Church Leaders Applaud India Court for Hearing Case for Christian Dalits

A ruling of the Indian Supreme Court on Monday to consider granting equal rights to Christian Dalits has been highly applauded by international Christian organizations.

A ruling by the Indian Supreme Court on Monday to consider granting equal rights to Christian Dalits has been highly applauded by international Christian organizations.

On Nov. 28, a long-awaited important hearing was held at the Indian Supreme Court, based on a petition to grant Christian Dalits the certain benefits enjoyed by Dalits following other faiths. Monday’s hearing took place after two delays of the Supreme Court – first from Aug. 25 to Oct. 18 and then from Oct. 18 to Nov. 28.

The three-judge Bench of the Indian Supreme Court decided to schedule another hearing in February 2006, according to the India national newspaper the Hindu.

On Nov. 26, two days prior to the latest hearing, some 50,000 Dalit Christians joined a nationwide rally held in Hyderabad as a strong outcry for their basic rights. The rally was organized by the All India Christian Council (AICC) and other Dalit groups, and was fully backed by the U.K.-based human rights watchdog the Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

Despite repeated postponements of Monday’s hearing, international Christian organizations hailed the move by the Indian Supreme Court, believing there is a new hope for Christian Dalits who faced centuries of oppression at the hands of the upper castes.

Dr Joseph D'Souza, AICC President, welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision, while believing that the rally has contributed to push forward such a result.

"The time for waiting is over. Fifty years is long enough," he said in a statement obtained by CSW. “We as Christians need to stand up and act. And this rally is the beginning of our public agitation and movement.”

"The continuing delay of giving Dalit Christians equal rights with other Dalits is an affront to India's secular democracy," commented Stuart Windsor, CSW's National Director. "The number of people who attended the rally on Saturday in support of Dalit Christians shows the strength of feeling on the issue. The Government cannot afford to ignore the justice of this cause any longer."

CSW urges the Indian Government to press ahead with the reform on the law to grant the Dalit Christians with equal rights without further postponement, Windsor added.

Hopegivers International, a U.S.-based organization working on many projects for Dalit Christians in India, sees great hope in the future of Dalit Christians upon the Supreme Court’s ruling.

"The Supreme Court decision to post-pone their decision is very good news. It means that they're taking this case very seriously. They could have rejected it right out of hand and gone with the Hindu majority and they've not done that," said Bill Bray of Hopegivers International, to Mission News Network (MNN).

Bray is looking forward to the increased opportunity for Dalit Christians to share Christ if they receive equal rights, according to MNN. He further explained, "They can be promoted in the military, promoted to government service. And, Christians will be treated more as equals. Now these doors are opening to the Christians and it's up to them to use this opportunity to witness."

Despite of the current oppression on Dalit Christians, they amazingly have been growing in number, according to Bray.

"The number of congregations has grown from 11,000 to 21,000 in a year. That shows you how big the movement is and how desperate the movement is for trained leadership," reported Bray. "We expect to graduate 10,000 from our seminary in February. Last year we graduated 6,300 – all Dalits."

Under the current Indian Constitution since 1950, preference is allowed towards "Scheduled Castes" – which included Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits – to be eligible for free education and a reserved proportion of government jobs.

Human rights agencies have criticized such policy as exploiting equal rights and discriminating based on religion. They therefore demanded the reservation of equal benefits for Christian Dalits, leading to a series of court hearing.