In South Asia’s caste system, a Dalit (Hindi: ????) — formerly known as untouchable or achuta — is a person outside of the four Varnas, and considered below of all and polluting. Dalits include people as leather-workers, scavengers, tanners, flayers, cobblers, agricultural labourers, municipal cleaners, gymnasts, drum beaters, folk musicians and street handicraft persons. Like upper castes, Dalit are also divided into various sub-castes or jatis.
NON-DALIT MEANING OF WORD DALIT
Word Dalit has been defined differently by different people. Normally non-Dalit writers and intellectuals have invented its root in Sanskrit and considered its meaning as broken, crack, split and as adjective they have given this word the meanings of burst, split, broken or torn asunder, downtrodden, scattered, crushed, destroyed etc.
DALIT MEANING OF THE WORD DALIT
But for Dalits meaning of this word is qualitatively different. The word was popularised by the Dalit Panther Movement, when they adopted this term as an act of confident assertion, rejecting Mahatama Gandhi’s nomenclature of Harijan, children of God. Dalit Panthers defined this word in their 1972 manifesto as: “A member of Scheduled Castes and Tribes, neo-Buddhist, the working-people, the land-less and poor peasants, women, and all those who are being exploited politically, economically, and in the name of religion.” Noted Dalit Laureate Gangadhar Pantawane wrote: “Dalit is not a caste, Dalit is a symbol of change and revolution. The Dalit believes in humanism. He rejects existence of god, rebirth, soul, sacred books that teach discrimination, fate, and heaven because these make him a slave.” While the informed Dalit tend to agree that the ancient beliefs of Hinduism (Brahmanism) are the root cause of their sufferings, most accept a narrower view of membership than the above definitions suggest. Both Dalit and non-Dalit Indians see the term relating only to the Scheduled Castes (the untouchables of the past) and the Scheduled Tribes (the adivasis or the indigenous people of India).
According to the 2001 Census, the Scheduled Castes population in India is 166,635,700 persons, constituting 16.2 per cent of the country’s total population. Being rural people, four fifth (79.8 per cent) of them live in rural areas and rest one-fifth (20.2 per cent) live in urban areas. The sex ratio of 936 females per thousand males is slightly higher than national average of 933 sex ratios.
The highest percentage of Scheduled Castes population to the total Scheduled Castes population of the country live in Uttar Pradesh (21.1 per cent) followed by West Bengal (11.1 per cent) and Bihar (7.8 per cent), Andhra Pradesh (7.4 percent) and Tamil Nadu (7.1.percent). In fact, more than 57 per cent of total Scheduled Castes population inhabit in these five States. Proportionately, the largest proportion of population of the Scheduled Castes to total population of the State is in Punjab (28.9 per cent), followed by Himachal Pradesh (24.7 per cent) and West Bengal (23 percent). In Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Pondicherry proportion of SCs population is exactly equal to the National average of 16.2 per cent. The smallest concentration of the Scheduled Castes population is in the North-Eastern tribal States such as Mizoram (with negligible or only 272 persons) followed by Meghalaya (0.5 per cent) and Arunachal Pradesh (0.6 per cent).
As per the 2001 Census, there are 22 districts where the Scheduled Castes population is 30 per cent or more. In majority of the districts (i.e., 273 districts) the concentration of SCs population to the total population is between 10 to 20 per cent. In Nagaland, Lakshadweep and Andaman & Nicobar Islands, no Scheduled Caste is notified.
According to the 2001 Census, the total population of the Scheduled Tribes in India is 84,326,240 persons, constituting 8.2 per cent of the total population of the country. 91.7 per cent of them lives in rural areas, whereas, only 8.3 per cent inhabit in urban areas. The sex ratio of Scheduled Tribes population at 978 females per thousand males is higher than that of the total population of the country as well as that of Scheduled Castes.
Madhya Pradesh accounts for the highest percentage of Scheduled Tribes population to total STs population of the country (14.5 percent) followed by Maharashtra (10.2 per cent), Orissa (9.7 per cent), Gujarat (8.9 per cent), Rajasthan (8.4 per cent), Jharkhand (8.4 per cent) and Chhattisgarh (7.8 per cent). In fact, 68 per cent of the country’s Scheduled Tribes population lives in these seven States only. The proportion of the Scheduled Tribes to the total population of the States/Union territories is highest in Mizoram (94.5 %) and Lakshadweep (94.5 %) followed by Nagaland (89.1 %), Meghalaya (85.9 %). Within the major states Chhattisgarh (31.8%) has the highest percentage of Scheduled Tribes population followed by Jharkhand (26.3%) and Orissa(22.1%). These proportions are in the lowest in Uttar Pradesh (0.1 %), Bihar (0.9 %), Tamil Nadu (1.0 %) and Kerala (1.1%).
As per the 2001 Census, there are 75 districts where Scheduled Tribes population is 50 per cent or more as per the 2001 Census. In majority of the districts (i.e., 403 districts), the concentration of Scheduled Tribes population to its total population is less than 20 percent.