World Diversity Day: How we are helping the Dalit community

Highlighting the discrimination challenge facing India’s Dalit communities

 

Culture is a driving force of development, not only in respect to economic growth, but also in promoting social togetherness and intercultural dialogue. This is an opportunity to help communities understand the value of cultural diversity and learn how to live together in harmony.

 

21st May, marks this year’s World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development, or ‘Diversity Day’.

 

So why does this matter to Shining Hope Foundation?

 

Discrimination is a terrible thing, poverty is also terrible. Shining Hope is changing that, our work in India gives the poorest, uneducated, backward and often ignored Dalit people opportunities to create better lives for themselves and future generations.

 

The Dalits, traditionally regarded as ‘untouchable’ make up a large proportion of the population living below poverty level. (Members of India’s higher castes will not touch anything that has come in physical contact with the Dalits, the lowest caste.)

 

India is well known for its caste system, and despite India’s constitution having banned this practice in 1949, and national law not permitting the practice of a caste system, it still has an enormous influence on the social and economic development of India. Change is very slow, especially in rural areas.

 

Our work in the poverty-stricken region of Bodhgaya in Northern India highlights and supports the Dalit people in the region, making positive social and cultural differences – particularly in empowering women and children

 

This discrimination against the Dalits is especially significant because of the number of people affected: there are approximately 167 million Dalits in India, constituting over 16 percent of the total population. The Dalit community faces widespread discrimination across the country and at almost every level: from access to education and medical facilities, to restrictions on where they can live and what jobs they can have.

 

For many Dalits education is the only way out of poverty, but that isn’t easy. It is hard to name an influential Dalit academic, journalist, Supreme Court judge, or anyone of real public profile that has managed to break through the system.

 

Shining Hope Foundation is changing this.

 

We have launched a pioneering partnership with Inter’lude, a locally based NGO, to support educational activities for underprivileged Dalit children aged 3-6 years. Education is one of the key ways of lifting people out of poverty.

 

We are giving local children a better start in life Far too often education facilities in these areas are not only lacking in equipment and basic supplies such as paper and pencils but are badly staffed; We are training local teachers. The idea is to help the children develop emotionally and cognitively through specially selected educational toys and games, whilst embracing cultural differences.

 

It is true to say that India is changing. In the last 15 years, Indians born in historically discriminated minority castes have been elected to its highest judicial and political offices. Just look at the newly elected Prime minister; Modi who worked as a tea seller is not the usual Indian politician from a high class privileged background. Maybe his election to office offers lower caste Indians hope and an opportunity to break the mould.

 

Approximately three-quarters of the Dalit workforce are in the agricultural sector. A majority of the country’s forty million people who are bonded labourers are Dalits. These jobs rarely provide enough income for Dalits to feed their families or to send their children to school.

 

For example, even if a Dalit could afford to buy a cow and sell milk or open a shop, upper caste customers are unlikely to buy any of the produce. As a result, close to half of the Dalit population lives under the poverty line, and even more (62%) are illiterate. Less than 10% of Dalit households can afford safe drinking water, electricity and toilets.

 

India is a country undergoing huge social change because of its rapid economic growth. Poverty rates in the country have been reduced but the gap between the rich and the poor appears to be getting wider. It is still very much afflicted by the cancer of the caste system, and the Dalit community remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised in the country.

 

Village Survey Results (Human Rights Watch 2007)

 

• 37.8% of village schools force Dalit children to sit separately

 

• 27% of Dalits not able to go to the police

 

• 33% of public health workers refuse to go to Dalit homes

 

• 12% of villages reported preventing Dalits from voting

 

• 48% of villages stopped Dalits from drinking from water sources

 

• 64% villages prevented Dalits from entering temples

 

• 70% of villages do not allow Dalits to eat with non-Dalits

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