Dalit Christians to Hold National Rally as Outcry for Basic Rights

Almost 50,000 Dalit Christians from around India will join a nationwide rally to challenge the India government to reserve their basic rights.

Organized by the All India Christian Council – a partner of the U.K.-based human rights agency Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) – the National Rally for Dalit Christian Reservation is going to take place on Nov. 26 in Hyderabad, India. The rally will come days before the important India Supreme Court hearing on Nov. 28 regarding the discrimination against Dalit Christians.

The rally aims to show support for the legal challenge against this discrimination by the Centre of Public Interest Litigation, according to the statement from CSW.

In India, the traditional Hindu caste system that consists of four distinct social classes prevails. Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Dalits, often referred to as the "untouchables," which have been oppressed, downtrodden and exploited in the society.

According to CSW, amid international human rights concern, the India government introduced a constitution in 1950 to grant Hindu Dalits certain quotas of reserved places in government, in employment, education, housing and the distribution of agricultural land. This system is known as "reservation". The constitution also contained the provision that if Dalits converted from Hinduism to other religion, they will lose their privileges.

Later in 1956 and in 1990, Sikhs and Buddhists were accepted to receive the benefits. However, until now Christian and Muslim Dalits are still denied the equal rights reversed for other Dalits, CSW stated in the statement.

As a result, the case had been brought before India’s Supreme Court to address the injustice faced by Dalit Christians. However, the court has repeatedly postponed the scheduled hearing – first from Aug. 25 to Oct. 18 and then from Oct. 18 to Nov. 28. Human rights groups have expressed great concern over the ignorance of the court to the issue.

Although the socio-economic status of Dalits is not dependent on religion, to discriminate Christian Dalits based on their belief is a severe breach of basic human rights, insist Christian leaders.

"The fact [is] that Dalit Christians are indeed Dalits and suffer the same humiliation, discrimination, ostracism, and poverty experienced by Dalits of other faiths," said Joseph D'Souza, International President of the Dalit Freedom Network and President of the All India Christian Council (AICC).

"To deny Dalit Christians benefits because of their religious affiliation is to discriminate against them on the basis of religion and deny them fundamental constitutional rights," he emphasized.

The National Rally for Dalit Christian Reservation is fully backed by CSW and Udit Raj's All India Confederation of Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) organization.

"CSW wholly supports this drive to give equal rights to India’s Dalit Christians and Muslims. The injustice of the current Scheduled Caste legislation has been an offence to India’s democracy for far too long," stated Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW.

"CSW has been campaigning with the AICC on this issue for a number of months and trusts the Government of India will take the opportunity to address this shameful injustice," he added.

Serving as the Chairman for the event on Nov. 26 will be the Rev. G. Samuel, National Vice-President of the AICC.

According to CSW, about 17 percent of India's 180 million-strong population is Dalits and around 60 percent of India's estimated 25 million Christians are Dalits.