Christian and Muslim Dalits backed by fellow Dalits from other religions

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Buddhist, Sikh and Hindu Dalit movements strongly support demands for equal rights by their fellow Christian and Muslim outcastes or untouchables.

In a seminar held on Wednesday in New Delhi, leaders of half a dozen Dalit groups came together to demand that Dalit converts to Christianity and Islam benefit from Dalit-specific legislation.

Currently, the status of Dalit converts is a hot issue in the country. Last month the Supreme Court of India accepted to hear arguments against the 1950 Presidential Order, which barred Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin from enjoying the benefits of affirmative action policies and laws that Hindu Dalits enjoy.

Titled "Do Dalits have freedom of faith? Do Dalits have the protection of the Law?", the seminar was jointly organised by the Vaikalpik Dalit Muslim Kendra, the All India Pasmanda Muslim Samaj, the Delhi Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission, the Satyashodhak Samaj, the All India Christian Council and the All India Catholic Union.

Justice Party president Udit Raj, who was present, said that "choosing one's faith is a basic human right" that Dalits should also enjoy.

"India is a democracy," Mr Udit, a Buddhist, said, "and all its citizens, especially the weaker sections, should never be denied the right of choice of their faith and the state should not discriminate among its citizens on the basis of religious affiliation".

According to noted writer Jaspal Singh, who was also at the seminar, "the trauma of caste discrimination crossed religious boundaries". As evidence he related a few cases of separate cremation grounds and gurudwaras for Sikh Dalits.

Muslim Pasminda Samaj leader Ali Anwar noted that Muslim Dalits are organising to assert their rights.

John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union, said it was a tragedy that some remnants of caste-based discrimination still existed even among Christians. However, he stressed that one should not fail to see the Church's commitment to empower Dalits through education and social development. What Christian Dalits  want, he said, "is freedom from the unjust discrimination based on faith".

The Catholic activist went further and said that "untouchability is a humiliating and a shameful malady caused by deep-rooted prejudice, which does not disappear with the change of faith." To remedy the situation, Mr Dayal strongly supports affirmative action and quotas for Dalits in private sector. (LF)