India’s caste system is among the world’s oldest forms of social stratification. The system traditionally divides the population into rigid hierarchical groups and dictates their life since their birth: from their social status to the jobs they can do, and even who they can marry and who they cannot. The Dalits or ‘untouchables’ are left out of the caste system and are considered impure. This group faces the strongest discrimination and exclusion from the society.
Caste differences are taken very seriously, especially in Tamil Nadu, which is considered a “caste sensitive” state. Inter-caste interaction is limited, settlements segregated and inter-marriage prohibited.
Almost in all the villages caste communities and dalits live geographically separate. One could see obvious discrimination in the areas like sharing water, food and entry in to the temples. Tamil Nadu is no exception in following these evil age old practices. While in Tamil Nadu Dalits consists of abouts 20 % percent of its population in our working district it is 29.4 %.
To help participants see each other as human beings with common issues to overcome and to develop empathy towards each other, through better understanding ,an essential step towards human unity.
The Exchange programme is mainly directed to women from the villages to overcome segregation and discrimination of certain sectors of the society and foster togetherness at the inter-village level.
In the past we carried out this initiative with groups of children and men as well. Due to limited funding, now we do it only with women.
A women’s SHG from a caste background visits a Dalit group in their settlement or vice versa. They spend the day together cooking, eating, playing games and sharing their experiences. Groups discuss their preconceived notions and learn from each other.
In the context of the continuous discrimination against dalits – untouchable communities – since ages in India, this action becomes more relevant as a step towards solidarity of people.