India: The voices of God?s children

Last March 15, a group of people began to assemble in the public parade ground across from St. Xavier?s school in Patna, India. Before long they numbered 100,000 rallying for the rights of the traditional outcasts of Indian society. The Dalits are the untouchables, the ?scheduled castes? ranking below the four layers of India?s caste system. Dalits reject Gandhi?s term ?harijan? meaning Children of God, but are also uneasy with ?dalit? which means bruised or crushed. They live in settlements outside village boundaries and have their own complex caste and sub-caste system that signals traditional occupations such as cobblers, or toddy tappers (those who tap coconut or palm trees for their sap, which is then distilled). Founded in 1982 and still directed by Dr. José Kananaikil SJ, Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti is a secular organisation (samiti) involving Dalits of all castes and religious affiliations; it is managed by them and works for their development (vikas) in 14 regions in Bihar. BDVS has over 500 village societies, each comprising a minimum of ten members, and 200 volunteers. It helps the village units fight for their rights to be recognised by government and society, to have Dalits believe in themselves, raise their voices in dignity, and peacefully claim their full membership in society. Education, traditionally denied, is a primary objective. A saving scheme has protected many from enslavement to money lenders. Women are taking leadership in self-help projects for their families. According to Fr. Josey Kunnunkal SJ, the rally on Dalit Day showed that ?they are not alone. They arrived in numbers, and so both they and others can see the strength of our people. Let?s hope that one day they will be proud of being Dalits.? [HL10106]