Caste-affected communities do not use one single term to describe themselves. The terms used vary from country to country across the world.

IDSN uses the term Dalit to refer to caste-affected members also known as ‘untouchables’ and/or Scheduled Castes,  and members of other communities affected by similar forms of discrimination based on work and descent.

The United Nations terminology for caste discrimination is “discrimination based on work and descent”.


In India, “untouchables” or “Harijans”, as they were formerly known, have now chosen to call themselves Dalits. Dalit means broken people. The official term used in India is “Scheduled Castes”.


In Nepal, the term Dalit is widely used, also in official language.


In Pakistan,  the members of the Hindu minority who fall outside the caste system are officially referred to as “Scheduled Castes”. More commonly used however is the name of the caste to which they belong, such as Kolhi, Bheel, Meghwar, etc. Caste hierarchies and discrimination also exist within the Muslim majority, but research is scarce. Increasingly, the term Dalit is also used by affected communities.


In Bangladesh, the term Dalit is increasingly being used by researchers to describe the caste-affected communities within the Hindu minority and the Muslim majority. More commonly used are caste names such as Muchi, Mazi, Kasai, Mali, Darji, Hajam, Dholak, Bede, Hijra, etc.

Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, different caste systems exist within the Sinhala, Sri Lankan Tamil and Indian Tamil population groups – the groups are known by their particular caste names.

Africa and the Middle East

In Africa and the Middle East, caste-affected communities are known by the names of their particular castes.