Arunthathiyar women at a self-help group meeting
Arunthathiyar women at a self-help group meeting

Rural India has a dark side: a caste system that condemns Dalit communities to pariah status, menial and demeaning work, and poverty. The people once known as untouchables or Harijans, and now termed Dalits, suffer discrimination, daily humiliation and at times, atrocity. Most of those below the poverty line in rural India are Dalits. Dalit communities traditionally had little choice but to succumb to this apartheid-like system, despite government measures such as positive discrimination.

Life as a Dalit

What do VST and its partners do?

  • We give priority to Dalits in all our programmes, and especially to the Arunthathiyar sub-group, sometimes termed the Dalits of the Dalits.
  • We encourage Dalits to join self-help groups and to use the panchayat system to obtain benefits for themselves and their community.
  • We work with Arunthathiyar activists who by campaigning for social justice are changing public attitudes, not least among Dalits themselves.

Recent achievements:

  • Direct action in protest at separate teashop tumblers for Dalits gained wide publicity and discouraged the practice.
  • Campaigners won rights to burial land and special reservation of government jobs and college places for Arunthathiyars.
  • Thousands joined a rally to protest against untouchability; further demonstrations held against illegal high interest loans.
  • Dozens of cases of violence against Dalit women taken up under the Prevention of Atrocity Act.
  • Hundreds of Dalit women have increased their income by obtaining credit for micro-enterprise.
  • Helped organise a conference on caste discrimination and development at SOAS, University of London. View the podcast  Read a summary of the conference speeches

Case study: Tamilselvi

Caste today – an article by Professor David Mosse of SOAS

VST trustee Professor David Mosse of SOAS addressed a mass audience in Nagpur at an event commemorating the 125th anniversary of the birth of Dalit champion, Dr Ambedkar Read his blog