: one that is untouchable; specifically: a member of a large formerly segregated hereditary group in India having in traditional Hindu belief the quality of defiling by contact a member of a higher caste
Former classification of various low-status persons and those outside the Hindu caste system in Indian society. The term Dalit has been used for such people (in preference to Mohandas K. Gandhi's earlier term, Harijan, which is now considered condescending by the Dalit themselves), and their plight is recognized by the Indian constitution and by legislation. The groups traditionally considered untouchable included people whose occupations or habits of life involved activities considered to be polluting, such as taking life for a living (e.g., fishermen); killing or disposing of dead cattle or working with their hides; coming into contact with human waste (e.g., sweepers); and eating flesh of cattle, pigs, or chickens. Many untouchables converted to other religions to escape discrimination. Indian law now categorizes the Dalit under the official term Scheduled Castes and accords them certain special privileges.