New Delhi (AsiaNews) - Police in New Delhi arrested Archbishop Anil JT Couto, as well as priests and nuns from his diocese, during a peaceful march for the rights of Dalit Christians and Muslims.
According to eyewitnesses, police agents beat vested priests and nuns who are presently being held at a police station near the parliament building.
Several people have also been reportedly injured. Some sources note that agents charged the crowd using water cannons.
Card Oswald Gracias, president of the Bishops' Conference (CBCI) and archbishop of Mumbai, told AsiaNews that "the excessive violence on our bishops, priests and nuns" was a disgrace. They were "arrested and detained because they fought for the rightful demands of the country's poor and marginalised."
The Archbishop of Delhi and other religious leaders were silently marching from Jantar Mantar, headed to the parliament building when the police intervened using water cannons.
In addition to Delhi Archbishop Anil Couto, those arrested include Church of North India (Anglican Church) General Secretary Alwan Masih, Dr Roger Gaikwad from the National Council of Churches in India, National Council of Dalit Christians President Mary John, Delhi Minorities Commission member A C Michael, All India Christian Council Secretary General John Dayal and Member of Parliament Anwar Ali.
"The Catholic Church of India is deeply saddened by the detention of our clergy, religious and other people, who were merely asking for justice and equality for Dalit Christians and Muslims," Archbishop Couto said.
The struggle to achieve equal rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims has been going on since 1950, when the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 was adopted, granting economic, educational and social advantages to Dalit Hindus. In 1956 and 1990, the status was extended to Buddhists and Sikhs.
"Such discrimination violates the constitution, which instead treats all citizens as equals," said the president of the Bishops' Conference. "Our concern touches the whole of India, which cannot move forward as long as one part of society is discriminated and deprived of something on religious grounds. This is detrimental to the development and moral authority of the nation."
This is the first time since 27 November 1997 that bishops and religious leaders are arrested for embracing the Dalit cause.