With one billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy, often cited as an example to developing nations. India, however, has a dirty little secret-a caste system that still excludes more than 150 million people, known as Dalits. What’s it like to be a Dalit kid? Award-winning journalist Linda Ellerbee travels to India to give American kids a first-hand look into the world of the Dalits on Nick News’ The Untouchable Kids of India, premiering Sunday, October 21, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on Nickelodeon.
In India, if you’re born Hindu, which 80% of the population is, you’re automatically assigned a place in India’s 3000-year-old caste system. But then there are the Dalits, the outcasts, or as they had been more commonly known, the untouchables — people deemed so far below the rest they’re considered to be sub-human. And although it has been illegal in India to practice “untouch-ability” since 1950, inequality and segregation still occur.
“We’ve seen kids here in America fight racism. Now we’re watching kids in India do the same,” said Ellerbee. “It’s inspiring.”
Viewers meet Sangeeta, a 12-year-old girl who lives in a village where Dalit and non-Dalit are strictly segregated. As Sangeeta explains, “The upper caste people would not want me drinking water from their well. The children are telling me don’t come over here. I am ashamed about my caste. I am getting angry.”
Next, viewers are introduced to 15-year-old Jagdeesh who lives in a Dalit village totally isolated from the main village. Jagdeesh has had trouble with people in the main village. “They are threatening that if I pass through their village they will definitely make sure that I am beaten up very badly.” He hopes the government will help correct the injustices Dalits face.
Many Dalits are now refusing to be victims. Neeru is a young girl who makes films about her experiences, hoping to educate both Dalits and non- Dalits. Neeru’s controversial films have been banned in the past; however, that doesn’t stop her from continuing to make movies. Neeru says, “When I see the work which is being done, I am proud about it. Even I can do something. I am worth something.”
Lastly, we meet Jayesh and Ashish, two 14-year-old boys who became friends before they knew they weren’t supposed to. Jayesh is Dalit. Ashish is a member of an upper caste. Ashish says, “I want to tell every one of them to please stop all of this, we are all one, we should remain one.”
Says Ellerbee, “Can they change their world? As Gandhi said, ‘you may never know what result may come from your action, but if you do nothing, there will be no result.’
Nick News, which last year celebrated its 15th year anniversary, is the longest-running kids’ news show in television history, and has built its reputation on the respectful and direct way it speaks to kids about the important issues of the day. Over the years, Nick News has received more than 20 Emmy nominations and numerous Emmy wins. Most recently, in 2007, “Private Worlds: Kids and Autism” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 1994, the entire series, Nick News, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming.
In 1998, “What Are You Staring At?” a program about kids with physical disabilities, won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2002, “Faces of Hope: The Kids of Afghanistan,” won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming. In 2004, two Nick News Specials, “The Courage to Live: Kids, South Africa and AIDS” and “There’s No Place Like Home,” a special about homeless kids in America, were both nominated for the Outstanding Children’s Programming Emmy. In 2005, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Programming for its show, “From the Holocaust to the Sudan.” Nick News, produced by Lucky Duck Productions, is also the recipient of three Peabody Awards, including a personal award given to Ellerbee for her coverage for kids of the President Clinton investigation. The series has also received two Columbia duPont Awards and more than a dozen Parents’ Choice Awards.
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