Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Today, everyone is celebrating Human Rights Day. This year’s focus is on ‘Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.’ Sadly, since 1950, “Christian Dalits have been discriminated by a presidential order because of their religious affiliation," said Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC).
The activist told AsiaNews that "India is a secular state and religious discrimination is prohibited by Article 15 of our Constitution. We ask for positive action for Dalit Christians. "
Protection from discrimination based on religion “is one of the most important rights” under India’s constitution, the GCIC president explained. However, Christian Dalits “are not only discriminated because they are Dalit but also because they are Christian.”
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order of 1950 – also known as the Presidential Order of 1950 – denies Christian and Muslim Dalits rights and privileges granted to other Dalits.
Although the caste system has been formally abolished, the presidential decree de facto acknowledged the existence of castes by recognising that they have the right to certain economic, educational and social benefits, like job quotas in government bureaucracies.
Initially reserved for Hindus, the third paragraph of the Presidential Order of 1950 was amended by Parliament to extend constitutional benefits to Sikh Dalits (1956) and ‘Buddhist Dalits (1990), but similar benefits were refused to Christian Dalits.
Rights advocates have complained for years that Christian and Muslim Dalits are discriminated since they cannot enjoy the same rights and privileges given to Dalit who belong to other religions.
“The denial of justice to Dalit Christians goes against the letter and the spirit of Articles 14, 15, 16 and 25 of the Constitution of India on equal justice, equal opportunities and freedom of religion,” George said.
“It is a tragedy that nearly 75 per cent of India’s Christians, some 20 million, belong to Scheduled Caste communities, and are denied statutory and constitutional benefits because of the 1950 Presidential Order.”
"The worst thing is that when a Dalit decides to convert to Christianity, he or she loses all the advantages related to his social affiliation,” the activist said. Conversely, these “are restored once he produces a Scheduled Caste certificate,” which is available only to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.
Even sadder, even “Children suffer the same discrimination."