India’s Untouchables

What if no one would touch you?

What if people told you that you were so worthless, you weren’t even human?

That’s what life is like for millions of people in India, known as “Untouchables.”

This group is considered so unworthy that they’re not even in the caste system. This is where the word “outcast” comes from. Today, Untouchables choose to call themselves Dalits, which means crushed or broken.

Many Hindus living in India believe that Dalits are less than human and are spiritually unclean. Dalits were once forced to drink from clay cups that would be destroyed after one use. They had to walk with brooms tied behind them to sweep away their “unclean” footprints.

For centuries, Dalits have done the dirtiest, most awful jobs in Indian society … cleaning human waste and sewers by hand, butchering animals, and doing leather work (cows are considered sacred in India, so this is despicable work).

Because they are considered unclean, Dalits are ostracized in Indian society.

Most live in separate villages or slums. Many upper caste people believe even a Dalit’s shadow is unclean. They won’t share a well with Dalits, either.

Discrimination against Dalits is illegal in modern India. But it continues in social practice even today.

Many Dalit people have defied social traditions and gone on to achieve great success in society, becoming doctors, writers, and political leaders. (India even had a Dalit president: KR Narayanan, who was elected president of India in 1997 and served until 2002.) But they are still considered “outcasts” by many upper caste people.

Some upper caste Hindus even look down upon these successful Dalits because they believe the Dalits are not accepting the low status bestowed on them by their gods.