Born Unequal – India’s Dalits

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Dalits sweeping the streets, Bombay, India, 1996

The life of the Untouchables or Dalits (the oppressed)  as they preferred to be called, is to live in grinding poverty and violence, especially in the rural areas of India.

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Dalit Buddhists worship in front of a banner of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar a main architect of the Indian Constitution promoter of Buddhism amongst the Dalits. 1993

Dr. Ambedkar won a scholarship from Columbia University in New York and the London School of Economics, at a time when few Dalits could read or write. When he returned to India, he was shocked to realize that he was still considered Untouchable, and devoted the rest of his life to advocate for Dalits.

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Man working in Sewer, India, 1996

“The Dalits may live in the world’s largest democracy, but their lives are shaped by a system of sanctified apartheid.” Carla Power

India, Bombay, 1993

Bombay, 1993

Discrimination based on caste has been illegal since 1947, but little has changed for the Dalits, especially in the rural areas.

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Bombay, 1993

Against all odds, some Dalits have been able to rise to prominence.  Among them are K.R. Narayanan, president from 1997  to 2002.  A Dalit woman, Mayawati, is the current chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state.  She heads her own  political party, the BSP.

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Anand, Gujarat, India, 1996

Meira Kumar, a Dalit woman,  was elected unanimously as the first woman Speaker in the lower house of Parliament, where she will preside over 543 elected members.  She is a lawyer and diplomat and was elected to the parliament a total of five times while having served as a cabinet minister at the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment from 2004-2009.

Meira Kumar

Meira Kumar Photo courtesy: Sipra Das/India Today 

As India takes her place amongst the world’s superpowers, there are many indications that this centuries-old oppression will start to change as education becomes more available, and as globalization changes the economic landscape of India.

20 Responses to “Born Unequal – India’s Dalits”

  1. Prema Says:

    I have been in India,and stayed for seven weeks.I was brought up in London and am still living and working in Europe.
    In India I learnt for the very first time about caste-ism.I was shocked.Why among Indians ,Dalits are not considered as human beings.Here in Europe,Black and White work together.No doubt,there is discrimination,but in India,Dalits do not enjoy the same rights.In papers,yes,in reality.NO.
    In Government posts,99% of the jobs are filled with high castes,In film industry there are no Dalit actors.But there Christians and Muslims.Why is this so ? We all are children of God,and yet Dalits are treated like animals.
    But I have a dream that one day Dalits will be on top.

  2. Hi.. Steve..
    UNTOUCHABLITY STILL EXISTS IN METRO POLITAN CITY LIKE MYSORE.
    IN MYSORE, people don’t give their house to rent for Dalits even he is a Govt. Employee or Higher educated!!!
    What a shame.
    This is my lively example in 2012!
    16% dalits in India or 18 crores.
    But,
    No dalit actor or technician in Bollywood or Regional film industry’s 100 years history!!
    No dalit in Indian Cricket team in 100 years of Indian cricket history!!!
    Do u know the fact that
    No dalit

  3. Thanks for being an inspiration.

  4. Casteism still exists in the blood of many Indians. But I strongly believe that future of India is in the hands of Dalits. Now already there are upcoming Dalit millionaires in India.

    Dalits are blessed with many talents, including music and singing. Nowhere Dalit musical instruments have importance in India. There are number of Drums that played at various occasions with different styles of drumming.

    Can we see India caste free nation, is our generation have privilege to see a Dalit as a prime minister of India…

  5. Thanks for this great post and photos.

  6. Dear Steve,
    I am a teacher student in Denmark and was planning an English class when I came across your blog. I was looking for photos to show the students as I talk to them about the plight of the Dalit people and show them that racism still exists in the world today. I was hoping I could use a few of your photos in my presentation. Please let me know if this is alright with you.
    Kind Regards. Sara

  7. hey its a beautiful effort to aware people as this is the crude reality of our shining india ,please keep up the good work …..

  8. color of picture is very good, i hope to undestand color

  9. Dear Brother,
    Jai Bhim
    Really your work is Great.
    I am here by apreciate the effort.
    Regards
    R.Prakash,Kerala
    rpraksh33@gmail.com

  10. Gracias por sus fotografias, siempre que tengo malos momentos en este oficio, me reconforta ver sus imagenes, y me recuerdan lo bello de la fotografia.

  11. That’s some engaging writing to go along with your pictures. I would look at and love your photos no matter what words appear below, but the writing does provide structure and depth to the sequence.

    I think blogs are excellent for this–the writing doesn’t have to be a full-blown essay, just some insightful notes from decades of world experiences.

  12. Keep writing, Steve. We need more people like you — people willing to take up the fight against injustice without imposing Western standards.

    Thanks for your thoughts, and as always, your remarkable eye.

    brandon

  13. SIDDHESH GHAG Says:

    Dear Steve,

    A deeply rooted caste system (about 4000 years old) will take some time to be ‘ROOTED OUT’, i think the change has started however it will take atleast 50 more years to reach each and every corner of the country.

    The images that you have posted are fantastic, your images are very lively and have a long lasting impact on the viewer as if they tell a story. Much like Ansel Adams and his B/W photographs very very very compelling.

    Thanks for sharing your work with the world.

    Regards,
    Siddhesh

  14. caste system is last apartheid in world.
    i agree with pawan . only better education system and more middle class families will be change situation.
    un saludo
    neven

  15. Hi Steve,

    Are you in twitter?

    Regards,
    -Pawan

    • Hi, Pawan,
      No, I’m not on twitter yet.
      Best,
      Steve

      • Thanks for reply Steve,

        Thought to share with you that you can link blog, twitter, facebook pages and other networking sites through feeds.

        It will automatically post your truncated blog entry to twitter with link to post and same to facebook.

        Regards,
        Pawan

  16. Hi Steve,

    Time is changing, younger generation don’t believe in any caste system now a days, you can easily find inter-caste or inter-religious marriages.

    This is due to a better education system and more middle class families than the time of Indian independence.

    Though discrimination of one human by another will always be there, until each one is different, if not caste then something else, place doesn’t matter.

    Regards,
    Pawan

  17. Countries where limited opportunities exist for growth and human potential, becomes a breeding ground for discontent and depression. Eventually bitterness and anger produce radical movements that lead to destruction and unnecessary deaths. Africa is a continent filled with atrocities and genocides. It would be a shame to see India follow in the footsteps of Rwanda 1994 or the Congo today.

  18. Caste system must go away from my country. I truly believe that.The chances should be equal for every one.

    Though there are reservations for the lower caste in the educational institutes or government in jobs for sure but that policy is widely misused by some of the corrupted politician for their personal gain.

    I think govt should re-look on these polices.

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