07/18/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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People's Tribunal begins hearings in Tamil Nadu on Christian Dalits rights

A copy of the proceedings will be sent to India's President and Prime Minister.

Madurai (AsiaNews/CBCI) – The People's Tribunal on the rights of Christian Dalits began its proceedings today. In the initial hearings, some Dalits—also known as outcastes and untouchables— will speak about the discriminations they endure on daily basis because of their faith.

A copy of the proceedings will be sent to the President of India, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and the National Human Rights Commission, the National Commission for Minorities and the National Commissions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, Women and Children.

At the core of the trial is a 1950 Presidential Order that excluded Dalit converts to Christianity from government affirmative action programmes such as reserved quotas in public service employment. Muslims, too, suffer from the same discrimination. On the other hand, Hindu, Buddhist or Sikh Dalits are protected.

In an official statement, the National Movement for Dalit Christians Rights, which backs the People's Tribunal, said that as "[s]trange as it may seem, the full protection of the law and many privileges that are available to Dalits of Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths are denied to their brothers and sisters who have adopted the Christian or other faiths,"

More than 70 per cent of Christian Dalits are concentrated in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala and Karnataka. The others live in Maharashtra, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh.

India's Christian community is 25 million strong, 60 per cent of them from the Dalit caste, which is at the bottom of social hierarchy.

Among the members of the People's Tribunal, there are world famous jurists under the chairmanship of retired Supreme Court of India Judge, Mr. P.B. Sawant.

The initiative is backed by Christian religious leaders and international human rights groups.

Mgr Percy Fernandez, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, sent a message of solidarity to the Tribunal's organisers.

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