'Black Day' Observed to Demand Equal Status for Dalit Christians

NEW DELHI – Christians in various places observed "Black Day" this past week to reiterate their anguish over the discrimination meted out by the government of India.

Joined by church leaders, Dalit Christians wearing black badges and carrying banners held rallies and public meetings this past Tuesday condemning the negligence of government in deleting a clause in Constitution Order 1950 that, as a result, prevents Scheduled Caste (SC) Christians from enjoying economic and educational benefits.

In India's capital, a solidarity meeting held at the Sacred Heart Cathedral was attended by more than a hundred, including the Rev. Vincent M. Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi; the Rev. Asir Ebenezar, Officiating General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in India; Anand Kumar, representative of Christian Aid; and the Rev. Varghese Mattamana, director Catholic NGO Caritas.

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Speaking on the occasion, Archbishop Concessao urged the Indian government not to delay justice to the "deprived and dispossessed" Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Castes group.

And NCCI leader Ebenezer highlighted the consensus of the political parties on the issue of granting Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, which would provide them with opportunities in education and employment.

It was on Aug. 10, 1950, that the president of India signed off on paragraph three of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, which made reservation in education and jobs available to those from low-caste that follow Hinduism.

The order was later modified to include Sikhs and Buddhists, but still today excludes Christians and Muslims.

The Rev. Raj Bharat Patta, secretary of the Commission on Dalits at NCCI, said the demand for SC status is not a matter of privilege or benefit.

"This demand is our constitution right," he asserted.

The Dalit issue, Patta added, is a "litmus test for the present government in proving their genuine character towards justice and in safeguarding the rights of its citizens."

Before winding up, the participants of the gathering sent memorandums to the president of India, the prime minister, minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, the minister for Minority Affairs and the minister for Law and Justice.

Tuesday's gathering was organized by the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians (NCCDC), a joint program of Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) and National Council of Churches in India (NCCI).

According to estimates, there are about 20 million Dalit Christians in India.

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