A National Public Hearing on Dalit Human Rights was held in India in April under the auspices of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights. The dalits, or "untouchables", are the lowest caste in traditional Indian society, and were deprived of even the most basic human rights for centuries. Even though the Indian constitution today guarantees the rights and freedoms of dalits and other low castes, many still face discrimination, abuse and violence.
Many dalits are still bonded labourers, even though the constitution declares that everyone should be protected against slavery or bonded labour. In recent years India has seen an overall decline in poverty, but amongst the dalits there has been an alarming increase in poverty.
There are many accidental deaths because of the dangerous conditions in which many dalits work, and women are especially vulnerable. Dalit woman who work may be exploited sexually and end up as prostitutes with little scope for escape.
The worst jobs throughout India are reserved exclusively for dalits, such as scavenging, toilet cleaning and sweeping. The National Public Hearing declared that India was still "a feudal society where inequalities abound and there is rank injustice and discrimination based on gender, caste and creed.
The Church of South India has been involved in promoting justice for dalits and transforming attitudes for many years. It is shortly to inaugurate a Department to work specifically for and among dalits and other disadvantaged peoples in India.
"The vision of initiating such a Department now is to cater to the needs of these communities exclusively towards empowerment, self-sufficiency and self-dignity," writes the General Secretary of the Church of South India. "Because of the launching of this Department it is hoped a new sense of 'dalit consciousness' will be evoked that would liberate the dalits and the tribals from the 'wounded psyche'."
Item from: South India Churchman