The Social Exclusion of Dalits with Disabilities

Abstract – This paper will be analyzing the social exclusion of three types of people- Dalits, people with disabilities, and Dalits with disabilities.

Social exclusion is a very widely practised concept in India; It can be defined as the “denial of basic welfare rights which provide citizens positive freedom to participate in the social and economic life and which thereby render meaningful their fundamental negative freedoms” (Gadkar, 2014).

In India, caste is possibly the oldest type of social stratification. The caste system, which is based on occupation and is sanctified by religious texts and solidified by inter-marriage and inter-dining regulations, effectively arranges diverse groups in Hindu Indian society into an occupation-based hierarchy.

The age-old concept of untouchability still plagues modern Indian society. More than 160 million people in India (Dutt, 2016) are labelled as untouchable by birth because of their caste. They are viewed as impure and have numerous human rights violations done to them since they’re treated as outcasts. By outcasts, it’s meant that they’re from a caste that isn’t even deemed worthy enough to be explicitly mentioned in the caste system. Hindus believe that people are born into four main castes- brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras. The Dalits fall even lower than the Shudras in this hierarchy which earned them the tag of untouchables.

Since they’re considered contaminated by birth, they’re made to do all the disgusting and low paying jobs that all the other castes are too elite to do themselves. They’re made to clean toilets, do manual scavenging, clean sewers, and clean away dead animals. Though untouchability was legally abolished in the 1950’s, it still plagues the majority of Indian citizens’ psyche.

How a poverty-stricken Dalit family is treated is very different from how a poverty-stricken family of another caste is treated. Dalits struggle with finding occupations other than what is ascribed to them at birth. Dalit students in government schools suffer a lot of bullying and microaggression. They are taught in separate classrooms and sometimes, Dalit girls are made to perform other jobs around the school that other caste students do not have to do, for example, bathroom cleaning.

Dalit women face plenty of violations, including rapes that are committed without repercussions and with no recourse in court. Dalit women have been compelled to suffer the weight of various injustices, such as being paraded nude, even for trivial arguments, and they make up the majority of victims of gang rapes in India. These humiliations have symbolic value, and they are frequently perpetrated by a group of individuals who intend to teach a lesson to the victim’s family. According to Indian history and traditions, a woman’s body is viewed as a symbol of family and communal honour, making them the easiest and most obvious victims for ‘teaching a lesson to her family or community.

Another criterion along which discrimination occurs is a disability. “Disabled people face multiple types of discrimination and have decreased access to jobs, in education and other socio-economic possibilities” (Sakshi and Kumar, 2019). Most places of work are not designed to be inclusive of people with disabilities, so, consequently, they struggle with fitting in and are excluded from various areas of life.

“People with disabilities in India have been usually discriminated against on the grounds of cultural stereotypes and a misguided knowledge of disabilities” (Sakshi and Kumar, 2019).

Disabilities are very stigmatized in India, and people with disabilities are ineligible for full social acceptance. They are viewed as inferior by their peers and are subjected to bullying and microaggressions. According to (Thakur, 2013) the stigma affects disabled people in the following four ways-

  • relatives and peers view them as subordinate. For example, down syndrome or autism are often spoken to with baby talk even if they are fully grown adults.
  • they are often refused employment/ when they are employed, the ones with mental disorders struggle to keep up with their neurotypical peers’
  • job interviews involve questions like if an applicant has ever been diagnosed with a mental disorder/ever been placed in psychiatric care and based on the above responses are offered the job.
  • the stigma is built into the label (Hwedie-Osei,1989)

“The sufferers of disability have a low-level position in the status hierarchy. They are controlled and manipulated by force over which they have no control. For example, the time, place, type of activity and, method of treatment is dictated by the needs of the treatment rehabilitation process. In effect, choices and decisions are imposed upon them.” (Thakur, 2013)

