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Indian Supreme Court Delays Dalit Christians Equal Rights Case

Contact: Taun Cortado, Gospel for Asia, 972-300-3120


CARROLLTON, Texas, May 1 /Christian Newswire/ -- India's Supreme Court has once again postponed action on a case involving the civil rights of India's 300 million plus Dalits ("Untouchables"). In April, the court voted to postpone further discussion of the case until mid-July. The case was delayed because a government agency charged with preparing a report examining the issue failed to submit the completed report to the court. The court ordered the agency to conduct the investigation in 2005.


The court's failure to act on this matter is not simply a bureaucratic bungle. Instead, it appears to be a deliberate attempt to deny the religious rights of Dalits.


"This is just one example of the ways in which anti-Christian political parties deny justice to the Dalits," said Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan. "In this case, they simply postpone the decision, causing lengthy delays. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters continue to suffer."


The case in question, filed in 2004 by India's Center for Public Interest Litigation, challenges the practice of excluding Dalits who become Christians or adopt Islam from the country's affirmative action reservation system. This system sets aside nearly 25 percent of government jobs and college enrollment slots for Dalits. Affirmative action benefits in India are currently awarded only to Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist Dalits, and they stand to lose their benefits when they become Christians.


The Supreme Court decision comes just weeks after India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (NCS/ST) rejected the demand that Christians and Muslims receive equal affirmative action benefits. The committee denied the need for the benefits on the grounds that "untouchability," the main criteria for the benefits, only affected Hindu Dalits.


The caste system was created more than 3,000 years ago by invading Aryan tribes to prevent the pollution of their race. The system was officially outlawed in 1950, but its practices are still deeply ingrained in India's society. Dalits, who are on the lowest rung of the caste ladder, are considered to be less than human. Their position in society is justified by ancient Hindu religious texts.


Dalits are expected to perform menial, degrading tasks, such as unclogging sewers, disposing of dead bodies and cleaning toilets. They are forced to live in separate settlements, prohibited from worshipping in some temples, barred from using village wells and their children are often denied education or are made to sit in the back of the classroom.


Crimes against Dalits are shockingly common and usually overlooked by law enforcement officials, according to the Human Rights Education Movement of India. Every hour, two Dalits are assaulted, three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered and two Dalit homes are burned.


Nearly 65 percent of Christians in India belong to low caste and tribal groups, including the Dalits.


Ironically, this delay by the Supreme Court comes just three months after a Dalit man was appointed to serve as Chief Justice of India's Supreme Court. When Konakuppakattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan's appointment was announced, the Indian media reported that this new justice sees the importance of standing up for the common man and allowing the voices of the poor to be heard in court.


Many important commissions and government agencies have recommended that Dalit Christians maintain their rights to the affirmative action system based on the fact that they experience the same socio-economic disabilities as other Dalits.