healthier, more dignified lives.

We do this through our Four-Tier Healthcare Delivery System:

Tier I is the Community Health Workers (CHW) Initiative. Dr. Paul Farmer, a medical doctor and professor of medical anthropology at Harvard University was asked in 2007, “Which single intervention would do the most to improve the health of those living on less than $1 a day?” Dr. Farmer’s reply: “Hire community health workers to serve them.” DFN is on the leading edge of this movement. Presently, there are 60 CHWs trained, placed, and operating out of our Good Shepherd Schools.

Tier II is the Regional Clinic Program. Our regional clinics provide quality preventive, curative, and diagnostic healthcare to Dalit communities. We encourage local community participation, both medical and non medical, in the planning and operating of our regional clinics.

Tier III is the Mobile Clinic Program. The Mobile Clinics aim to provide healthcare services and programs to under-served communities in both rural and urban settings. Health education and awareness programs, diagnosis and treatment, referral services, and data collection are some of the services offered.

Tier IV consists of a Nurses Training College and a Dalit Hospital Project in Hyderabad. Now in its final stage of completion, the hospital will provide the following facilities: cardiology, cardiothoracic surgery, gastroenterology, neurology, neurosurgery, nephrology, urology, accident, trauma, and emergency care, and lab services, as well as the Nurses Training College and the Community Health College.

 Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through healthcare? See our opportunities here.


Economic Empowerment

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DFN believes economic development is one of the best ways to invest in Dalit lives. Increasing economic opportunities helps Dalits stand independently, support their family, fund education for their children, and find hope for the future.

Our economic development strategy has three main efforts: financial assistance to qualified individuals to enable them to begin small businesses, vocational training in marketable skills, and self-help groups. These initiatives are monitored by a national board of directors for financial accountability.

1. Financial Assistance: Our initiatives offer help to budding entrepreneurs so they can start a small business.

2. Vocational training: Provided for older teenagers and adults—men or women—who want to learn income-generating skills. These training classes include such trades as beauty/barbering skills, spice-making, tailoring, driving, carpentry, cycle repair, ironing, and electrical work. 

3. Self-Help Groups: Participants learn organizational skills and business best practices. Locally trained officers teach financial accounting principles and offer support in a spirit of community, trust, and personal care. Currently, the majority of groups are organized and run by Dalit women. Most could not have dreamed of this kind of opportunity previously! 

Interested in seeing more ways you can stand with the Dalit people through economic empowerment?  See our opportunities here.
Do you have a particular interest in the needs of girls and women? See those opportunities here

DFN cannot stand with the Dalits in their quest for freedom, equality and opportunity without you! Thanks for being a DFN partner!

Other posts in this series:

Who are the Dalits?

How do the Dalits face hardship? 

Why do the Dalits face hardship? 

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.



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(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?