India is also known to be the country from which one of the worlds largest religious congregations has originated, Hinduism. Thus, about 80% of the population is Hindu, and 14% is Muslim. Other significant religions include Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists. There is no state religion (India, n.d.).
India and the large number of its population is home to a vast array of culture and people, and a distinct classification of its Hindu believing population of the structural and hierarchical classification of its own members known as the caste system.
The caste is a closed group whose members are severely restricted in their choice of occupation and degree of social participation. Marriage outside the caste is prohibited. Social status is determined by the caste of ones birth and may only rarely be transcended (Caste, n.d.).
The caste system is an intricate classification of its population and many people can directly associate the said term with the untouchables or the Panchamas or Dalits who are the lowest ranked within the system and are tasked to perform the most menial tasks of the community (Caste, n.d; Dalit, n.d.).
Even though the Constitution of the Republic of India disallows untouchability the caste remains to be very influential in Indian Society (India, n.d.).
Likened to other countries or states, India is also home to its own indigenous people, one of which is the so called Adivasis or literally the original inhabitants who comprise a substantial indigenous minority of the population of India. These Indian tribes are also called Atavika (forest dwellers, in Sanskrit texts), Vanvasis or Girijans (hill people, e.g. by Mahatma Gandhi) (Adivasi, n.d.).
Together with the Dalits, the Adivasis form the most discriminated group of people in the Indian community. These groups of people are said to be constantly subjected to ridicule and shame all over India in a constant basis.
A study conducted by Mayell, H. (2003) has chronicled some atrocities committed particularly against the Dalits who are historically the only ones referred to as untouchables by citing that Statistics compiled by Indias National Crime Records Bureau indicate that in the year 2000, the last year for which figures are available, 25,455 crimes were committed against Dalits. Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, and two Dalit homes are torched.
Furthermore, she stated that No one believes these numbers are anywhere close to the reality of crimes committed against Dalits. Because the police, village councils, and government officials often support the caste system, which is based on the religious teachings of Hinduism, many crimes go unreported due to fear of reprisal, intimidation by police, inability to pay bribes demanded by police, or simply the knowledge that the police will do nothing (Mayell, 2003.)
The Dalits can trace its being oppressed from the fact that India being largely a country of people adhering to Hindu beliefs from which the caste system is derived, are the people who are supposed to be the untouchables or, as discussed, ranked at the lowest. As a result of this, naturally the Dalits are can be rightfully perceived and treated the way religion, tradition and history has treated them, which is sadly bordering on slavery. However, without passing judgment, albeit being quite possibly insensitive, the plight of the Dalits can easily be viewed as part of the natural made up of the Hinduism belief from which any non-Hindu society member can not and should not question.
Religiously speaking, based on the Hindu belief a Dalit is a person who has does not have any varnas. Varna refers to the Hindu belief that most humans were supposedly created from different parts of the body of the divinity Purusha. The part from which a Varna was supposedly created defines a persons social status with regards to issues such as who they can marry and which professions they could hold (Dalit, n.d.).
For their parts, the Adivasis being the original dwellers of India had their own unique way of societal structure, culture and tradition which has like most indigenous tribes all over the world become outmoded as the modern world around them evolved. The discrimination and pitiful situation of the Adivasis are not directly rooted to Hinduism but possibly to a mix of modernization and the former. This possible mix can not be easily discounted knowing the fact that most people in India are Hindu or believers of Hinduism.
It is important to stress that the Adivasis as a classification within the Indian population is not brought about or classified as such by Hinduism per se or as part of its caste system. As discussed, the Adivasis is an ethnic group who are original inhabitants of India possibly even prior to the birth of Hinduism whose culture has failed to completely cope up with the modern world.
Thus, Bijoy, C. (2003) said relegating the Adivasis to the lowest rung in the social ladder was but natural and formed the basis of social and political decision making by the largely upper caste controlled mainstream. The ancient Indian scriptures, scripted by the upper castes, also further provided legitimacy to this.
Hence, even though that the Adivasis can mostly trace their own problems from the failure of their culture and practices to conform to the modern world, as contrast to that of the Dalits, which can easily trace their own problems from its religion, the Adivasis by simply being not well-equipped enough to cope with the modern world are easily lumped together with the Dalits. As a result, together the Dalits and Adivasis form the most oppressed people in India who are more known as the untouchables.
According to Tarique (2008) it is not only a struggle for dignity and self-respect that these poor groups of Indian people are fighting for. They are also engaged in the struggle for their rights and entitlements for land, access to natural resources, livelihood, employment and to market in general. (Tarique, 2008.)
It is sad to note that these said factual happenings in a modern world such as ours are still happening. It is but a semblance of irony knowing that the problems that these people are facing and fighting everyday are rooted to one of mans most sacred possessions, his religious beliefs, which in itself has taught us notions of goodness and the proper way to which we should live our lives; religion, from which ideas of turning away from sin and helping ones own fellowman being the exact cause of a structuralized system of discrimination and oppression.
Strictly speaking it is difficult to question the plight of these untouchables more so with the Dalits than the Adivasis because the formers pitiful situation can be justified by the fact that society has adapted it as part of its religious beliefs. An outsider or any non-Hindu looking into the said situation may not have the proper perspective to look into the plight of these untouchables.
However, it is without a doubt that when one adapts the globally accepted notion of humane treatment, the sorry plight of these untouchables more so that of the Adivasis who are clearly not directly Hindu in origin, but more of an accidental untouchables, are well below the world standards of humane treatment.
Today as the world has chosen to progress and adapt globally its own evolving norms of legal and illegal, acceptable and taboo, good or bad, the world has given more emphasis to equality among ALL MEN without qualifications based on race, gender, birth, color of skin and etc. It is without a doubt that the untouchables of India both the Dalits and Adivasis are victims of a society who have failed to progress with the times.
Adapting the global perspective and the trend to which modern world is predominantly practicing, todays world would put any country into shame when one does not act upon or even question the sad and pitiful plight of the Dalits and the Adivasis, the so called untouchables, the accidental slaves of society, people who are as early as birth are discriminated.
In fact as already pointed out, it shall be everyones dream to realize and fulfill the perceived mandate of the Indian Constitution itself that outlaws this form of treatment of the so called untouchables. Perhaps only then one can give more emphasis and be prouder to claim India as a country truly rich in culture and proud history.
Adivasi. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 8, 2008, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Adivasi
Bijoy, C. (2003). The Adivasis of India. A History of Discrimination, Conflict and Resistance. PUCL Bulletin. Retrieved January 8, 2008, from http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Dalit-tribal/2003/adivasi.htm
Caste. (n.d.). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 8, 2008, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/columbia/caste
Dalit. (n.d.). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 8, 2008, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/wiki/Dalit
India. (n.d.). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from Reference.com website: http://www.reference.com/browse/columbia/India
Mayell, H. (2003). Indias Untouchables Face Violence, Discrimination. National Geographic News. Retrieved January 9, 2008, from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/06/0602_030602_untouchables.html
People of India. (n.d.). People of India. Retrieved January 9, 2008, from http://www.webindia123.com/india/people/people.htm
Tarique (2008). Fact Finding Mission on the Violence against Dalit and Adivasis Kundahamal District. India News. Retrieved January 10, 2008, from http://www.indianmuslims.info/news/2008/jan/09/fact_finding_mission_violence_against_dalit_and_adivais_kundahamal_district.html