The caste system is among the world's oldest forms of social stratification. Though it continues to exist in many different cultures and regions, it remains especially salient in South Asia. The system divides people into rigid hierarchical groups based on their karma (work) and dharma (the Sanskrit word for religion, but here it means duty).
In its Hindu/South Asian expression, the caste system divides people into four main categories—Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and the Shudras. Many believe that the groups originated from Brahma, the Hindu God of creation. Outside of this system were the achhoots—the Dalits or the ‘untouchables.’ The system bestowed many privileges on the upper castes while sanctioning repression of the lower castes by privileged groups.
Often criticised for being unjust and regressive, it remained virtually unchanged for centuries, trapping people into fixed social orders from which it was impossible to escape.
The webinar will spotlight Dalits and the continued discrimination they suffer as the COVID-19 pandemic combines with casteism to produce untold suffering for Dalits. The WCC, through its Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace, wishes to reinvigorate its commitment to journey with Dalits to strengthen Indian churches’ efforts to overthrow casteism and help restore dignity among the Dalits who are marginalized and subjugated in today’s society. This webinar marks the renewal of the WCC’s commitment to accompany Dalits, a commitment that dates back to the days of the Programme to Combat Racism.
This webinar seeks to gather contemporary champions of justice for Dalits to unpack the complexities and entanglements of casteism, racism and discrimination, especially in the area of health.
- Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, WCC deputy general secretary
- Rev. Dr Philip Vinod Peacock, executive secretary for Justice and Witness, World Communion of Reformed Churches
- Paul Divakar, executive director and founder of The Inclusivity Project, Asia Dalit Rights Forum
- Manjula Pradeep, campaigns director at DHRDNet and National Convenor of NCWL
- Pradip Pariyar, executive chairperson, Samata Foundation, Nepal
- Priyanka Samy, member, National Federation of Dalit Women, India and Board Member, FRIDA | The Young Feminist Fund
- Zakir Hossain, chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog – Citizen’s Initiative, Bangladesh
- Rev. Asir Ebenezer, general secretary, National Council of Churches in India