01/02/2015, 00.00
INDIA

For Indian activist, pope's peace message entails rights for Christian and Muslim Dalits

Nirmala Carvalho
The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) issues an appeal. Half of the world's slaves are in India, mostly Dalits and Tribals. Non-Hindu "untouchables" do not have access to the rights and benefits provided by Scheduled Caste (SC) status.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - In a message relayed by AsiaNews for 48th World Day of Peace, which was marked yesterday, Sajan George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), said that it is necessary "to grant Christian and Muslim Dalits the status of Scheduled Caste (SC)" so as to end "the discrimination they suffer because of their faith," and stop "the violation of the secular nature of India's Constitution."

Released in October 2013, the First Global Slavery Index shows that India is home to almost half of the world's slaves: 13.9 million of nearly 30 million. Nearly 90 per cent of them are caught up in human trafficking within the country. Most of them are Dalits ("untouchables") and tribal. Last but not least, out of India's 25 million Christians, 20 million are Dalits.

As non-Hindus, Christian and Muslim Dalits were never granted the status of Scheduled Caste (SC), which since 1950 gives so-called "untouchables" some benefits and privileges, including reserved places in schools and public sector employment. Later, amendments extended the same benefits to Sikhs and Buddhists.

"India is a multi-religious society," said the Christian leader, "and the survival of such a society is only possible if all religions are treated equally, without favour or discrimination."

"Secularism implies that people of different faiths are equal before the law, the constitution and the government," Sajan George said emphatically. "A second requirement is the separation of religion and politics. If this existed, there would be no discrimination."

"However, Dalit Christians are unfortunately victimised twice; first, because of their faith, and second, because of their caste. This way, they are pushed to the margins of society."

For the GCIC's president, Pope Francis' message for the World Day of Peace, titled 'No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters,' "is a prophetic call to end the double discrimination suffered by our Dalit brothers and sisters".

Lenin Raghuvanshi, secretary general of the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), also called on people to listen and heed the pontiff's words.

Often radical Hindu groups accuse Christian missionaries and Catholics of converting by force" or in exchange of "economic benefits" members of society's most vulnerable groups, i.e. Dalits and Tribals".

However, "conversion to Christianity does not bring any benefit or improvement in Dalits' socio-economic status," Sajan George noted.

"In fact, they are still trapped in the old caste system, based on prejudices and discrimination, which only lead to poverty and deprivation through the denial of equal opportunities and access to resources and services."

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