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.
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.
“The Dalits may live in the world’s largest democracy, but their lives are shaped by a system of sanctified apartheid.” Carla Power
Discrimination based on caste has been illegal since 1947, but little has changed for the Dalits, especially in the rural areas.
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.
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.
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.