Divided

IMG_2744Recent genetic research conducted in India has revealed the origins of India’s caste system. In place for thousands of years, the caste system is a system of social stratification that has divided individuals of different socio-economic statuses into classes.

A series of DNA tests conducted by Kumarasamy Thangaraj and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School recently revealed that intermarriage and genetic mixing in India ended 1,900 years ago – coinciding with the era in which the caste system was written into religious texts such as the Manusmriti. This early Hindu text, written within the same period, disallowed intermarriage between members of different castes.

The caste system in India can be described as a pyramid, with the highest caste, Brahmins (priests) at the top. Beneath Brahmins, other castes such as Kshatriyas (warriors and rulers), Vaisyas (skilled workers), and Sudras (unskilled workers) occupy society at lower levels. Beneath the pyramid lies the least distinguished caste – the Pariah, also known as “outcastes,” or “untouchables,” and today more frequently referred to as the Dalits.

Today in India, the Dalits comprise nearly one quarter of India’s society of 1.2 billion, with population estimates hovering around 250 million people. They are among the most oppressed groups in history.

The Dalits face discrimination in daily life, and are relegated to the most degrading of jobs. As a devalued and oppressed population, the Dalits face risks such as human trafficking and enslavement. Since the 1950s, the Indian government has actively sought to elevate the status of the Dalits through a series of programs. But today the plight of the Dalits remains exceptionally difficult.

Today in India, many Dalits are turning to Christianity as a way out of the caste system, and many Christian churches and ministries are working to help individuals see themselves – and their neighbors – as equals.

ServLife currently operates five children’s homes throughout Nepal and Northern India, sending 300 kids to school and reaching out to children from all castes and backgrounds. Many of the children have been rescued from life on the street and extreme poverty, facing high risks of trafficking and child labor. ServLife also works to strengthen and grow the local church throughout areas of India, supporting efforts to reach out to individuals from all castes.

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Kristin Wright is a journalist covering human rights issues around the world. She is a contributing writer at The Huffington Post and the International Women’s Media Foundation, as well as a columnist at ReligionToday.com. Kristin’s travels have taken her throughout Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa. She is based in Indianapolis where she enjoys working with refugees from Burma, Iraq, Somalia, and the Congo. Together with human rights photographer Katie Basbagill, Kristin is the author of A Journey from Burma to Indianapolis, a book chronicling one refugee family’s story.

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