Indian Christians mark “Dalit Liberation Day”

Mumbai, India – Christians in India marked “Dalit Liberation Day” yesterday. The decision to organise the event was taken jointly by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in order to raise awareness among Christians of the unjust situation faced by Christian and Muslim Dalits. Rev Vincent, a specialist in the field, said that Christian Dalits suffer the most humiliation. Unlike fellow Hindu caste members, “Christian Dalits have no legal protection and are persecuted. Most of them are segregated and humiliated. As a community, they are denied space and social, economic and political status within and without the Church.”

The fate of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is a very sad one. After so many years since India’s independence, they still endure oppression and suffering. However, Christian and Muslim Dalits suffer even more because they were denied a number of benefits included in a 1950 Presidential Order since neither Christianity nor Islam recognises castes.

This is an anomaly since Buddhist and Jain Dalits enjoy these benefits even though their religions do not accept castes. What is more, Christian Dalits are not covered by the 1989 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989. Consequently, they are subject to a rising wave of violence.

Today, the battle for Scheduled Castes status for Christian and Muslim Dalits continues, against all hope, and despite the delays and the denial of justice by the Union Government of India.

AsiaNews has spoken in an exclusive interview with Rev Vincent M, a former general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, who is currently writing a thesis on Dalit theology at the Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, in Birmingham, England. Rev Vincent is currently in Madurai, Tamil Nadu.

“It is a pity that when the Indian Church is predominantly a Dalit Church (Christian Dalits constitute around 70 per cent of all Christians irrespective of denomination), it has to observe a day to focus on the concerns that Dalits need to be addressed within this Church,” Rev Vincent said. “Besides facing untouchability practices, the Christian Dalits are afflicted with all sorts of oppression and violence.”

In regards to the 1950 Presidential Order, Rev Vincent emphasised that “Conversion does not change the lives or the inhuman status of Christian Dalits”.

On violence, Rev Vincent noted that for Hindu fundamentalist forces “India is for Hindus. Although Hindus form 83 per cent of the total population of India, the Fascist forces are ruthlessly opposed to conversion of people to other faiths, especially to Christianity. For the last two decades, large-scale violence was unleashed on Christians as a warning to stop conversions. The worst affected are the rural-based Christian Dalits and Christian Tribals. By comparison in the urban areas, more than physical violence, damage is caused to church structures or institution buildings. However, in rural areas Hindu chauvinists unleash physical violence on top of setting fire to prayer halls, huts and homes. Khandamal in Orissa is the most recent large-scale example where Christian Dalits and Tribals have been targeted by Hindu fundamentalist forces.”