Serving Dalits in India

Journey To The Field with Bernie

“Bearing Witness” In Tamil Nadu, India Nov. 16-Dec. 9

The Prevention of Atrocities Act of 1989 has not ended the oppression

Hope for Untouchables Lies in Healing and Self-Empowerment


Bernie Glassman

Vernerable Pannavati


More than 240 million people in India are called “Untouchables.” Also known as “non- humans”, these people

are believed to be unclean by birth. They are  the Dalits. The word means “crushed” or “broken to

  pieces.” Although  India’snational constitution of 1950 sought to abolish caste discrimination and the practice

of untouchability, the caste system  remains deeply entrenched in Hindu culture throughout southern Asia,

especially in rural India. In what has been called India’s “hidden apartheid,” entire Dalit villages in many

Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.

These people suffer unthinkable acts of terror and pain. If only the shadow of a Dalit falls upon a member of the upper caste, that person must go home, bathe and wash his clothes.  Anyone who is accidentally touched by a Dalit is considered tainted. It is not uncommon for Dalits to be beaten, abused, raped or even killed without remedy or interest in bringing perpetrators to justice. Their children are kidnapped and sold as sex or work slaves. They live in isolation. But, things are slowly changing as the people begin to empower themselves and each other. And, they need our help.

Through VIHARA, a state recognized, non-profit Buddhist organization in India, Dalits in five villages of Tamil Nadu (southern India) are working together to build their communities by providing spiritual, educational and economic development programs. Approximately 2,000 Dalits have joined the organization. They have asked Venerable Pannavati to visit them and assist in creating a unified spiritual  community based on Buddhist principles. They realize that freedom under the law is not enough. They want to be self-empowered through cultivating wisdom and loving-kindness. Development of these qualities first, liberate the mind from any sense of hatred and fear of an oppressor and foster energy and clarity for advancement. Such a role is usually undertaken by a Bhikkhu. It is significant to note that they wish a contemporary Bhikkhuni (female monk) to lead this effort in recognition of the qualities and skillfulness of women in human and spiritual  endeavors. The visiting team includes Ven. Pannadipa, Roshi Eve Marko, Sr. Sukhani and Rev. Dhammaratana. Friends of Bernie Sustainers, Roland and Barbara Wegmüller will also join the team.

Bernie Glassman will hold 3 days of council

with the villages’ leaders sharing the way of peacemaking and social enterprise.


The purpose of this visit is  to visit Dalit converts   – 2,000 of our Buddhist sisters and   brothers to bear witness to their own efforts for emergence as an integral and positive part of Indian society. We will join in meditation with converts as they renew vows and share ways they can continue to learn the dhamma and practice it. Specifically, we wish to provide them with funds for one school classroom accommodating 50 students at a time; and a library consisting of 50 sets of used school books for grades K-8 in English, math, science, history, geography and art; and 200 individual dhamma books for children. Finally, we will review and discuss collaborating on their economic viability strategies. Three efforts under consideration are to identify and refurbish five ancient statues and spiritual sites and establish a southern India pilgrimage route. This would provide tourism, an opportunity for selling crafts and wares. It would create visibility within the state leading to improved community services. Another is to develop a central community farm project to feed and employ people of the five villages.

You can help us support the efforts of these 5 villages! Become a partner in our Bearing Witness visit. Ask your friends to consider the benefits.

Please send your check to:

Embracing Simplicity Hermitage

41 Wisdom Lane   Hendersonville NC 28739

(put INDIA on memo line)

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