06/10/2009, 00.00
INDIA
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Andhra Pradesh: Dalit archbishop wants equal dignity for Christians and Hindus

by Nirmala Carvalho
Only the Church “treats us like a family, without discrimination of any kind,” says Mgr Marampudi Joji. He leads a delegation from the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches to meet Chief Minister Rajasekhara Reddy. He calls on the authorities to defend religious freedom and the right to convert; he wants Christian Dalits to enjoy the same rights as other Dalits, whether Hindus, Buddhists or Sikhs.
Hyderabad (AsiaNews) – “I am the first Dalit bishop of India and I have a duty to ensure that most Dalit Christians can enjoy the same privileges on par with other Dalits,” said Mgr Marampudi Joji, Catholic archbishop of Hyderabad and executive vice-president of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches (APFC). In speaking to AsiaNews he explained what he and Christians throughout the state must do to uphold the rights of Dalits. 

Last Friday he led a 40-member APFC delegation to meet Andhra Pradesh’s Chief Minister Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy who just started his second mandate.

The APFC called on Rajasekhara Reddy to defend freedom of religion and the right to convert so that Christian Dalits can enjoy the same rights as Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.

The chief minister reassured them that he intends to discuss the issue with Union authorities in New Delhi, especially with the ministers of Law and Justice and of Social Justice and Empowerment

Rajasekhara Reddy also said that he would be available to lead a delegation of Churches to the Union capital to meet Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on 19-20 June.

At the bottom of the problem is a 1950 presidential order which introduced a quota system to benefit Dalits in education and public service employment.

The same order denied Christian and Muslim Dalits or anyone who converted to those religions the right to claim any benefits that might accrue to them as members of scheduled groups.

For Archbishop Joji even a cursory reading of the order shows its discriminatory nature because it violates articles 15 and 25 of the constitution.

“By restricting the benefits to a particular religion, the order has divided the entire Dalit community on the basis of religion,” he said.

Christian Dalits are effectively denied the same protection and rights offered to other Dalits, and this constitutes a violation of religious freedom.

For the Indian Church APFC’s commitment to the Dalit community constitutes a cultural challenge in a country like India’s.

“When the Holy See announced my appointment as the first Dalit archbishop, there were a lot of rumblings in society,” the prelate said. But only Church “treats us like a family, without discrimination of any kind.”

“However, in Indian society this issue is also a socio-economic issue.” In fact, the Supreme Court has ruled “that a change of religion does not change caste and that the disabilities of the Scheduled Castes converted to Christianity continue even after conversion, on par with Dalits in other religions.”

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