The Dalits (untouchables) are on the lowest rung of the Indian caste system. They are descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of India. The name Dalit comes from a Sanskrit word “dal”, meaning ‘broken, torn, downtrodden, outcast, trampled, destroyed and openly despised’. It is estimated that they number about 240 million, about a fifth of India’s population. To be a Dalit – that is, to be born a Dalit – normally means a lifetime of being despised by others, inferiority, poverty and demeaning social conditions. Particularly in rural areas they often suffer massive discrimination at the hands of the higher castes, even to the point of persecution and torture. Dalits do the lowest of menial labour such as cleaning latrines or clearing away rubbish, and many are oppressed as agricultural labourers. They often live, even today, in segregated areas. Because only a few Dalits have adequate schooling, many are illiterate and child labour is very common.