Casting Off the Caste System and its Stigma: Empowering the Forgotten Indigenous People of India with Human Rights

educating women

Creating a just and fair society in India with United for Human Rights 

In the 1880s, to call attention to the plight of the “untouchables” — the lowest of India’s four castes  and members of the country’s indigenous tribes who suffer the same indignities — the famous Indian social activist Jyotirao Govindrao Phule coined a term to represent these people: “Dalit.” The word means “oppressed,” “broken” or “crushed.” He chose this term to raise awareness of the rampant violations of the dignity and rights of these people and to create change. United for Human Rights Odisha has taken on the challenge of restoring fair and equitable treatment to these and all people of India.

Although the caste system was officially banned shortly after India won its independence in 1947, it is still very much a degrading and very painful fact of life for 25 percent of its people.

In Odisha on the southeast coast of India, nearly 23 percent of the state’s 46 million residents are members of indigenous tribes, known as the Adivasi, who continue to suffer privation, degradation and exclusion. 

Birendra Oraon is director of United for Human Rights Odisha and its program for young people, Youth for Human Rights. Growing up in Odisha’s Koraput Tribal District, Oraon was one of 14 children raised in a straw hut without electricity or water. He is keenly aware of the injustice suffered by his people.

Oraon remembers finding the website of United for Human Rights (UHR). “I was immediately impressed by their commitment to promoting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and their dedication to creating a world where peace, unity, and solidarity are experienced by all,” he says.

He decided to create a UHR chapter, seeing it as “a movement to educate and empower people to understand and exercise their rights.” 

Some 25 percent of India’s 1.44 billion people are disenfranchised members of indigenous tribes the members of the country’s lowest caste. After studying the United for Human Rights materials, Oraon realized that raising awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the key to empowering them and reversing the degradation that began more than 3,000 years ago when the caste system began. 

Oraon and his team bring the program to schools and villages, hold human rights awareness marches and petition drives, and inform people who never knew they had rights that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies to them just as it does to any other person.

To spread the knowledge of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights throughout the country, he created an initiative called “Training the Trainers for Transformation.” His goal is to reach every household by training thousands of individuals who will use the United for Human Rights materials to deliver human rights education in schools, communities and businesses. Those they train will also take on training other trainers who will train others, thus creating a chain reaction of human rights education and awareness.

In addition to its educational initiative, UHR Odisha works with community partners to provide education, healthcare, and vocational training to underserved people.

His group has conducted 37 workshops to train community leaders, evangelists, pastors, elected officials and college students as trainers who, in turn, have reached many thousands more.

United for Human Rights and Youth for Human Rights are supported by Scientology Churches and Scientologists, making it possible to provide these materials free of charge to educators, civic and community leaders and anyone wishing to educate youth on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The program was inspired by humanitarian and Scientology Founder L. Ron Hubbard, who believed “Human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream.”

For more information, visit the website of United for Human Rights or watch The Story of Human Rights and Thirty Rights Brought to Life on the Scientology Network. Or watch episodes of the original series Voices for Humanity featuring change-makers of all faiths, cultures, and nations who extend help to their communities through this and other Scientology-sponsored humanitarian programs.

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