Origin of the Word "Dalit"
The term Dalit' has roots in Sanskrit where the root 'dal' means 'to split, crack, open'. ( This Indo-European root appears in German and English in the form of 'dal' or 'tal', meaning 'cut'. In English, 'dale' is a valley, a cut in the ground; in German, 'thal': a tailor is one who cuts; 'to tell a tale' is the same as 'to cut a tally', the cut-marks made by the shepherd on his staff when counting sheep.
'Dalit' has come to mean things or persons who are cut, split, broken
or torn asunder, scattered or crushed and destroyed. By coincidence,
there is in Hebrew a root 'dal' meaning low, weak, poor.
In the Bible, different forms of this term have been used to describe
people who have been reduced to nothingness or helplessness.The
present usage of the term Dalit goes back to the nineteenth century,
when a Marathi social reformer and revolutionary , Mahatma Jyotirao
Phule (1826-1890), used it to describe the Outcastes and Untouchables
as the oppressed and the broken victims of our caste-ridden society.
Under the charismatic leadership of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956),
this term gained greater importance and popularity. During the
1970s, the followers of the Dalit Panther Movement of Maharastra gave
currency to the term 'Dalit' as a constant reminder of their age-old
oppression, denoting both their state of deprivation and the people
who are oppressed. This term for them is not a mere name or title:
for them it has become an expression of hope, the hope of recovering
their past self-identity. The term has gained a new connotation with
a more positive meaning.
It must be remembered that Dalit does not mean Caste or low-Caste
or poor ; it refers to the deplorable state or condition to which
a large group of people has been reduced by social convention and
in which they are now living.