The Dalit people — also known as “Untouchables” — have been the most oppressed caste for over 3,000 years, living at the bottom of India's rigid social order. The word “Dalit” means “broken, ground-down, downtrodden, or oppressed.” Dalits comprise about ¼ of the population of India: that’s seven times the entire population of Canada.
In India, the mere touch of a Dalit is considered "polluting" to a caste member. Due to their low social status, Dalits often have no choice but to perform occupations that are considered “polluting,” such as handling bodies in preparation for cremation, leather work, street sweeping, or removing human waste and dead animals.
Caste is a rigid system of social stratification from more pure (upper) to impure (lower). Caste is determined by birth and remains fixed for life. All social interaction is dictated by caste, and norms are strictly enforced by humiliation, violence, and poverty. Dalits are born below the lowest caste, and are denied access to public spaces such as schools, clinics, and temples.
Dalits gained equal status under the law 60 years ago, but little has changed for them in daily life; they still face widespread discrimination. Dalits endure segregation in healthcare and housing, and are often forced to work in degrading conditions. Dalit children endure harassment from teachers and other students. Low literacy and high dropout rates are common for Dalits.
On November 4, 2001, the Dalit community gathered in New Delhi to express their cry for freedom. On that day, Indian leaders of faith stood in solidarity with the Dalits, believing together that education and an ideology of personal and spiritual freedom and acceptance are the keys to finding liberation. This led to the formation of Dalit Freedom Network International.
For a Dalit child and her family, education is the path to freedom. Attending a welcoming school and receiving an English education provides Dalit boys and girls with confidence, socioeconomic opportunities, and the potential to claim a place in society. Education gives Dalit children and their families the tools they need to break the cycle of discrimination and oppression.