India is the second most populous country in the world, with 2,000 ethnic groups, hundreds of languages spoken and all religions represented, with Hindus making up the majority. Despite much progress in education and health and rapid economic growth, great inequalities persist.

Historically, Hindu society has been divided into 4 castes. A fifth category includes those completely excluded from this framework, such as tribal people (Adivasis) and Dalits (formerly called Untouchables).

Adivasis are an indigenous people who have inhabited the Indian subcontinent for 2,000 years. According to the official 2011 census, Adivasis constitute 8.6% of the nation’s total population, or some 104.3 million people. Adivasis live all over India but are mainly based in the mountain and hill areas, away from the fertile plains.

The majority of Adivasis live close to nature, in mountains, forests and hilly areas. The occupations of the Adivasis vary from farm work to fishing and collecting forest products. A combination of factors has forced the Adivasis out of their traditional occupations and habitats, the main causes being the inability to prove their property rights and the increasing number of dams and industries on their land with minimal compensation. Increasingly, in rural areas, Adivasis work as daily wage labourers, with very few of them being assigned to fixed jobs and services, despite special provisions in the law.

Dalits, members of the lowest group in the caste hierarchy, constitute about 16.6% of the Indian population (166 million). 80% of Dalits live in rural areas and their economic development remains the major problem. Most of them are marginal farmers and landless labourers, trapped in vicious circles of debt that are passed on from generation to generation, creating a cycle of servitude.

The first amendment to the Constitution adopted in 1951 enabled the state to make special provisions for the advancement of the socially and educationally backward classes of these two categories of citizens: the Dalits designated as Scheduled Castes (SC) and the Adivasis as Scheduled Tribes (ST).

Affirmative action policies guaranteed by the Constitution have had some real impact in increasing Dalit representation in educational institutions, government jobs and elected positions. Despite this improvement, Dalits remain the most disadvantaged class in Indian society: the stigma they face remains evident to this day. Dalits in general continue to survive in inhuman and degrading conditions.

Adivasi and Dalit women are among the most exploited and face the worst forms of abuse in society, with many being trafficked for domestic work and commercial sexual exploitation.

Faced with the harsh reality of these historically disadvantaged communities in India, the founder of the CIAO KIDS Foundation has prioritised work with these groups.



The Adivasis of Nepal, known as Janajati, make up 35.6% of the population and are spread across all 77 districts of the country. They are a culturally diverse group, with over 60% living below the poverty line, the predominant occupation being agriculture. Most families work on rented land. A high rate of illiteracy and indebtedness keeps this group at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Women and children are trafficked to cities in the subcontinent and beyond for domestic work and are are also trapped in commercial sex work.

Dalits make up 13.6% of the total population of 36 million. Almost half of them live below the poverty line and less than half are literate. Nutritional indicators are dismal, with nearly 60% of children stunted.


The situation of Dalits and Adivasis/Janajati is marked by entrenched social discrimination resulting in a lack of educational and employment opportunities despite constitutional guarantees in both countries. It is this marginalised group that CIAO KIDS Foundation seeks to reach in its projects in Karnataka and Jharkhand in India and Sindhupalchowk in Nepal.