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Dalit (Sanskrit: दलित, romanizeddälit), meaning "broken/scattered" in Sanskrit and Hindi, is a name for people belonging to the lowest caste in India characterized as "untouchable".[1] Dalits were excluded from the four-fold varna system of Hinduism and were seen as forming a fifth varna, also known by the name of Panchama. Dalits now profess various religious beliefs, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity, Islam and various other belief systems.

The term dalits was in use as a translation for the British Raj census classification of Depressed Classes prior to 1935. It was popularised by the economist and reformer B. R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), who included all depressed people irrespective of their caste into the definition of Dalits.[2] Hence the first group he made was called the "Labour Party" and included as its members all people of the society who were kept depressed, including women, small scale farmers and people from backward castes. Ambedkar himself was a Mahar, and in the 1970s the use of the word "dalit" was invigorated when it was adopted by the Dalit Panthers activist group. Gradually, political parties used it to gain mileage. Leftists like Kanhaiya Kumar subscribe to this definition of "dalits"; thus a Brahmin marginal farmer trying to eke out a living, but unable to do so also falls in the "dalit" category.[3]

India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes considers official use of dalit as a label to be "unconstitutional" because modern legislation prefers Scheduled Castes; however, some sources say that Dalit has encompassed more communities than the official term of Scheduled Castes and is sometimes used to refer to all of India's oppressed peoples. A similar all-encompassing situation prevails in Nepal.

Scheduled Caste communities exist across India, although they are mostly concentrated in four states; they do not share a single language or religion. They comprise 16.6 per cent of India's population, according to the 2011 Census of India. Similar communities are found throughout the rest of South Asia, in Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, and are part of the global Indian diaspora.

In 1932, the British Raj recommended separate electorates to select leaders for Dalits in the Communal Award. This was favoured by Ambedkar but when Mahatma Gandhi opposed the proposal it resulted in the Poona Pact. That in turn influenced the Government of India Act, 1935, which introduced the reservation of seats for the Depressed Classes, now renamed as Scheduled Castes.

From soon after its independence in 1947, India introduced a reservation system to enhance the ability of Dalits to have political representation and to obtain government jobs and education.[clarification needed] In 1997, India elected its first Dalit President, K. R. Narayanan. Many social organisations have promoted better conditions for Dalits through education, healthcare and employment. Nonetheless, while caste-based discrimination was prohibited and untouchability abolished by the Constitution of India, such practices are still widespread. To prevent harassment, assault, discrimination and similar acts against these groups, the Government of India enacted the Prevention of Atrocities Act, also called the SC/ST Act, on 31 March 1995.

In accordance with the order of the Bombay High Court, the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B Ministry) of the Government of India issued an advisory to all media channels in September 2018, asking them to use "Scheduled Castes" instead of the word "Dalit".[4]

A Valmiki Temple in the UK. Caste segregation has meant that Mazhabi Sikhs and Hindu Churas have united to establish their own temples throughout Britain. Some Valmiki temples keep a copy of the Guru Granth Sahib[209] and Mazhabi Sikhs and Valmikis prayer together.

Dalit Sikhs have formed a network of lower caste temples throughout the UK. Caste tensions erupt between higher caste Jat Sikhs and lower caste Sikhs. Violence has erupted between the two communities over inter-caste marriages. In the city of Wolverhampton, there have been incidents of Jat Sikhs refusing to share water taps and avoiding physical contact with lower castes. At a sports competition in Birmingham in 1999, Jat Sikhs refused to eat food that had been cooked and prepared by the Chamar community.[210]

Many Jat Sikhs refer to lower-caste temples by name such as the Ramgharia Gurdwara, Ghumaran Da Gurdwaraor Chamar Gurdwara. The majority of higher caste Sikhs would not eat in a Ravidassi house or in Ravidassi temples. Many Chamars stated that they are made to feel unwelcome in Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples. Many Sikhs do not wish to give Chamars equal status in their gurdwaras and communities.[211] Sikh Chamars (Ramdassi Sikhs) united with fellow Chamars across religious boundaries to form Ravidassi temples.[citation needed]

Mazhabi Sikhs were subjected to the same forms of inequality and discrimination in gurdwaras from Upp

Dalit Sikhs have formed a network of lower caste temples throughout the UK. Caste tensions erupt between higher caste Jat Sikhs and lower caste Sikhs. Violence has erupted between the two communities over inter-caste marriages. In the city of Wolverhampton, there have been incidents of Jat Sikhs refusing to share water taps and avoiding physical contact with lower castes. At a sports competition in Birmingham in 1999, Jat Sikhs refused to eat food that had been cooked and prepared by the Chamar community.[210]

Many Jat Sikhs refer to lower-caste temples by name such as the Ramgharia Gurdwara, Ghumaran Da Gurdwaraor Chamar Gurdwara. The majority of higher caste Sikhs would not eat in a Ravidassi house or in Ravidassi temples. Many Chamars stated that they are made to feel unwelcome in Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples. Many Sikhs do not wish to give Chamars equal status in their gurdwaras and communities.[211] Sikh Chamars (Ramdassi Sikhs) united with fellow Chamars across religious boundaries to form Ravidassi temples.[citation needed]

Mazhabi Sikhs were subjected to the same forms of inequality and discrimination in gurdwaras from Upper caste Sikhs

Many Jat Sikhs refer to lower-caste temples by name such as the Ramgharia Gurdwara, Ghumaran Da Gurdwaraor Chamar Gurdwara. The majority of higher caste Sikhs would not eat in a Ravidassi house or in Ravidassi temples. Many Chamars stated that they are made to feel unwelcome in Sikh gurdwaras and Hindu temples. Many Sikhs do not wish to give Chamars equal status in their gurdwaras and communities.[211] Sikh Chamars (Ramdassi Sikhs) united with fellow Chamars across religious boundaries to form Ravidassi temples.[citation needed]

Mazhabi Sikhs were subjected to the same forms of inequality and discrimination in gurdwaras from Upper caste Sikhs and unified with Hindu Churas to form Valmiki temples.[citation needed]

Sikh gurdwaras, which often are controlled by the older first generation immigrants, in Britain generally frown upon inter-caste marriages even though they are on the rise. More and more families are affected by inter-caste marriages.