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India Caste System - Dalits / Outcaste

Later conceptualized as a fifth category, "Untouchable" menials, were relegated to carrying out very menial and polluting work related to bodily decay and dirt. Since 1935 "Untouchables" have been known as Scheduled Castes, referring to their listing on government rosters, or schedules. They are also often called by Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi's term Harijans, or "Children of God." Although the term Untouchable appears in literature produced by these low-ranking castes, in the 1990s, many politically conscious members of these groups prefer to refer to themselves as Dalit, a Hindi word meaning oppressed or downtrodden.

The Second Backward Class Commission under the Chairmanship of Mr. B.P. Mandal (1980) criticized the government policy for emphasizing the economic criteria and dismissing caste as a criterion to determine social and educational backwardness. Mr L. R. Naik wrote a separate minute of dissent with reference to the categorization of the socially and educationally backward classes. He states that, "The intermediate backward classes, in my opinion, are those whose traditional occupation had been agriculture, market, gardening, betel-leaves growers, pastoral activities, village industries like artisans, tailors, dyers and weavers, petty business-cum-agricultural activities, heralding, temple service, toddy selling, oil mongering, combating, astrology, etc. etc., who have co-existed since times immemorial with upper castes and had, therefore, some scope to imbibe better association and what all it connotes..."

Although the law protects Dalits, they faced violence and significant discrimination in access to services, such as health care, education, temple attendance, and marriage. Many Dalits were malnourished. Most bonded laborers were Dalits. Dalits who asserted their rights often were attacked, especially in rural areas. As agricultural laborers for higher-caste landowners, Dalits often worked without monetary remuneration. Reports from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination described systematic abuse of Dalits, including extrajudicial killings and sexual violence against Dalit women. Crimes committed against Dalits often went unpunished, either because authorities failed to prosecute perpetrators or because victims did not report crimes due to fear of retaliation.

NGOs reported widespread discrimination, including prohibiting Dalits from walking on public pathways, wearing footwear, accessing water from public taps in upper-caste neighborhoods, participating in some temple festivals, bathing in public pools, or using certain cremation grounds.

NGOs reported that Dalit students were denied admission to certain schools because of their caste or were required to present caste certification prior to admission. There were reports that school officials barred Dalit children from morning prayers, asked Dalit children to sit in the back of the class, or forced them to clean school toilets while denying them access to the same facilities. There were also reports that teachers refused to correct the homework of Dalit children, refused to provide midday meals to Dalit children, and asked Dalit children to sit separately from children of upper-caste families.

There were around 250 million Dalits in India as of 2004. Widespread discrimination based on the caste system occurred throughout the country. Cases of social segregation included separate wells and temples, housing and public transportation as well as discrimination in access to education. Impunity for upper caste Hindus who committed crimes against Dalits was high, either as a result of the authorities' failure to prosecute the offenders or the underreporting of the crimes by victims who feared retaliation. Discrimination extended to Christians descended from Dalit families. Women belonging to the Scheduled Castes were often targets of harassment and violence, including mass rapes by upper caste gangs to intimidate the lower castes. Caste-based violence was the most widespread in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

Manual scavenging--the removal of animal or human waste by Dalits--continued in spite of its legal prohibition. NGO activists claimed elected village councils employed a majority of manual scavengers and belonged to Other Backward Classes and Dalit populations. The media regularly published articles and pictures of persons cleaning manholes and sewers without protective gear.

Human Rights Watch reported that children of manual scavengers faced discrimination, humiliation, and segregation at village schools. Their occupation often exposed manual scavengers to infections that affected their skin, eyes, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. Health practitioners suggested that children exposed to such bacteria were often unable to maintain a healthy body weight and suffered from stunted growth.

The law prohibits the employment of scavengers or the construction of dry (nonflush) latrines, and penalties range from imprisonment for up to one year, a fine of 2,000 rupees ($30), or both. Nonetheless, Indian Railways often violated the laws without consequence. The state-owned company acknowledged that it fitted approximately 30,000 passenger coaches with open-discharge toilets, “forcing” the railways to employ manual scavengers to clean the tracks. The railways proposed to install sealed toilet systems but without a fixed timeline for implementation.

On 04 March 2015, the Bombay High Court reprimanded the Maharashtra state government for failing to end the practice of manual scavenging. Maharashtra led the country with 63,713 households engaged in manual scavenging, based on Socio-Economic Caste Census data released on July 3. On August 7, the Maharashtra government started a new survey of state sanitary latrines that require manual cleaning.

On 15 August 2015, during a dispute over a religious procession, a mob of more than 200 upper-caste Vanniars attacked a community of more than 80 Dalit families in Seshasamuthiram, Tamil Nadu. The mob reportedly threw gasoline bombs, destroying a religious structure, burning 15 homes, and injuring eight police officers. Police reportedly arrested 68 persons involved in the incident.

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Page last modified: 28-11-2016 19:39:29 ZULU