Although the Indian caste system is no longer legitimate, its repressive characteristics still affect the lives of the Dalit population today, particularly its women.

According to Human Rights Watch, the caste system in India “is perhaps the world’s longest surviving social hierarchy” and is a “defining feature of Hinduism.”

“A person is considered a member of the caste into which he or she is born and remains within that caste until death,” the organization said in a report.

Graham Peebles, director of the Create Trust, a UK based charity that helps disadvantaged women and children, said that women suffer the most under the caste system.

In a Counterpunch article, Peebles said Dalit women suffer the most under the caste system despite its being banned by India’s constitution. They tend to become victims of sexual slavery, humiliation and torture. They are also denied access to land, water and education.

Peebles argues that they are living under a type of apartheid in which “discrimination and social exclusion is a major factor.”

That is not to say, however, that Dalit women are the only females who struggle under the Indian caste system.

Indian authorities are constantly unsuccessful in seeking justice for the rapes that occur throughout the country. India’s National Crime Records Bureau estimates that rape cases increased up to 900% over the last four decades. In 2011 alone, more than 24,000 rapes were reported.

But unlike girls who are born into a middle class family, Peebles believes that girls born into a Dalit family receive little attention due to the media’s success in making the country look like a Bollywood film to international observers.

India can definitely improve in several areas regarding the unfair treatment of women. However, with the outlawed caste system still in place, these improvements seem unlikely to occur any time soon.

– Juan Campos

Sources: CounterPunch, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Kamla Foundation