Mumbai (AsiaNews) - "Christian Dalits are discriminated because of their faith. In a secular state like India, it is scandalous that non-Hindu and non-Buddhist Dalits are denied their rights on religious grounds," said Mgr Anthonisamy Neethinathan, chairman of the Commission for Scheduled Castes and Tribes for the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). He spoke to AsiaNews on the occasion of Black Day, which marks the beginning of discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits.
Marked across the country, the event gave Dalits this year an opportunity to call on India's new president, Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance (UPA) President Sonia Gandhi to abolish Paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, which denies Christian and Muslim Dalits the same rights as other Dalits.
Mgr Neethinathan noted that all Dalits that do not come under the law are held on the margins of society, hard pressed to find work and still subject to the absurd Hindu caste system. After 60 years of democracy, changing religion does not change Dalit status.
The Constitution (Scheduled Tribes) Order, 1950, assigns certain rights on the basis of Article 341 of the Indian Constitution. However, paragraph 3 explicitly says that "no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu [the Sikh or the Buddhist] religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste." In 1956 and 1990, Buddhists and Sikhs were added to Hindus. Now only Christians and Muslims are still excluded.
The Order gives Hindu Dalits preferential treatment in the economic, educational and social fields, as well as job quotas in the public service.
Christian and Muslim Dalits have slammed the Order for violating the Indian constitution, like Article 14 (equality before the law), Article 15 (non-discrimination on grounds of religion) and Article 15 (freedom of conscience and free profession, practice and propagation of religion).
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (aka the Ranganath Misra Commission) called for the replacement of the 1950 Order with something that would "completely de-link the Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Castes net fully religion-neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes."
Various agencies and governments in 12 Indian states, including Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, have indicated their support for extending the Order to Christians and Muslims.
Similarly, the Indian Supreme Court has told the federal government on several occasions to solve the problem without getting an answer.
Despite protest marches and fasting (dharma) across the country over the past few years, politicians have not budged. Despite promises of a quick solution, they remain under the sway of Hindu culture and its legacy and fear the reaction of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the powerful Hindu nationalist party.