Campus Ministry

Campus Ministry

Untouchability in India

Even after more than 50 years of Independence India still has the world's largest number of poor people in a single country. It is estimated that 1 in every 3 Indians lived in what could be categorized as absolute poverty—a total of 310 million people. Those especially vulnerable throughout India continue to be rural women, the disabled, and people of lower castes – especially the Dalits or "Untouchables." 

To be born a Hindu in India is to enter the caste system, one of the world’s longest surviving forms of social stratification. Embedded in Indian culture for the past 1,500 years, the caste system follows a basic precept: All people are created unequal. The ranks of Hindu society come from a legend in which them main groupings, or varnas, emerge from a primordial being. From the mouth come the Brahmans—the priests and teachers. From the arms come the Kshatriyas—the rulers and soldiers. From the thighs come the Vaisyas—merchants and traders. From the feet come the Sudras—laborers. Each varna in turn contains hundreds of hereditary castes and subcastes with their own pecking orders. A fifth group describes the people who are untouchable—the primordial being does not claim them. Untouchables are outcastes—people considered too impure and polluted to rank as worthy beings. 

Discrimination against India’s lowest Hindu castes is technically illegal. But try telling that to the 250 million Dalit people (nearly ¼ of India’s society) who face violent reprisals if they forget their place. The term "Dalit" means "those who have been broken and ground down deliberately by those above them in the social hierarchy." Dalits live at risk of discrimination, dehumanization, violence, and enslavement through human trafficking every day. Prejudice defines their lives as everyday they are shunned, insulted, banned from temples and higher caste homes, made to eat and drink from separate utensils in public places and too often raped and murdered.

Canisius students will travel for two-weeks over Winter Break to India to explore the Dalit situation. Our team will partner with the Jesuits at Loyola College in Chennai (Southern India) on either end of our experience for our Orientation into Indian life, culture and religion and for touring local religious sites, such as temples, mosques, ashrams and churches. 

The majority of our time will be spent together with the Jesuits in their Chennai Mission in rural India, living at a boarding school for Dalit children.  We will primarily visit orphanages, human rights centers, village leaders, writers, lawyers, priests and other key figures who will educate us about the reality of the Dalit struggle for justice. We will also have a day to practice try teaching English lessons at the boarding school.  This is a great combination of both service and immersion. Because of the nature of what we are studying and the physical toll of traveling such long distances in rural communities, this is an intense exposure trip and requires a mature participant.

For more information, contact Lu Firestone at x2422 or firestol@canisius.edu.