11/05/2007, 00.00
INDIA
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Hindu Dalits against equality for Christians and Muslims

by Nirmala Carvalho
A nation-wide campaign is being launched today to stop the central government from extending Scheduled Castes rights to Christian and Muslim Dalits, who have been hitherto excluded. For Hindu nationalists the move is essentially electoral but the Catholic Church warns that if India is to progress it must recognise that economic development and social oppression do not go together.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Vijay Sonkar Sastri, chairman of the All India SC Reservation Protection Forum, has launched a nation-wide campaign of protest against the central government’s decision to extend Scheduled Caste status to Christian and Muslim Dalits. According to the former MP with the opposition Bharatya Janata Party (BJP), giving every Dalit the same rights will deprive Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist Dalits of their job and education quotas.

Ms Sastri has alleged that the move is designed to encourage mass conversion of Hindus to Christianity and Islam, and that the central government is undertaking this step to please Christians and Muslims and get their vote in the next election.

His campaign includes a march on New Delhi that begins today; a meeting in Kochi in the southern state of Kerala; and a petition to the Prime Minister to drop the whole idea.

Initially, a 1950 presidential order granted Hindu Dalits certain benefits as members of Scheduled Castes. Buddhist and Sikh Dalits were eventually included. Only Christians and Muslims were left out.

India’s Catholic Church has the led to fight for equality of all Dalits.

According to Father Cosmon, executive secretary of the Scheduled Castes/Tribes and Backward Class Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, those groups who continue to oppose extending the same rights to all Dalits “only want to prevent the economic and social development of Christians and Muslims and deprive them of their human dignity.”

For the clergyman Hindu nationalist use the same argument to justify their resentment against Christians: “forced conversions.”

But if their “claim were true, why is it that the proportion of Christians [in the country] is always the same, around 2.5 per cent?” he asked.

“Economic development and social oppression do not go together. Excluding a large segment of society from India’s development only because of its members’ faith is a violation of human rights, an obstacle to progress and a source of shame for the entire nation,” he said.

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