We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Dalit?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
Our promise to you
PublicPeople is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At PublicPeople, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

In the Indian caste system, a dalit is someone who is without caste. There are several other terms for dalits, including untouchables, outcastes, kanjjar, bhangi, harijan, and chura. “Dalit” is the more socially acceptable term, adopted to express the systemic impression which people without caste have endured over thousands of years of Indian culture. Numerous organizations have lobbied to change the way that dalits are treated in Indian society, and a number of laws have been passed in attempts to outlaw discrimination.

The Indian caste system is quite complex, and based in the Hindu religion although people of all religions are divided into castes in India, along with several other nations. For thousands of years, caste was a crucial determining factor in where someone fit into society, and the rigid system did not have room for social climbing or efforts against discrimination. There are four castes in India, also known as varnas; people who do not fall into any caste are considered dalits, and their lack of caste turns them into social pariahs.

Because a dalit essentially lacks divinity, he or she may be assigned to menial labor which higher castes believe is polluting. Dalits have traditionally participated in animal slaughter, garbage collection, sewage handling, and dealing with cadavers. These polluting vocations only enforce the status of dalits, with upper castes forcing them to use different facilities, and to avoid handling or touching people of caste. In some parts of India, dalits were not even allowed to cast a shadow onto upper class members of Indian society.

In the twentieth century, Indian society underwent numerous reforms, including a formal rejection of the caste system. In practice, this rejection has been difficult to enforce in some regions of India, as the social roles dictated by caste are so embedded into Indian society. However, legislation against the caste system has allowed dalits more civil rights, providing access to education, healthcare, and social services. Many dalits unfortunately continue to perform menial work, and some are bonded laborers, essentially slaves who must work to pay off debts.

Many social justice organizations advocate for people with a dalit status. Their efforts have made life as a dalit much easier in modern India, and they have laid the groundwork for progressive antidiscrimination legislation. While the caste system in India is unlikely to disappear altogether, changes in Indian society allow people to move around more freely in society, pursuing personal hopes and dreams in addition to living in accordance with religious and cultural values.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PublicPeople researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon340327 — On Jul 02, 2013

What are examples of Dalits?

By anon192635 — On Jul 02, 2011

I would like to comment here, so that I can clear up a few things. Apartheid and such maligns are visible to the naked eye, but just as no amount of light can conquer the darkness in every nook and crevice, similarly, no atrocity and discrimination can be completed gotten rid of.

The mere reason for me to share my opinion is because, what the governmental and non-governmental agencies are doing is, creating a quota. Something that should be rightfully ours (just as any other citizen's rights), is only presented to us because the law says so. We are given economic, educational and social reservations, which in turn creates an envious animosity against us.

What the scene was a hundred years ago, it's the same. The only difference being, that the "upper" castes, or the non-dalits, have to accept the fact by law. But still, animosity and discrimination reigns in the corners of their hearts, which can be seen in various acts which are not under law, like offending someone or insulting someone. These invisible discriminations can only be gotten rid of if the people who pray to god for karma and moksha (freedom of the soul to attain peace) learn to get rid of the illusory superiority.

As long as people feel they are compelled, that they are better than others, because some religious book tells them, we are not going to ever live in a peaceful world.

It's like asking this question: "Does god love you more than he loves me?" --Gaurav F.

By bear78 — On Mar 31, 2011

I think India has gotten far and is moving towards ending the discrimination against Dalits. It may seem slow but I have full confidence in it. I think as Indians are more educated and get to experience other cultures first-hand, they will notice more and more the discrimination that is taking place.

Has anyone heard of Ruth Manorama and the National Federation of Dalit Women? I read about her in a magazine about NGOs. She is the President of this organization and has started a campaign called

"Dalits among the Dalits." She and others are working to end discrimination and improve the lives of Dalits, especially Dalit women in India. The best part is that she is of Dalit background herself and she is even one of the nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize.

So Ruth Manorama is an example to Dalits in India and proof that they can change their lives. Efforts such as these will have great impact and I believe will be a source of hope and aspiration for Dalits.

By candyquilt — On Mar 30, 2011

I heard that the caste system was started to point out which occupations a family or person worked in. Because children often took up the family occupation and continued it and so did their children and so on.

But I guess at some point, the system turned into discrimination. I was born and raised in the U.S. but my mom tells me a lot about growing up and going to school in India. She says that in school, her cast was written next to her name and the teachers knew which cast each student belonged to.

My grandmother also was resistant to my mom playing or making friends with kids of lower castes and also kids of different religions. And I think in many towns in India, there is huge opposition to inter-caste marriages and many of them result in murder of the couple. They call this honor killings and law enforcement rarely if ever does anything.

Universities also allocate a certain number of seats for each caste. Once a certain cast fills up, the other students who applied are refused. That means that even institutions of education are more concerned about cast rather than intelligence and capacity in students.

By discographer — On Mar 27, 2011

I personally think that the belief of karma and reincarnation in Hinduism is why Dalits have been enduring so much discrimination and ill treatment in India.

I have Indian friends and we watch Indian cinema together sometimes. I noticed a trend through these films that people who are not happy with their lives and life standards are told to endure whatever they experience because it must be a result of their karma- the things they have done in their past lives.

I think the Dalits are forced to believe that they were bad people in their past lives, and so that is why they must live as a Dalit now. I think they also believe that if they endure these challenging life conditions, if they don't resist or rebel to it, they will be reborn into a better life.

I'm glad that both the governmental and non-governmental organizations in India are working to end Dalit discrimination, the caste system and its implications. But I also understand that it's not an easy thing to accomplish because these beliefs are embedded in the society and the religion.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

PublicPeople, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.