Low-caste Indians are better off than ever—but that’s not saying much

Jan 25, 2018

FOR Dalits, these are the best of times. Once known as untouchables and reviled as ritually unclean, this sixth of India’s population has never been more integrated. Since the constitution banned discrimination against untouchables 70 years ago, and with quotas for state schools, jobs and elected offices giving Dalits a leg up, gaps in education, income and health have steadily shrunk.

Dalits, who in the past feared crossing certain streets, now have their own millionaire-filled chamber of commerce, scores of energetic NGOs to promote their rights and some 84 of the 545 MPs in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament. In October a board that manages hundreds of Hindu temples in the southern state of Kerala for the first time broke one of the last ancient taboos, inducting six Dalits to serve as priests. Ram Nath Kovind, who was elected India’s president in July, was born into a weaver caste, making him the second Dalit to serve as head of state.

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