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Committee says Dalits Must be Given Rights

K.P. Yohannan Says Decision Could Mean Freedom at Last


Contact: Taun Cortado, Gospel for Asia, 214-673-0075, taunc@gfa.org


NEW DELHI, India, May 24 /Christian Newswire/ -- The National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities presented its long-awaited report to India's government on May 15. If the Indian Supreme Court follows the Commission's recommendations, thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims will receive the same affirmative action benefits as those who choose to remain in the country's majority Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh faiths.


More than two years ago, the high court appointed the commission to research whether Dalits who left their traditional faiths—mainly Hinduism—faced discrimination. The report was initially to be submitted after six months, but was repeatedly delayed until being finally presented last week.


"This is a significant and giant step toward justice for the Dalits," said Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan. "If the court follows the Commission's recommendations, it will free many Dalits to choose to follow Christ. They will no longer have to fear losing their rights."


Studies conducted by the commission concluded that Dalits who choose to follow Christianity continue to endure caste-based discrimination. In response to the findings, the commission recommended that Dalit Christians, Muslims and other religious minorities receive several affirmative action benefits. One of those benefits would be that 15 percent of the seats in non-minority institutions would be reserved for the religious minority Dalits.


Currently, affirmative action benefits are only awarded to Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist. Since 1950, the government has ruled that only Dalits who are from those religions need these benefits. The government claims that once a Dalit leaves Hinduism, or what has been deemed a Hindu-based religion, they are free from discrimination caused by the Hindu caste system. Many upper-caste Hindus argue that providing affirmative action benefits for all Dalits would encourage Hindus to leave their traditional religion. In India, affirmative action benefits are available to those with "Scheduled Caste" status.


Once caste-based discrimination was outlawed, the government created the Scheduled Caste status as a way to legally identify those who are socially and/or economically marginalized because of their caste. Once a person is identified as being of a Scheduled Caste background, they become eligible for special benefits, such as the opportunity to apply for a certain number of government jobs or college enrollment slots set aside for them.


The case asking to restore Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Christians was originally filed in 2004. If the Supreme Court rules in their favor, Dalit Christians will receive the benefits guaranteed to them by the Indian Constitution. The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case again on July 19.


The complex issue has also been taken up by India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (NCSC/ST), which rejected the premise that Christian and Muslim Dalits should still have access to affirmative action benefits. The committee denied the need for the benefits on the grounds that "untouchability," the main criteria for the benefits, only applied to Dalit Hindus, Sikhs and some Buddhists.


There are an estimated 300 million Dalits in India. They suffer unimaginable oppression and exploitation. Nearly 65 percent of Christians in India belong to Scheduled Castes, including the Dalits. Christian groups have long argued that it is unconstitutional for the government to deny the Christian Dalits the same rights as others.


Eurasian tribes that invaded India almost 3,000 years ago are credited with creating the caste system to prevent the melding of their own culture with that of the original inhabitants. Although the caste system was outlawed in 1950, it still maintains a stronghold on almost all of Indian society.


Men and women born into a Dalit family live in virtual slavery to those in the upper castes. Dalits are expected to perform the most demeaning manual labor jobs, such as cleaning sewers, and are routinely abused and even murdered without consequence.


GFA leaders in India request prayer that the case will no longer be delayed, and that the court will give the Christian Dalits the benefits they desperately need.


For interviews with Dr. K.P. Yohannan, please contact Taun Cortado at 214-673-0075 or email at: taunc@gfa.org