Ecumenical Conference to Highlight Plight of Dalits

Bringing comfort to millions of Dalit people in India, of whom 16 million are Christians, a historic ecumenical conference is being held to affirm solidarity and global justice for Dalits.

"The suffering and injustice experienced by millions of Dalit people and communities is a challenge to the credibility of the churches' affirmations of faith in India and worldwide," said the Rev. Deenabandhu Manchala who heads the World Council of Churches (WCC) Just and Inclusive Communities Program.

Manchala was speaking on the eve of the Global Ecumenical Conference on Justice for Dalits which takes place March 21-24 in Bangkok, Thailand, as a joint initiative of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and in cooperation with the Christian Conference of Asia.

The conference, which will be attended by representatives of churches worldwide, will solicitously study the challenges facing the Dalits as well as outline the course of action for securing justice. It will provide a forum for an exchange of experiences between Dalits and similarly excluded communities elsewhere, and for articulating theological and ethical responses to their struggles for survival and identity.

Approximately 250 million Indians (a full 25 percent of the population), are Dalits. Seventy percent of India's 25 million Christians come from the "untouchable" background.

They are often assigned to the lowest jobs, and live in constant fear of being isolated, publicly humiliated, paraded naked, beaten, and raped. Several such cases of human rights abuses still occur in various parts of the country.

"Untouchability and discrimination based on caste affect a significant proportion of the world's people, and are a direct contradiction of the God-given dignity of every human being," noted LWF deputy general secretary the Rev. Chandran Paul Martin.

The ecumenical meeting urges churches of the world to take up the Dalits challenge which governments worldwide have failed to confront.

"The entire international community turned a blind eye to the plight of the world's Dalits when they met in Durban, and they are set to do so again in Geneva in April," said Peter Prove of the LWF Office for International Affairs and Human Rights, referring to the upcoming United Nations Durban Review Conference in Geneva, next month.