The word ‘Dalit’, in Sanskrit, means “oppressed” or “downtrodden”. In Marathi, the language in which the word was first used for social and political mobilization by the ‘untouchable’ communities means “broken” or “broken to pieces”.
Dalits are placed at the lowest rung of the caste hierarchy, based on ritual purity and occupation. They are outside the varna system which gives them the traditional name of “panchamas”. The Constitution of India classifies Dalits as Scheduled Castes. According to the census figures of 2011, they constitute 16.6% (201.4 million, up from 166.6 million in 2001) of India’s population. Of this population, about 80% live in rural areas spread all over the country.
Dalit social reality can be mapped along three axes: social (caste), economic (class) and gender. Among these within the social axes, Brahmanism plays a defining role in the identity and demarcation of Dalits. They were, and are still subjected to a lot of oppression.
Gender is a key dimension in mapping the social reality but more so in the case of Dalits. Apart from the regular forms of gender-based inequality and oppression, which they experience as women in the household, community and society, Dalit women in India are thrice alienated on the basis of caste, gender and class. The most vulnerable targets of caste based violence against their community, they are also raped and abused by men of their own community.
The practice of untouchability and social discrimination is a basic violation of civil rights, prohibiting SCs from using public water bodies like wells, water taps, temples, tea stalls, restaurants, community baths, road and other facilities.
To fight against these atrocities is the right of all dalits. Therefore, a dalit movement comprising of grassroots initiatives, community leaders and every individual who believes in equality, need to put up a united stand to be able to put a STOP to any more human right violations.