Definition - What does Dalit mean?

Dalit is the name given to the lowest caste of people in Indian society, who were formally referred to as "the untouchables." In Sanskrit, dalit means “divided,” “broken” and “oppressed.” Those born into this life were traditionally limited to jobs that were considered too menial for those higher on the social strata.

The caste system is rooted in Hinduism, but there has also been Hindu opposition to the barriers that castes present. Yoga developed outside the restrictions of society and, therefore, provided a means of salvation regardless of caste.

Yogapedia explains Dalit

India's caste system divided people by social distinctions into hereditary groups that had specific limitations and privileges, depending on where the person is on the social strata. Although it is illegal in India today to discriminate against the Dalit or anyone based on caste, nearly half of the Dalit population lives below the poverty line and more than 60 percent are illiterate.

Technically, the Dalit are so low in the hierarchy that they are not part of the caste system, but some sociologists now classify them with the lowest of the four castes, the Sudra. The traditional castes include:

  • Brahmin – the priestly and teacher caste. Salvation (moksha) is achieved through Jnana yoga (learning and knowledge).
  • Kshatriya – the ruler and public service caste. Moksha is achieved through Karma yoga (good works).
  • Vaishya – the business and merchant caste. Moksha is attained through Bhakti yoga (devotion to the Divine).
  • Sudra/Dalit – the semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Moksha is attained through Bhakti yoga.

Hinduism offers a path to moving up via reincarnation. Someone who fulfills his/her duty (dharma) in one life may improve their social position in the next.

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