“The Dalits of this country get access to water on the goodwill of the dominant caste. Water to untouchables is still miles away,” says Goldy M George, a Dalit activist and an expert on Dalit rights.
Caste-based discrimination still persistsin India many years after independence, and access to natural resources like land, water, etc. is still denied to most Dalits. However, this isn't the popular opinion at all although there are numerous case studies from across the country on violence against Dalits trying to access water.
Who are Dalits?
According to the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, The word 'Dalit', comes from the Sanskrit root dal- and means “broken, ground-down, downtrodden, or oppressed.” Those previously known as 'Untouchables', 'Depressed Classes', and 'Harijans' are today increasingly adopting the term 'Dalit' as a name for themselves.
Dalit refers to one’s caste rather than class and it applies to members of those menial castes that have borne the stigma of “untouchability” because of the extreme impurity and pollution connected with their traditional occupations. Dalits are outcastes falling outside the traditional four-fold caste system consisting of the hereditary Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, and Shudra classes.
Some striking facts on Dalits and their access to basic services in India:
- Dalits represent a community of 170 million in India, constituting 17% of the population.
- 37 percent of Dalits live below the poverty line.
- About one-third of Dalit households do not have basic facilities.
- Dalits were denied access to water sources in 48.4% of villages because of segregation & untouchability practices.
- More than 20% of Dalits do not have access to safe drinking water.
- Only 10% of Dalit households have access to sanitation (as compared to 27% of non-Dalit households).
The film 'Water-Untouched' touches upon many of these points and raises several critical questions on their very existence.