India: Dalit Christians plan a march to demand equal rights

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Dalit Christians

Dalit Christians of India are planning to hold a march to demand rights equal to Dalit Hindus and Sikhs.

The march to be held on March 10 is to be organised in a collaborative effort by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches and is expected to engage more than 20,000 Christians from all over India and abroad.
Reservations on government jobs and educational institutions are to be raised.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s office taking care of Dalit and indigenous people, the National Council of Churches in India, a joint forum of Protestant and Orthodox churches, and the National Council of Dalit Christians are the main organizers.

“It is our moral duty to fight against injustice. This would be one of the biggest protests by the Dalit Christians to demand equal rights,” Franklin Caesar, founder of the National Council of Dalit Christians told uca news.

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The government of India has granted special rights to Hindu and Sikh Dalits but have denied Christian and Muslim Dalits these rights. Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishop’s commission of Dalit and indigenous people is of the view that the government is afraid of giving equal rights to Dalit Christians for the fear of conversions to Christianity.

The Sanskrit term Dalit means trampled upon and denotes the former untouchable castes within Hindu society. Dalits who converted to Christianity did not escape the caste system which has a strongly ingrained presence in Indian society that is not limited to Hindu religious ideals. The different branches of Christianity in India still engage in these societal practices with regards to the caste system, along with all its customs and norms. The Roman

Catholic Church treated the caste system as part of the Indian social structure and, for much of its history in India, it chose to work within the established social system; similarly the Syrian Orthodox Churches responded in like fashion, except it has tended to collectively act as one caste within the caste system instead of maintaining different castes within their churches.

At least half of India’s some 25 million Christians are of Dalit origin. A 1950 presidential order denied government benefits, such as quotas in government jobs and educational institutions, meant for advancement of Dalits, on the grounds that Christianity does not recognize the caste system.

Christian leaders say successive governments have failed to undo the 1950 order to bring justice to Dalit Christians.

Rev. Devasagayaraj also said currently, 12 of India’s 29 state governments have recommended that the federal government treat Dalit Christians, Muslims and Hindus equally in terms of benefits and social rights.