Christian 'Untouchables' in India Speak Out

Christian Dalits, also known as "untouchables" in India, spoke out in national public hearings yesterday about the hardships they have endured for maintaining their faith.

A copy of the the testimonies will be sent to the President of India, the Prime Minister and the Chief Justice of India, along with several other government agencies.

The "Public Tribunal" hearings in the southern state of Tamil Nadu were meant to protest discrimination and demand equal rights. The Dalits are being supported by Christian religious authorities and human rights groups, along with important members of India's legal community, according to AsiaNews.

The hearings also came ahead of a historic decision by the Supreme Court of India to review the constitutional validity of existing laws, which deny affirmative action benefits to people of formerly "untouchable" castes, including Dalit Christians, on religious grounds.

The commission presiding over the hearings was comprised of prominent figures, including a former Supreme Court Judge, a former chairperson of the State Women Commission, and the the chairperson of the Executive Committee of Bar Council of India.

Also in attendance were representatives from the All India Christian Union, Anglican and Catholic Churches.

The main focus of the Supreme Court in August will be on a 1950 Presidential Order that excluded Christian and Muslim Dalits from government affirmative action programs. Quotas are currently in place that protect Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.

The National Movement for Dalit Christians Rights released a statement backing the efforts of the People's Tribunal.

More than 70 percent of Chrisian Dalits are concentrated in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhara Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka, according to AsiaNews.

There are 25 million Christians in India, with 60 percent being from the Dalit caste, the lowest rung on the social ladder.

Christian religious leaders and international human rights groups are supporting the Tribunal.