The Largest Group of Oppressed and Enslaved People on Earth

The Largest Group of Oppressed and Enslaved People on Earth July 26, 2012

NOTE: The following is a guest post from my sainted father, Galen C. Dalrymple, director at, an organization devoted to crowd-sourcing compassion and empowering ministries serving the neediest children in the world.

Recently the filmmakers of Not Today, along with my friends at Lovell-Fairchild, took my father to India to learn more about the film. He is an extraordinary man of God with a passion for these issues and stands at the helm of a faith-informed organization that can make a real difference for children in need of food, water or protection. See the first installment of his story here — below is the second installment. 


”The sins of Girdharilal Maurya are many, his attackers insisted. He has bad karma. Why else would he, like his ancestors, be born an Untouchable, if not to pay for his past lives? Look, he is a leatherworker, and Hindu law says that working with animal skins makes him unclean, someone to avoid and revile. And his unseemly prosperity is a sin. Who does this Untouchable think he is, buying a small plot of land outside the village? Then he dared speak up, to the police and other authorities, demanding to use the new village well. He got what Untouchables deserve.

“One night, while Maurya was away in a nearby city, eight men from the higher Rajput caste came to his farm. They broke his fences, stole his tractor, beat his wife and daughter, and burned down his house. The message was clear: Stay at the bottom where you belong.” – National Geographic

If you were to venture a guess as to the largest group of oppressed and enslaved people in a single nation on the face of the earth in the 21st century, what people group do you think would wear that dubious title? Would it be people who were being persecuted because of their faith or race in the Middle East or Southeastern Asia? Would it be those who have a substandard education and are prevented from learning and developing their skills and abilities to become contributing members of society in sub-Saharan Africa? Would it be the indigenous peoples of Australia’s outback?

The correct answer the Dalit people of India, the largest group of enslaved people in the world. India is a crowded country, boasting a population of approximately 1.2 billion persons. Nearly one-quarter, 250 million of those people, are Dalits. Who are the Dalits? The Dalits
were historically called the “untouchables”…those in India who were not even considered high enough to be part of the caste system, but were below the lowest level of caste.

The term “Dalit” may be unfamiliar to you. It is not a racial group or a tribe or clan. It is a classification of human beings based upon their ancestry. It could be likened to being born Asian, or black, or white – things about which we have no voice or choice. Some things happen to us simply as a fact related to one’s birth and lot in life.

There are an estimated 250 million Dalits in India, nearly one quarter of India’s 1.2 billion people. They are, according to some, the longest standing group of oppressed people in history. Formerly referred to as the “untouchables”, the Dalits comprise the largest number of people categorized as victims of human trafficking and enslavement in any single nation on the face of the earth. On November 15, 2008, the Honorable Dr. Justice Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court of India stated that there is “no bigger problem in India today than human trafficking.” Later, in May 2009, India’s Home Secretary, Madhukar Gupta, remarked that by his estimates “at least 100 million people were involved in human trafficking in India.” Nearly all those 100 million persons are Dalits.

The word Dalit means “broken to pieces”, ground”, “suppressed”, or “crushed”. Systematically, the Dalits are ground down and crushed by discrimination. How bad is the oppression? Consider: Dalits will not live on the eastern side of a village because it is believed that if even their shadow were to fall upon a non-Dalit, the non-Dalit would be polluted. For years they were called “untouchables” because to touch such a person (or even a glass or bowl that had been touched by an untouchable) made those of higher castes impure.

The earliest descriptions and expression of the concept of caste is found in the Vedas, part of India’s body of religious scripture. The Vedas are believed to have been completed 1500-1000 BC. For generations, the Vedas were passed along verbally before being written down. The first of the four basic Vedic books is the Rig Veda, which contains the story in which the first man, Purusa, is sacrificed in order to bring about the rise of the four varnas. [EDITOR: see comment below from Agnikan] Purusa was cut up into four parts which each gave rise to one of the four castes: the Brahmin was from Purusa’s head and mouth and thus was the highest caste. The Kshatriya caste of warriors and nobility came from his shoulders and two arms, while the Vaishya caste (skilled tradesmen, etc.) came from his thighs. The serving caste, the Sudra, came from his feet. The untouchables, or Dalits as they are known today, were totally outside of the caste system, considered too lowly to be included.

While the caste system started out as a way to classify people according to their occupations, it soon became a matter of heredity and people were born into what became an unchangeable social status, or caste.

Untouchable status was historically conferred on those who had occupations that would cause them to be ritually impure, including working with leather, butchering of animals, clearing away trash, dead animal carcasses and human and animal waste products. The untouchables often labored at cleaning streets, latrines, and sewers. Such roles were believed to pollute the person and the pollution was believed to be contagious. As one might expect, the Dalits were isolated, banned from joining in the social life of those around them. They were not even allowed to enter a temple or school, and had to stay outside of villages.

Although the government of India has passed laws that make it a crime to treat one person differently than another because of caste, the stigma remains and so does prejudice and mistreatment.

In my next post, I’ll go into more detail about how the Dalits are treated in modern day India – and delve into the issues related to human trafficking and enslavement. There is hope. While in India I saw reason for hope first hand – but the problems remain huge and serious. The Dalits of India need and deserve our help and support. They have much to offer and have made some great strides, but there is

much to be done.

I hope you’ll stay with us for future stories about the Dalits of India!


