CSW Calls for Renewed Advocacy for Rights of Dalit Christians in India

The fate of Dalit Christians in India in terms of their religious freedom rights is currently at risk, following the Government’s postponement of a series of hearings on the issue originally scheduled for Aug. 25.

Standing in line with Christian and Dalit groups in India, the U.K.-based human rights group, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), is now calling for a renewed advocacy.

In India, the traditional Hindu caste system which consists of 4 distinct social classes prevails. Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Dalits, who literally have no caste. They are the “untouchables” that have always been oppressed, downtrodden and exploited in the society. Dalits have been given the lowest status jobs and even forced to scavenge for a living.

Human rights concern was raised as India’s 1950 constitution allowed preference towards "Scheduled Castes" which included Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, who are eligible for free education and a reserved proportion of government jobs. However, Christian Dalits are excluded from the benefits.

As a result, the case had been brought before the court to address the injustice faced by Dalit Christians. However, on the brink of the hearing originally scheduled Aug. 25, the Attorney General of India made an announcement to the Supreme Court about the adjournment of the hearing to Oct. 18, according to the CSW.

In addition, CSW reported that the Government was trying to hand responsibility for the case to a new commission called Mishra Commission, though it has not been confirmed.

CSW said the Commission was originally established in 2004 to investigate economic and social backwardness among religious and linguistic minorities, but its mandate had not previously included making decisions about the constitutional issue of caste among non-Hindu religions.

CSW also found that the Justice Raganath Mishra National Commission for Linguistic and Religious Minorities had been given responsibility for deciding whether a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes should lose this status upon conversion to Christianity or Islam.

In the face of all these sudden arrangement by the Government to deal with the case, the advocacy group for Dalit Christians led by Dr John Dayal, Secretary General of the All India Christian Council has not retreated.

Backed by CSW's partner organization, the All India Christian Council (AICC), the All India Catholic Union, Voice of Dalits International and other church and Dalit groups across the country, the group sent a memorandum to the commission Aug. 25, requesting the opportunity to present its case and urging for the inequality to be redressed.

A week of fasting and prayer has been observed in many churches and Christian institutions across India following the Aug. 25 memorandum, CSW added.

Tina Lambert, Advocacy Director of CSW, said, "This court case provides a crucial opportunity to redress a heinous injustice against Dalit Christians. It is vitally important that the international community expresses its support for a change in the law which will allow greater freedom of faith to Dalits, and will allow Christians the right to be citizens."