India is a beautiful, diverse country. It boasts the worlds largest democracy and in recent decades thousands of people have been lifted out of poverty. But it is also a country of contrasts, in which two worlds exist side by side.
Ofﬁcially abolished in 1948, ‘untouchability’ is still perpetuated within Indian society today. ‘Untouchables’ or Dalits exist outside and below the Hindu Caste system. Making up approximately 16% of India’s population, Dalits are employed in the most demeaning jobs as rag pickers, human sewage workers and sweepers. Due to their low social status they are particularly vulnerable to trafﬁcking, bonded labour and diseases such as HIV/AIDS.
Despite being outlawed for many years, a system of ritualised prostitution, known as the Devadasi system, still exists in the south of India, where young girls are dedicated to temples in a ceremony which is believed to appease, or obtain favour from the goddess Yellamma for the girls’ families. When they reach puberty, the girls become the sexual property of devotees. Many end up being trafﬁcked into brothels in nearby cities; all are trapped into a life of prostitution until they become too old or ill to be considered desirable. The majority of girls dedicated as Devadasi come from Dalit families.
In addition to HART’s current work in India, after the 2008 outbreaks of violence against Christians in Orissa HART worked with groups within India; in the British Parliament and with Ministries; with the Indian High Commission; and with other groups within the U.K. to encourage a return to normality and to the re-establishment of “the rule of law”.