If we look at economic globalization through the lens of disability, we can see that most inclusive economic opportunities only cater to people with disabilities who are highly skilled and educated, (Hirandani, 2010). In India, the majority of persons with disabilities are marginalized. “There are instances where women have been divorced, abandoned, or tortured because they have given birth to a disabled child. Given the preference for sons, even here blame of the mother is more severe in instances of a girl child.”(Ghai, 2002)

It has been mentioned by (Bhanushali, 2006) that even when people with disabilities are employed, there is gender-based discrimination occurring behind the scenes. “Exploitation on the basis of disability has been faced by disabled females more than their disabled male counterparts.”
Disabled men get a lot more opportunities than disabled women. According to (Klasing, 2007) 89% of disabled women are economically inactive as opposed to 63% of men.

There is a structure of hierarchy when it comes to the disability community. People with physical disabilities are considered less disadvantaged and are less discriminated against as opposed to mentally disabled people who face much more stigma and struggle more in places of employment on top of this people with disabilities lack opportunities in getting employed in rural India

This aforementioned hierarchal structure is influenced in the adore mentioned by caste, class, and gender.(Mehrotra, 2013) pointed out that PwDs were excluded from poverty alleviation programs just because of physical and attitudinal obstacles. Because of the orthodox socio-religious complex that Indian society possesses, both Dalits and people with disabilities are considered inferior to the dominating upper caste

individuals. People with disabilities are treated as objects of pity and charity and as undesirable burdens to their families. Dalits are treated as impure and are excluded from virtually all spheres of public and private life. “Being a Dalit and having a disability essentially means being denied access to even those few entitlements that might have otherwise been available under a single identity.” (Kothari et al, 2020)

A Dalit PwD’s life span and quality of life are directly impacted by the magnitude of chronic deprivation in the family. They are often denied timely medical assistance due to the negative stereotypes revolving around both Dalits and PwDs. If we add the aspect of gender into this mix, then we come across a whole new array of problems.

SC/ST women with disabilities are frequently exposed to sexual abuse by Dalit and upper-caste males, making them especially vulnerable. SC/ST women, especially those with impairments, are expected to contribute financially to the home while being among the poorest in terms of social mobility, rights, and education. They are considerably more vulnerable inside the family since, especially among minority caste groups, men with disabilities choose non-disabled women as mates.

There is currently no legislation that tackles the increased prejudice encountered by Dalits/Adivasis with disabilities, as well as those who fall into other categories, such as Dalit women, transgender people with disabilities, and others. “Due to a lack of structural and administrative cohesion in the delivery system, micro efforts become valuable as a way forward leading to policy changes. Inclusion practices need not wait to begin only after systemic change take place” (Alur, 2002)


Jayna Kothari, Almas Shaikh, Aj Agrawal, ‘The Intersection of Disability and Caste: A Policy Paper’ (CLPR, Bangalore, 2020).

Dutt, P. R. C. (2016). Of Dalits, Disabilities and Devadasis. Contemporary Voice of Dalit, 8(2), 177–185.×16661081

Ghai, A. (2002). Disabled Women: An Excluded Agenda of Indian Feminism. Hypatia, 17(3), 49–66. 2001.2002.tb00941.x

Pal, G. (2010). Dalits with Disabilities: The Neglected Dimension of Social Exclusion. Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, 4(3), 1–23.

Sakshi, A., & Kumar, R. (2019). Social Exclusion: Impact on physical disabled people in India. IAHRW International Journal of Social Sciences.

Singh, P. (2014). Persons with Disabilities and Economic Inequalities in India. Indian Anthropological Association, 44(2), 65–80.

Thakur, S. (2013). Disability, Stigma and Social Exclusion. International Journal on Arts, Management and Humanities, 2(2), 48–51.

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Hello! I’m Ragini, a psychology major and sociology minor at FLAME University, Pune. I’m a video game and comic book enthusiast and I love to write articles in my free time. If I could have one super power, it would definitely be super strength; it would get me the most amount of social validation. Feel free to follow me on Instagram @raginidhar and don’t hesitate to say hi!