Campaign in favour of Christian Dalits meets first success

Madurai, India - The campaign in favour of Christian Dalits has had its first success. The jury for the People’s Tribunal on Christian Dalit rights resolved on July 18 in Madurai that “Christian Dalits must enjoy the same opportunities as Hindu, Sikh and new Buddhist Dalits do”.

The next day India’s Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal by the National Movement for Christian Dalit Rights against the existing law that excludes untouchables (aka ‘outcaste’) who convert to Christianity from affirmative action policies—such as public service employment quotas—designed to help these communities.

Muslim Dalits also suffer from the same exclusion; Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits do not.

The People’s Tribunal was presided by retired Supreme Court Justice S.B. Sawant and Barrister Sona Khan. Some 573 witnesses from Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Pondicherry registered for the proceedings.

John Dayal and Edward Arokia Doss submitted the documentary evidence on behalf of the claimant, the National Movement for Christian Dalit Rights, an umbrella organisation founded by the All India Catholic Union, the All India Christian Council and the Voice of Dalit International.

Among the witnesses heard, a woman from Cuddalore deplored that in some tsunami-affected areas the government failed to help Christians.

The jury included lawyers, members of the Union parliament and lawmakers from the state of Tamil Nadu.

Fr Philomen Raj, Executive Secretary for Dalit Affairs of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) was present at the hearing.

Mgr Percy Fernandez, the CBCI Secretary General, and Rev Jeypaul David, chairman of the National Council of Churches in India, sent messages of solidarity.

Dalits represent 60 per cent of India’s 25 million Christians.