Wednesday, February 04, 2009

the dalits of india

Attending Missions Fest is always interesting. Last weekend was no exception. One of the seminars my husband and I attended was a documentary film on the Dalit people of India.

I had heard of the Dalits years ago, only under a different name. When we learned about India in school they were called the Untouchables - the very lowest of India's castes. I hadn't heard of them for years and thought they had disappeared as class of people. I was very wrong. Here is Wikipedia on the Dalits.

In the context of traditional Hindu society, Dalit status has often been historically associated with occupations regarded as ritually impure, such as any occupation involving butchering, removal of dead animals, removal of night soil (human feces) and leatherwork. One million Dalits work as manual scavengers, cleaning latrines and sewers by hand and clearing away dead animals.[13] Engaging in these activities was considered to be polluting to the individual who performed them, and this pollution was considered to be 'contagious'. As a result, Dalits were commonly banned and segregated from full participation in Hindu social life (they could not enter the premises of a temple or a school and stayed outside the village), while elaborate precautions were sometimes observed to prevent incidental contact between Dalits and other castes.

In the film, we saw all this in living color - and more. Young boys of 10 to 12 described how they worked as bonded laborers (slaves really - working for cruel bosses to whom their parents owed money under such payback terms their loans would never be paid off). Old women described how they had been taken as young girls and used as temple prostitutes. We saw footage of a whole community of Dalits living in the rejected cracked concrete pipes of a pipe-making factory. They had been tricked into coming to the isolated place to work in the factory. Now their children were growing up far from any schools and they owed so much money they would never pay off their debts even if they worked out the rest of their lives.

In all this there is a ray of hope. An organization called the Dalit Freedom Network, was formed in 2002 and has come alongside these people. One of their activities is to help Dalit children get an education. They do this by pairing Dalit children with donors who then pay for their education. Watch the YouTube movie below to find out more about the Dalits and how the Dalit Freedom Network is making a difference in the lives of these people who number 250 million.


Beautiful Mess said...

I wanted you to know we have been back several times to share this video. I shared it with my 14 year old, and he was moved. He HAD to have a clay cup. So he donated to get his. Just wanted you to know, you are having an impact. Thank you.

Violet N. said...

Beautiful M - That's wonderful news - Thank you for telling me! They are such a tragic group of people. I'm surprised there's not more outrage in the western world. Trust the young to be touched and respond!

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