Caste based discrimination is a human rights issue affecting more than 260 million people globally, the majority of whom are Dalits living across South Asia.
Mahatma Gandhi referred to them as “Harijans” or “Children of God,” yet Dalits have traditionally been viewed within the caste system – a social stratification based on underlying notions of purity and pollution - as “untouchables.” They are economically and socially excluded, segregated in housing, denied and restricted access to water, schools, markets and employment. They have been relegated to the most humiliating of tasks as manual scavengers, removers of human waste and dead animals, street cleaners, and cobblers. They frequently experience discrimination and violence, isolation, and high levels of poverty.
The practice of “untouchability” was abolished under India’s constitution in 1950, and many would argue that caste based discrimination is a thing of the past, a class system of ancient times. Yet this is in stark contrast to the lived experiences of Dalits, who continue to exist in a system of modern day slavery and bonded labor.
Dalit women and girls are one of the most vulnerable and at risk groups of society and experience the weight of their caste in specific and gendered ways, with the triple burden of caste, class, and gender. With the help of the National Coalition of Dalit Human Rights and Adam Smith International, I was given access to a wide spectrum of stories from Dalit women in India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. I spent five weeks hearing their stories, witnessing their struggles and triumphs, and offering them a space to be seen and heard, something many of them had never before experienced. I photographed subjects from diverse backgrounds and circumstances and found a strong sense of community and resilience among all the women I met.