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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dalits: Home

This is a resource guide about Dalits, the untouchable caste within Hinduism.


Welcome to the Dalit research guide! This guide is for students and scholars interested in learning and researching Dalits. Here you will find Dalit resources including non-fiction, fiction, movies, and links to other free resources. In this section, you will find general reference information, databases, relevant keywords, and bibliographies about Dalits.

Who are Dalits?

Dalit is the word most commonly used to refer to India’s untouchables in the early twenty-first century. Its basic meaning is “broken, ground down,” but “oppressed” is the best translation for its current use. It is a self-chosen word, made popular by the Dalit Panthers in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the 1970s. It replaces ex-untouchable (used because the constitution of independent India made the practice of untouchability illegal) and Harijan (children of God), Mahatma Gandhi’s kind but patronizing term. Scheduled castes is an official governmental designation created in 1935 when a list or schedule was created for castes that qualified for special representation or governmental benefits. Scheduled tribes refers to tribes that merit special treatment. The term Dalit often includes both castes and tribes and may be used by any group that feels itself oppressed. Adivasi is another term used to describe the aboriginal population of South Asia. While they are not equivalent to Dalits, they often face similar prejudice.

Dalits comprise one-sixth of the population of India, approximately 160 million people, and there are some four hundred castes considered “untouchable.” The practice of untouchability was “abolished” in the constitution of independent India (articles 15 and 17), and the Untouchability (Offenses) Act of 1955 makes such discriminatory practices punishable by law. Article 46 provides the Indian version of affirmative action, specifically the promotion of educational and economic benefits for the “weaker sections” of the society. However, this formal abolition has not prevented discrimination against Dalits that still exist today.

Encyclopedias about Dalits and Race

Research Databases and Keywords

Use the following keywords to search for information about Dalits:

adivasi, "backward classes", casteism, dalit*, "depressed classes", harijan, "scheduled castes", "scheduled tribes", shudra, sudra, untouchability, untouchable*, varna

Research Databases

Dalit Bibliographies

Here are some Dalit bibliographies and Dalit writer resources from the University Library:

Created by

This LibGuide was created by Nisha Mody for her practicum during Summer 2016. Nisha is an MLIS candidate from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's iSchool.



Dalits. (2008). In J. H. Moore (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Race and Racism (Vol. 1, pp. 385-389). Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved from