Churches in India have committed themselves to being "zero tolerance zones" for caste-based discrimination.
At a conference convened by the National Council of Churches in India and the World Council of Churches last weekend, 31 churches condemned the concept of "untouchability," which is still practiced in India today despite being abolished from India's constitution in 1950.
In a joint affirmation of faith, the churches described casteism as a "sin, apostasy and rebellion against God", and a "crime against human beings."
They hit out at the treatment of Dalits, who rank lowest in the caste system and are often given only manual labor work to do, including the removal of human feces from dry latrines.
"We are ashamed that we as Christians have remained silent while our brothers and sisters have been violated and killed," the church leaders stated.
They are calling upon Christians around the world to make Lent 2011 a time of "purging caste" from church communities.
The "resilience and resistance" of Dalits were, they said, an invitation to the global church "to join in solidarity to denounce and resist the 'spiritual forces of evil.'"
The Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala, program executive for justice and inclusive communities in the World Council of Churches, said the conference was "remarkable" in enabling Indian churches to name the caste system as evil and caste discrimination as a sin and crime.
"Equally important, it has moved from building on Dalit suffering to Dalit resistance and determination to dismantle an oppressive social order," he said.
The ecumenical conference in New Delhi was held Oct. 22-24.