Elections 2019: Church tells parties to include the rights of Christian Dalits in their manifesto

Elections are scheduled for May. The Office for Dalits and Disadvantaged Castes is calling on all political groups to add Christian and Muslim Dalits to the reserved quota system established in 1935. Back then India’s British rulers did not exclude anyone on the basis of religion. This changed with a 1950 presidential order that deprived Christians and Muslims of their reserved access to public employment and education.

New Delhi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Catholic Church leaders have called on political parties to include in their election manifesto granting Scheduled Caste (SC) status to Christian and Muslim Dalit.

This follows a meeting of the Office for Dalits and Disadvantaged Castes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) at its offices in New Delhi on Wednseday.

"It is crucial time for us to get the same right as others, politically and legally. We cannot let it go,” said CBCI general secretary Mgr Theodore Mascarenhas. And this effort “includes Hindu Dalits”.

Mgr Sarat Chandra Nayak, president of the Office, noted that Christian and Muslim Dalits are denied a fundamental right, that is, reserved access to jobs and education.

From a legal point of view, India’s Christian and Muslim Dalits are denied the benefit granted to the Dalits of other religious communities. The quota system was established under British rule in 1935, in an attempt to correct discriminatory practices based on caste membership.

Later, the Indian Constitution, which came into force in 1950, adopted the same forms of Dalit empowerment. However, a presidential Order adopted the same year left out Christian as well as Muslim Dalits (formerly known as outcaste or untouchables) from reserved quotas.

The Indian Church has always protested against this "shameful" form of discrimination, which affects  converts to Christianity, and has repeatedly fought for the extension of reserved status in public employment and education to the poorest classes in society.

Recently, the approval of reserved quotas for the poor of the upper castes sparked outrage. At least 15 petitions have been filed with the Supreme Court of India, calling for the inclusion of Christian Dalits.

“We have to get natural justice as the citizens of this country,” Bishop Nayak said. “In a democratic country, people are discriminated on the basis of religion. The constitutional rights are violated. Two minority communities (Christians and Muslims) have become victims of social, economic and political development.”