Welcome to Christian Charity World as we look at Dalits and their horrendous plight in India.
The caste system in India is an aspect of the Hindu religion and is not practiced amongst any other major religion throughout the world. Castes are a means of placing people into occupational groups and the hierarchical ranking determines the behaviour of one member of society towards another. In India there are four main classes:-
Brahmana - people engaged in scriptual education and teaching which is considered essential for the continuation of knowledge.
Kshatriya - people in public service, administration, maintenance of law and order and defence.
Vaishya - people engaged in commercial activity and businessmen.
Shudra - semi skilled and unskilled labourers.
Lower castes are discouraged from desiring to climb the caste ladder so generations of people have their working and social lives predetermined. Castes very rarely inter-marry and are not interchangeable.
During his time of rule, Mahatma Gandhi introduced a fifth and lowly caste made up of lower castes and "untouchables".
Dalits are regarded as the "untouchables". Historically Dalits have fallen below the four main castes but under Mahatma Gandhi were categorised into the new lowest caste. Their occupations were considered to be impure undertaking leatherwork, butchery, rubbish removal and the cleaning of streets, latrines and sewers. These activities were considered as polluting the individuals and this pollution was considered to be contagious by higher caste members. Dalits were segregated and banned from full Hindu life; they could not enter schools or temples and had to stay outside of villages.
The Indian government has made great strides to integrate Dalits into Indian society but problems still remain particularly in rural areas. It is widely speculated that bribery and corruption allows the continuation of abuse towards Dalit people especially in the area of human trafficking which extends into bonded labour, the sex trade, begging, abusive domestic service and the harvesting of body parts.
Human trafficking is modern day slavery and it is estimated that there are over 18 million Dalit victims although this could be a very under calculated estimation.
Child and Bonded Labour
From the ages of 4 to 5, children are forced to work in stone quarries, fields and street cleaning. They earn very little and are deprived of any schooling and never achieve even basic literacy skills. By adulthood many are sick, deformed or exhausted. Working virtually as slaves, they work to pay off debt. Debt has become their chains and in the majority of cases it isn't even their debt. They slave to pay off debt accrued by parents, guardians or relatives. Some children are even sold to pay off loans.
It isn't just children that are entrapped by bonded labour. Many adults are forced to work off debts in attrocious conditions, governed by disproportionately unfair contracts that have rolling terms and conditions.
Bonded labour has been outlawed by the Indian government yet the practice is still widely practiced. Officials are bribed not to launch investigations and bonded labourers and non government organisations trying to protect them are threatened with violence with such threats often being executed.
Dalits are the most victimised group when it comes to bonded labour as, because of their caste status, they are so vulnerable to discrimination and violation of human rights.
Young girls are sold into the sex trade by their own relatives. They are first enticed, deceived or even kidnapped before being locked into brothels and forced into sex with clients. Any resistance is met with beatings with belts, sticks and even iron rods. They can even be drugged by their masters.
As prostitutes they can be made to have sex with between 10 and 25 clients per day. They are also made to breed so that sons can be taken into bonded labour and daughters used for prostitution. Children also become hostages to force mothers to comply with their masters demands. Although this is predominantly a female trade there are some boys trapped within this vile trade.
As would be expected, the risk of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV and AIDs is extremely high. Should any sex trade worker catch such diseases they are tossed aside, no longer being of any use to their employer. It is estimated that there are 3 million prostitutes in India of which 1.2 million are children. These people are also used for the growing demand in pornography, live internet feeds and sex tourism. Of all those that are trafficked for the sex trade, 90% are Dalits.
Their are estimated to be 300,000 child beggars in India forced to beg by mafia-style gangs. Children are deliberately maimed; amputation of limbs, dousing with acid and blinding. The worse the injuries a child has the more money they are likely to get. They are actually taught in the art of begging and they are given beatings if they don't hit daily monetary targets. To hide from their misery many child beggars fall victim of solvent, alcohol or drug abuse.
Again Gangmasters bribe their way into immunity. Needless to say the vast majority of child beggars are drawn from the Dalit community.
Domestic service abuse is not so easy to detect as it goes on in the privacy of homes. It is, though, considered to be a growing form of abuse particularly within the flourishing middle classes. In 2006 employment of children under the age of 14 was outlawed yet three-quartes of domestic workers are believed to be between the ages of 12 and 16. Ninety percent are girls.
There are two styles of domestic work. The first is to work in one household, living in but working day and night. The other is to work for a number of households in a week - sometimes in one day. Abuse comes in the form of excessive hours, degrading tasks, witholding food and pay and physical, sexual or emotional abuse.
Placement agencies find work for domestic workers. Some are legitimate but others are involved in the abusive practices. Agencies may entice workers into moving far away from home to find work, promising jobs and good pay which never seems to materialise. Eventually some workers will end up in bonded labour. Dalits are most at risk of falling into abuse from domestic services.
Harvesting of Body Parts
When we talk of harvesting of body parts it primarily means the selling of organs such as kidneys. There is a severe shortage of organs for transplant in India for which there is now a flourishing black market as people are transported (trafficked) around India to harvest their body parts. Because there has been little research into this trade it is difficult to estimate the extend of the problem but again it is estimated that 96% of kidney sales are to pay off debt. And yet people don't get all the money they are promised as brokers rake off a huge chunk of the sale price. It has also been known for day labourers to be forced at gunpoint to attend clinics. Because of poverty and discrimination, Dalits are the biggest victims of this trade.
Help Dalits in India
There are a few organisations around the world who are fighting and campaigning for freedom for the Dalit community. This isn't helped by the fact that persecution of Dalits is kept underground by corruption and violence even towards defenders of the abused community. Here in the United Kingdom, Dalit Freedom Network UK strives to highlight the plight of Dalits in India and seeks your support. If you would like to find out more or pledge your support please go to