Five thousand Dalit Christians and Muslims against discrimination

Mumbai, India - More than 5 thousand Dalit Christians and Muslims from all over India, used the lush backdrop of the Jantar Mantar gardens in New Delhi to launch their protest demanding equal rights with Dalit Hindus and Buddhists.

The sit-in was sponsored by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), the National Council of the Dalit Christians (NCDC) and National Council of Churches in India (NCCI). The purpose is to ask for the deletion of paragraph 3 of the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order, which since 1950 gives status and rights exclusively to Dalit Hindus and Buddhists. According to the law Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose all previously enjoyed rights, including political representation. On 18 December 2009 the National Commission on Religious and Linguistic Minorities (Ncrlm) presented the Lok Sabha (parliament) with a proposal to amend the law. To date the authorities have not yet responded.

Fr. Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' Commission for Dalit Christians, accused the main governing party, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) of blocking the revision of the law. "We condemn the obstructions of the ruling party - he says - The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) has cleared the ways for the implementation of equal rights for our two communities." The priest said the UPA pursues religious discrimination against Christians and Muslims, against the values of secularism and democracy bandied about during the election campaign last year.

Bishop A. Neethinathan, of Chingleput (Tamil Nadu) and member of the Episcopal Commission for the program on castes and tribals, says: "As a pastor of the Catholic Church in India, it is very painful to see our Dalit people suffer double discrimination, on social and religious grounds". "This is why – he continues - I'm here in New Delhi to participate in the struggle for Dalit Christians and make an appeal to the government to implement the changes recommended by the Ncrlm and give a democratic and secular image of India, where even the weakest to enjoy the privileges and rights".