INDIA: Churches to protest at discrimination of Christian Dalits

August 9, 2010

Churches throughout India have been urged to hoist black flags on Aug. 10 to protest against continued discrimination faced by Christian Dalits, people from low castes treated as untouchables.

The protest marks the 60th anniversary of the introduction of free education and reserved government jobs to improve the social status of Hindu Dalits. Such benefits were extended to Sikh Dalits in 1956 and then to Buddhist Dalits in 1990.

However, Christian Dalits, who account for two thirds of some 28 million Christians in India, as well as Muslim Dalits, are denied these rights.

"This will be a step toward conscientising our own Christian communities on this concern and to urge the Union [federal] Government to pay heed to the just demand," said Church of South India Bishop B. S. Devamani, the chairperson of the National Council of Churches in India commission on Dalits.

While the caste system in India has been officially abolished, Dalits, whose name means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit, continue to carry out menial jobs such as scavenging, and live in segregation from upper castes.

In one recent incident, upper caste parents removed their children from government schools in the state of Uttar Pradesh after the government appointed Dalit cooks to prepare lunch for the students as a way of breaking down caste prejudice.

The August 10 protest is being supported by the National Council for Dalit Christians, which includes the NCCI and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

As well as hoisting black flags, churches are being urged to organize rallies and protests, while Christians have been asked to wear black badges to express solidarity with the cause.

The Rev. G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, a CBCI official dealing with Dalits, described continued discrimination against Christian Dalits by the government as a "mockery of democracy."

He said, "This protest is a painful remembrance of the 60 years of betrayal by the so-called secular Indian state, which claims that it treats all religions equally in this country."