Published: 17:00 GMT Daylight Time - Monday 01 August 2011
Protest calls for rights denied to Indian Dalit Christians
Country/Region: India, South and East Asia
“This strike is the expression of hunger for justice, hunger for equality and hunger for the human dignity of Christian Dalits”Rev. Roger Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India
Indian Christians have taken part in a three-day hunger strike, and marched on parliament, calling for the end to discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits on the basis of their faith.
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The protest started in New Delhi on 25 July and culminated with the march on the 28th. It involved thousands of people, including several senior Christian leaders, human rights activists, and members of the Christian and Muslim communities.
They were calling for the government to grant Christian and Muslim Dalits, who are at the very bottom of Indian society, equal rights with their Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh counterparts.
A senior church leader said:
Christian Dalits are crushed by double discrimination, purely on the basis of their faith.
Dalit, which means “trampled upon”, refers to those who are treated as “untouchables” in India, where the Hindu caste system dictates each person’s place in the social hierarchy. In 1950, the Indian Parliament adopted Article 3 of the constitution, which granted “Scheduled Caste” recognition to Hindu Dalits, affording them certain economic, educational and social rights. This was extended to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits in 1956 and 1990 respectively but has been denied to Christian and Muslim Dalits.
One Dalit Christian said:
The discrimination against us amounts to denial of the freedom of religion and equality guaranteed by the constitution.
Two-thirds of India’s 27 million Christians are Dalits. Suffering discrimination in education and employment, they live a hand-to-mouth existence working at menial jobs in rural areas, segregated from the upper castes.
The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians (NCCDC) and the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) organised the hunger strike and march on parliament. The NCDC said that the government is withholding justice from Christians despite the fact that several government commissions support their cause.
The campaigners have backing from the National Commission for Minorities, the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, as well as major political parties.