India: Dalit Rights

General March 5, 2007

The National United Christian Forum (NUCF), organized a rally today at the Jantar Mantar, as a public outcry against the National Commission for SC/ST for its recent rejection of the demand for reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims on grounds that untouchability - the main criteria for reservation for the communities - was peculiar to the Hindu religion only. Mr. Fakirbhai Vaghela, the acting Chairman of the NCSC/ST had recently said, "Once an individual adopted Islam or Christianity, he did not face the social stigma of untouchability, and hence should not fall within the purview of reservation".

Thousands of people participated in the rally along with various Church leaders. Following the rally memorandums were handed over to Dr. Manmohan Singh, Hon'ble Prime Minister of India; to Justice Ranganath Misra, Chairman, National Commission for Religious & Linguistic Minorities and the Chairman of the National Commission for SC/ST, by the Church leaders. At the rally the Archbishop of Delhi and the President of NUCF, Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao said, "The demand for equal rights of the Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin is a well known struggle going on for fifty six years. Once again we would like to urge the National Commission for SC/ST and the Central Government to extend Scheduled Caste Status to Christians and Muslims of Schedule Caste Origin (Dalit Christians and Muslims)."

Nearly 65% of Christians in India belong to the scheduled castes and backward categories who have suffered oppression and exploitation like Dalits of other religions in the country. SC status not only provides special provisions for education and employment but also grants legal protection and safeguards against atrocities, physical violence and abuse. With the conversion to the Christian faith, they had expected liberation from the caste-based discrimination in the Indian society.

However, the Christians of Scheduled castes' origin in Punjab, Utter Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and so on continue to experience exclusion and are denied equal opportunities for education, livelihood and dignity.

It is to be noted that both Mahatma Gandhi and Bhim Rao Ambedkar had held that by changing one's religion, the social status of the person does not change and that he continues to suffer the same discrimination as before his conversion. The same was also held buy the Supreme Court in its Mandal case judgement in 1992.

The demand for SC status by Christian of Scheduled Caste origin is pending before the Parliament and the Supreme Court of India. Several Commissions and important ministries of government have also strongly recommended grant of SC status on basis of socio-economic disabilities experienced by the Christians of SC origin.