The untouchablity feature is one of the cruelest features of the caste system. It is seen by many as one of the strongest racist phenomenon in the world.
Untouchables or Dalits may not enter the higher-caste sections of villages, may not use the same wells, wear shoes in the presence of upper castes, visit the same temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls, or lay claim to land that is legally theirs. This therefore makes them “untouchable.”
Untouchables are seen as “pollutants” and their dwellings are distanced from the settlements of the four Indian Varna communities. The untouchables are not allowed to touch people from the four Varnas. They are not allowed to enter houses of the higher Varnas, enter the temples, drink from the same cups in tea stalls or use the same wells used by the Varnas, nor lay claim to land that is legally theirs. On public occasions, they are compelled to sit at a distance from the four Varnas. In regions where the attitude towards the untouchables is more severe, not only touching them was seen polluting, but even a contact with their shadow was seen as polluting. .
A Dalit cannot send his boy or girl to the village school where the other boys and girls of the village go. Dalit men and women or children may not walk in a street where caste people live.
In the Indian society, people who worked in ignominious, polluting and unclean occupations were seen as polluting peoples and were therefore considered as untouchables. The untouchables had almost no rights in the society. In different parts of India they are treated in different ways. In some regions the attitude towards the untouchables was harsh and strict. In other regions it was less strict.
In regions where the attitude is less strict, the untouchables are seen as pollutants and their dwellings are at a distance from the settlements of the four Varna communities. The untouchables were not allowed to touch people from the four Varnas. They were not allowed to enter houses of the higher Varnas. Centuries of oppression have been inflicted upon the Dalit people causing deep psychological wounds, trauma, and low self-esteem.
The cruelty of the caste system is that one is born into that caste — or non-caste as in the case of the Dalit and from this there is no escape, ever…no matter what one does or achieves. In the eyes of the majority of the people of India, a Dalit by the fact of birth alone is forever condemned as an agent of pollution.
The Dalit Christians are still carrying the cross of humiliation, exploitation, oppression, and subjugation. For example, the Dalit cannot go to the village pump or well to draw water as the other villagers do. A Dalit cannot send his boy or girl to the village school where the other boys and girls of the village go. The Dalit cannot set foot in the temple. Dalit men and women or children may not walk in a street where caste people live. In a village restaurant, a Dalit cannot use the same cup as the caste people. Such constant inhuman treatment has a devastating impact on the psyche. This psychic wound has been inflicted on the Dalits by others.
"You were born in the image of God." For many Christians across the globe this is a well-known and common Biblical verse from Genesis 1:27, but for Kumar Swamy and his family this would be the most radical and life-changing message they had ever heard. Though the words are simple, the power contained in them was enough to have them dedicate themselves to Jesus in an instant and compel them to spend their lives fighting for the oppressed, as well as spreading His name to everyone who would listen. Swamy and his family are Dalits.
There are over 250 million Dalit men, woman and children who are abused, neglected and exploited in what is widely considered the world's largest human rights atrocity. Currently, there is an effort to empower Dalits with education and through the grace of Jesus Christ, but the greatest challenge is a suppressive socio-religious order which has been engrained into the psyche of the Indian people.
India is home to the world's second largest population, with about 1.2 billion people, but it is also home to the largest and most historically oppressed group in history, the Dalits. Dalits comprise a societal group that has been oppressed, degraded and discriminated against for over 2,500 years. This group falls outside the predominant Indian social hierarchy, which subjects them to enumerated hardships, extreme discrimination and enslavement.
"Broken," "outcast" and "crushed" are all words that have been used to describe the Dalits. The name connotes a dehumanized state of being, allowing upper caste members to justify despicable actions which include forced prostitution, enslavement and perhaps the most harmful, indifference.
What now poses the greatest challenge, given the circumstances, is the depth in which discrimination and feelings of worthlessness have been engrained into the minds of the Dalits, and the deeply held contempt for the Dalit people by those who continue to observe the caste system.
The work is just beginning and there is still a long road difficult road to go, but we are confident that with continued hard work, and dedication to Jesus Christ, the Dalits will eventually be able to rise up above the caste system that has oppressed them for thousands of years. (1)
(1) The Forgotten People of India - Part 1: God Touches the 'Untouchables', By Myles Collier, Christian Post Contributor.