India's Dalit population are rallying against what they believe is a discriminatory and prejudicial caste system.
India’s Dalit population are rallying against what they believe is a discriminatory and prejudicial caste system.

SAN FRANCISCO (Diya TV) — Outrage was stirred across all of India after last month’s savage beatings of Dalits — Indian men regarded as the lowest rung of the country’s caste hierarchy — in the town of Una in the western state of Gujarat.

The men were beaten by a group of upper-caste men, the even showcased how the rigid social hierarchy persists more than 65 years after India instituted laws banning caste discrimination.

Each day in newspapers in India are littered with the stories of injustices against Dalits and their oppression by upper-caste Hindus. In a past month, a 13-year-old girl was beaten up for drinking from a temple water pump; a Dalit team in the traditional Indian sport of kabaddi attacked by a rival upper-caste squad for winning a match; an impoverished Dalit couple hacked to death following a disagreement with an upper-caste shopkeeper over a debt of 15 rupees (22 cents).

Dalits, formerly referred to as “untouchables,” fall victim to such attacks each year in the thousands, despite the fact laws have been enacted to protect them since India declared its independence. Even still, little has changed in how the public and officials react to the attacks, social scientists and Dalit activists say.

The outrage and protests that spread across India following the incident in Una are viewed as signs that the Dalit community will no longer tolerate the injustices they face, said Beena Pallickal of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.

“Una was a turning point in our fight,” she said recently in her office in New Delhi. “The Dalit community will no longer stay silent. We will rise in protest against all forms of prejudice.”

According to figures from the 2011 census, 204 million Dalits reside in India, a country of well over one billion.

As the country and its economy continue to develop, so does the urbanization of India — people from all walks of life and of different religious practices are being brought closer together, as this is happening, these same people are becoming less concerned with centuries-old caste divisions and traditional prejudices, analysts say.

However, for some Dalits, change is happening fast enough. A new class of educated Dalits have emerged from the fold, demanding an end to caste bigotry and discrimination – demands that sometimes touch off deadly clashes between communities. India’s National Crime Records Bureau reports that more than 700 Dalits were killed in attacks in 2014, the last year for which data is available.

Chandra Bhan Prasad, a Dalit writer, says there is a conflict between the past and the future that younger Dalits envision for themselves.

“This new generation of Dalits cannot tolerate humiliation. Nor will they accept it,” said Prasad. “They may have done so before, because they saw no way out of their subjugation at the hands of upper-caste Hindus, but not anymore.”