(CNN) -- A man, incensed that a 6-year-old girl chose to walk through a path reserved for upper caste villagers, pushed her into burning embers, police in north India said Wednesday. She was seriously burned.
Dalits, or "untouchables," are victims of discrimination in India despite laws aimed at eliminating prejudice.
The girl is a Dalit, or an "untouchable," according to India's traditional caste system.
India's constitution outlaws caste-based discrimination, and barriers have broken down in large cities. Prejudice, however, persists in some rural areas of the country.
The girl was walking with her mother down a path in the city of Mathura when she was accosted by a man in his late teens, said police superintendent R.K. Chaturvedi.
"He scolded them both and pushed her," Chaturvedi said. The girl fell about 3 to 4 feet into pile of burning embers by the side of the road.
The girl remained in critical condition Wednesday.
The man confessed to the crime and was charged with attempted murder, Chaturvedi said.
The assault took place in India's Uttar Pradesh state, about 150 km (93 miles) south of Delhi. The state is governed by Mayawati, a woman who goes by one name and is India's most powerful Dalit politician.
Her Bahujan Samaj Party seeks to get more political representation for Dalits, who are considered so low in the social order that they don't even rank among the four classes that make up the caste system.
Hindus believe there are five main groups of people, four of which sprang from the body of the first man.
The Brahmin class comes from the mouth. They are the priests and holy men, the most elevated of the castes.
Next is the Ksatriyas, the kings, warriors and soldiers created from the arms.
The Vaisyas come from the thighs. They are the merchants and traders of society.
And the Sudras, or laborers, come from the feet.
The last group is the Dalits, or the "untouchables." They're considered too impure to have come from the primordial being. Untouchables are often forced to work in menial jobs. They drink from separate wells. They use different entry ways, coming and going from buildings.
They number about 250 million in India, about 25 percent of the population, according to the Colorado, U.S.-based Dalit Freedom Network.
"Dalits are seen to pollute higher caste people if they come in touch with them, hence the 'untouchables,'" the group says on its Web site. "If a higher caste Hindu is touched by, or even had a Dalit's shadow fall across them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed."
Recent weeks has seen a rise in violence against Dalits in Uttar Pradesh, CNN's sister network, CNN-IBN, reported Wednesday. E-mail to a friend