UnionAID Fact Sheet 1 Supporting real change: India
Life at the bottom of India’s caste system There are people in India who cannot let their shadows touch those of other people. Today, Untouchables, as they used to be called, prefer the name Dalit which means “crushed underfoot” or oppressed. Dalits exist at the very bottom of an ancient caste system which has ruled the lives of Hindus for about 2‐3 thousand years. This caste system is fixed from birth. Dalits have to do the work that no‐one else will do. These are the dirty jobs like rubbish scavenging, cleaning toilets, clearing away dead cattle, or handling dead bodies for cremation. In the countryside they often work for landowners as bonded labourers or slaves.
The effects of globalisation The impact of globalisation and associated economic reforms has impacted unfairly on Dalits with increased poverty, and the undermining of the job reservation systems through privatisation. This impact has been compounded, at a global level, by wealthy countries in the WTO refusing to change the rules to allow poorer countries market access to sell their agricultural products in richer countries. Fair trade means paying a fair price to the people who produce the goods and also making sure that they are treated well as workers. Countries should also be treated equally. This does not always happen. Patrick McCombs