Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
In South Asia's caste system, a Dalit (formerly known as untouchable or achuta) is a person outside of the four castes, and considered below them. Untouchables include such people as leather-workers. There are various subcastes or jatis within untouchable, the lowest ranking generally considered to be the Bhangis. At the 1991 census, Dalits constituted more than 16% of India's population,  with the greatest numbers living in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and Bihar. They are also found in Nepal. In Pakistan, more than 60% of the total Hindu population are Dalits.
Harijan was the polite form for untouchable coined by Mahatma Gandhi which means "Children of God" (Hari is another name for Vishnu, a Hindu God). Untouchables generally consider this term to be condescending and prefer the name dalit (Hindi: दलित), variously translated as "crushed", "stepped on" or "oppressed". The term scheduled castes/scheduled tribes (SC/ST) is also used in the Indian legal system to refer to this group along with other non-caste tribes.
Scheduled castes and tribes are entitled to vote on their own separate electoral rolls in Indian elections, a measure sought by B.R. Ambedkar and other Dalit activists in order to ensure that Dalits would obtain a proportionate political voice.
M.K. Gandhi made it a part of the Indian National Congress's mission to eradicate untouchability. For this reason, untouchability has been officially abolished in India, although social practice on the ground has lagged behind, particularly in rural villages. There, Dalits are still not allowed to allow their shadows fall upon a Brahmin for fear of ritually contaminating him or her; and they are still required to sweep the ground where they walk to remove the 'contamination' of their footfalls. Rural Dalits are commonly forbidden from worshipping in temples or drawing water from the same wells as caste Hindus, and they usually live in segregated neighbourhoods outside of the main village.
Because of the casteist violence and degradation imposed on Dalits, they have often been drawn to religions such as Buddhism (see Neo-Buddhism), Christianity (see Dalit theology), or Islam, which professed to free them of caste distinctions. Notwithstanding, the bulk of the Dalit population remain broadly speaking within the Hindu fold.
- B.R. Ambedkar, chief architect of the Indian Constitution and founder of Neo-Buddhism
- Ayyankali, activist for Harijans' rights
- Mayawati, twice Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
- K.R. Narayanan, tenth President of India
- Chandra Bhan Prasad, Columnist at The Pioneer and Dalit activist
- Kanshi Ram, leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party
- Udit Raj , political and religious activist
- Varnas: Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra
- Aryan invasion theory
- Dalit theology
- Burakumin - a similar, possibly related, phenomena in Japan.
- Mari Marcel Thekaekara. 1999. Endless Filth: The Saga of the Bhangis. London: Zed Books. ISBN 184277266X.
- Subrata K. Mitra and V.B. Singh. 1999. Democracy and Social Change in India: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the National Electorate. New Delhi: Sage Publications. ISBN 817036809X (India HB) ISBN 0761993444 (U.S. HB).
- Untouchable @ National Geographic Magazine
- Dalit - links at Open Directory Project
- Root Of Hindu Untouchability
- Scheduled Castes Federation of Pakistan
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