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EDUCATION

‘Born to work not to read’

The term Dalit means ‘crushed’ or ‘oppressed.’ This is the self-designation of this group. Mahatma Gandhi called these people Harijan, a euphemistic term meaning ‘Children of God’. Dalits used to be called ‘Untouchables’, a derogatory term which reflects their status outside the caste system.

According to the caste ideology which persists in India today, there are four castes, each of which emerged originally from some part of the deity. Dalits did not come from the deity and hence remain outcastes. Often they are considered similar to animals and less than human. They are born into this condition, according to caste thinking, because of past karma, that is, their actions in past lives.

Tragically, Dalits in the past have been conditioned to believe that being unclean coolie workers is the will of the gods and the result of their past lives. Labouring is their lot in life. Or as some have said, ‘We are born to work, not to read.’

There are more than 200 million Dalits in India. Those in the remote hills around Kodaikanal are among the most deprived. The Grihini Program seeks to make these women aware of why they are deprived and to enable them to realise their potential.

Dalits in a colony in the hill village of Poombarai

Dalits in a colony in the hill village of Poombarai

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