Scheduled Castes

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People from Scheduled Castes (SCs) – otherwise known as dalits – are socially excluded in India, facing discrimination on the basis of their position at the very bottom of the Indian caste system. As a result, dalits find themselves excluded from many aspects of day-to-day life including health services, economies and educational establishments. SCs make up 16.6% of India’s population (Census, 2011) although this percentage is higher
 if dalits who have converted to other religions, such as Christianity or Islam, are included.

Cultural discrimination

People from Scheduled Castes – otherwise known as dalits – were outside of the Indian Hindu caste system, deemed “untouchable” by the higher castes. Their untouchability status meant that higher caste groups would not touch, speak to or interact with dalits, resulting in their exclusion from community life.

Although the caste system was officially abolished in 1949, dalits are still looked down upon and discriminated against in Indian society due to ingrained cultural norms.

Health discrimination

Under 5 mortality for SCs is substantially above the national average – 88 out of 1000 children from SC groups die before their 5th birthday, whereas the national average is 74 out of 1000. This is due, in part, to the fact that health workers are usually from higher castes and often deny dalits treatment or refuse to touch them. If treatment is provided, quality of care is often poor and unacceptable attitudes are frequently encountered.

Economic discrimination

A person’s job was determined by their position in the Hindu caste system. Traditional dalit jobs include street cleaning and removing toilet waste, otherwise known as manual scavenging.

Today, many SCs still find themselves trapped in these caste-based jobs and face discrimination when applying for other jobs. They also tend to get lower wages.

Educational discrimination

Children from SCs face discrimination in schools, often at the hands of higher caste teachers and pupils. Discrimination includes being forced to sit separately from other children, being made to clean toilets and not being given school books and uniforms. 

Children from SCs rarely progress beyond the primary level. This is reflected in the gap in literacy between SCs and the rest of the population – only 66.1% of those belonging to SCs can read and write compared with the national average of 73%. Ultimately this leads to lower employment chances and long-term income poverty

Multiple forms of exclusion

Dalits who belong to other socially excluded groups face greater challenges as they have to deal with multiple forms of social exclusion. For example a Muslim dalit may face double discrimination based on both their caste and their religion.


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