11/28/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Political parties come out in favour of Dalit Christian cause

During a rally in Andhra Pradesh leftist leaders pledge legal and legislative action in favour of Dalit or outcaste Christians so that they can have the same rights enjoyed by Dalit Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. This goal has not been achieved so far because of opposition from Hindu fundamentalist parties like the BJP.

Hyderabad (AsiaNews) – India's major parties have expressed support for the campaign to recognise equal civil rights for Dalit Christians, except for the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The support to the cause spear-headed by the All India Christian Council (AICC) came at a great rally held last Saturday in Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh), southern India.

The event, which was organised by the AICC and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, saw leaders from various leftist parties pledge their support for legal and legislative action so that Dalit Christians may enjoy the same rights as their Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh brethren. These groups are guaranteed by a 1950 Presidential Order reservations (i.e. quotas) in education and the public service.

By contrast, Dalit Christians and Muslims are denied the same prerogatives and Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose them.

The issue has reached India's Supreme Court—in February, the judges of the highest court in the land ruled that the question was within their purview rejecting the government's claim that it was a prerogative of parliament.

The government asked the Attorney-General of Mumbai to represent it in the proceedings.

On August 23, the Supreme Court postponed the case after Attorney-General Milon Bannerjee asked for more time to study the matter.

B. V. Raghavulu, Andhra Pradesh State Secretary and a member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), announced that leftist parties will put pressure on the United Progressive Alliance-led government to introduce legislation in parliament to guarantee all Dalits the same privileges.

Mr Raghavulu also asked why in all these years such privileges were not extended when only extremist parties like the BJP or groups like Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) opposed them.

Saturday's rally did indicate however that this time the Union (federal) government was seriously considering what to do about Dalit Christian rights but has been stone-walled by a coterie of senior Indian administrative service officials.

In a statement, the AICC said that leaders who attended the gathering pointed the finger at the BJP, which, in office till last year, continues to sabotage all attempts to give Dalit Christians the same prerogatives as other Dalits.

At the end of the rally, participants expressed their support for joint mobilisation of all religious and political leaders. They urged everyone to organise nation-wide prayers with social organisation, Dalit leaders and non Christian groups.

Mgr Vincent V. Concessao, Archbishop of New Delhi, urged everyone to "focus on what unites us and not what divides us".

"This meeting is but the beginning of a movement to agitate [for Dalit rights]. The time for waiting is over; fifty years are long enough," said AICC chairman Joseph D'Souza. (NC)

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