Thanks to Galen C. Dalrymple. Please check out the Not Today website and the site.

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mary’s hopefull

    Thanks so much for these articles on the Dalits! Have you or your organization looked at the work being done by GFA- Gospel for Asia, with their many indigenous ministries, and especially their Bridge of Hope schools and efforts to help the Dalits? I would appreciate your response and any feedback? Blessings on your efforts!

    • Hi, Mary. No, I’ve not looked at GFA…but I will certainly check it out! Thank you for the suggestion!!! The Dalit Freedom Network is committed to building 2000 schools and are making good progress towards that goal. It’s a great organization. Also, Friends Church in Yorba Linda, CA partners with them and they are raising funds to build 200 of those schools themselves. The Dalit people need to learn to think differently about themselves as a place to start, and these schools help them do that. They teach from a Christian worldview that sets the heart and mind free – just as Jesus said the Truth would do for us!!!

  • Your description of the Vedas is a bit inaccurate. Purusha is not the “first man”. Purusha is the Source from which all things originate; Purusha is the Divine Being, the Creator, from whose Divine Body comes all created things. Your description implies that the Untouchables originate from the body of Purusha, whereas the Vedas mention the four classes (brahmins, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras), not the Untouchables, originating from the body of Purusha. Many Hindus see this as evidence that Untouchability is a corruption of ancient Vedic practice and should be abolished. For more than 2000 years, various Indians (like the Buddha, Guru Nanak, and Swami Vivekananda) have rejected the idea of Untouchability and taught others to do likewise, but the human desire to oppress other humans is a very tenaciously held temptation.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Thank you for this! A very helpful clarification. I’ll put a note in the body of the text.

    • I, too, thank you for that clarification on Purusha! My mistake!!!!

  • Thank you for writing about Untouchability and dangerous practices of veda and hinduism. The religion hinduism is a recent name given to it’s Old practice brahminism, an Anti social group that came to India as barbarians to live but their audacious antisocial behaviors almost crippled India for hundreds and thousands of years. The creators of vedic/manusmirti driven practices are pervasive extremist group who divided India into the meaningless,brutal caste system. Those who did not abide by their rules, believes and worshiping system were chased out to the outskirts of villages, towns in those days that still in full practice, these non believers of the brahminism the original Indians, the natives were Buddhists, and they became untouchables in the hindu system.

    During the time of Buddha and immediately after Buddha, the caste system was curbed and almost eliminated to a greater extent. Unfortunately, the left over brahmins repeatedly derailed Buddhist regimes time and again, they also converted the rest of Indian mass into hindus under their caste classification, that is how a merely less than 10% of brahmins not only claimed and still make the claim India as hindu nation but claim 90% of Indians are hindus, which is a pathological lie of hindus. Even today there are only about 13-15% hindus, most of them been branded as backward, most backward communities are claimed to be hindus and these people are much worst than brahmins in adopting stone, tree, mud, cow dung worshiping as hindus. They will be ready to die saying hindus than realizing they are not, that is how strong the brahminic caste system destroyed their minds and life styles. Besides the brahmins, various invading forces including many muslims nations that invaded India also destroyed the Buddist India further, the after math of such destruction helped brahmins plan for a huge comeback to put the brahminical or hindu practices into the society. Therefore the largest and most heinous Oppression and suppression of people on the planet created. Ofcourse, the British in their 300 years or so ruling India did not do much to eradicate this caste system, as they enjoyed a great ruler capacity by keeping things as it is, there were moments the Brits tried such as during round table conference, they listened to Dr.Ambedkar’s plea to give separate electorate to the Oppressed dalits so that they will have their own administrative, legislative powers to destroy the Oppressive brahminic caste politics, but because of the racist/casteist gandhi and his threat of pasting until death against separate electrode, the plan failed big time, but India and Pakistan got separated where the smaller and least critical muslim groups got freedom from the caste driven India but not the Untouchables……so here we are still struggling to help our Oppressed mass and the tragedy goes on. People are so ignorant about the history of India, the Untouchables are the greatest people on earth, it is because of their good humanity the invading Aryan brahmins came to India, finally the original people of India been taken for a great 3000 year ride and enslaved into the barbaric veda/gita/manu stupidity of hindus system. Please spread your work, continue your noble work to help the dalits. JaiBhim.

    • Much of what you say is true, but it’s helpful to keep in mind that the sacred texts of Hinduism do not define caste simply, or merely, or only, in terms of what family into which one is born. The Bhagavad Gita defines one’s varna (which we can understand as “caste”) in terms of one’s personal, inherent qualities, not in terms of one’s birth: so someone with a vaishya mother and shudra father, might be a kshatriya or a brahmin. The Rig Veda’s scriptural text on the Purusha likewise does not define varna in terms of one’s parents; indeed, each varna, from shudra to brahmin, is part of the body of God, with the implication that each part is just as important as any other part.

      The Code of Manu, the Manusmriti, on the other hand, is one of many Hindu law texts; is not considered an eternally sacred scripture; and is not considered authoritative by all Hindu traditions. Its statements about how, for instance, a shudra should have burning oil poured in his ears for presuming to teach a brahmin, are deplorable in the eyes of many Hindus, brahmin and shudra alike.

  • JaiBhim: thank you so much for your comment and the added background you brought to this. I appreciate it!!! Free the Dalits!!!!