Caste is a form of social exclusion unique to the South Asian subcontinent. It is most prevalent in India, but exists also in Nepal and in modified forms in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan for more than 5000 years. Castes or jatis are identified in a hierarchy; at the top are usually Brahmins, members of various merchant or bania castes, and members of regionally-identified ‘dominant castes’ who are farmers and control much of the land. The “Untouchables” now called Dalits, who are considered ritually impure – though Dalits and Adivasis are outside this system, but also perform most of the agricultural labour and much of the casual labour in India.
More than 170 million people in India continue to be subject to discrimination, exploitation and violence simply because of their caste. In India’s “hidden apartheid,” untouchability relegates Dalits throughout the country to a lifetime of segregation and abuse. Caste-based divisions continue to dominate in housing, marriage, employment, graveyard and general social interaction that are reinforced through economic boycotts and physical violence.
Caste discrimination is traditionally rooted in the Hindu caste system, according to which Dalits are considered ‘outcasts’. However, caste systems and the ensuing discrimination have spread into Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities.
They are denied basic human rights not allowed to own property rights and to use public and common property such as the wells, tanks and temples. After India’s independence when India declared itself as a democratic nation having adopting a written constitution in which the practice of social exclusion in the form of untouchability is been abolished and made it as a punishable offence under article 17 of the Indian constitution and have made several developmental provision for the Dalits. Despite the form of discrimination, untouchability and caste atrocities are still prevalent and widespread with newer forms and strategies.