Indian bishops pleased Supreme Court will finally hear Christian Dalits

The initial petition was filed in 2004. For Mgr Sarat Chandra Nayak, “The issue of Dalit Christians is organically connected to the mission of Catholic Church” which exists “to continue the very mission of Christ who was anointed to preach good news to the poor”.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak, president of the Office for Scheduled Castes/Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI), has welcomed the decision of the Supreme Court of India to hear an appeal by Dalit Christians.

He rejoices at the “good news” that the country’s highest court accepted the petition, presented in 2004, asking that Christian Dalits benefit from the government’s affirmative action programmes in civil service jobs and in education.

“We have used all democratic and non-violent means in this continuous struggle,” said Bishop Nayak, this despite the fact that “at times we suffered the brutal violence of State power.”

At present, “all our hopes hung on the Supreme Court. In the meantime, we continue to pray for the honourable judges of the Bench [. . .] and ourselves”.

For years, Church authorities have been calling for changes to a 1950 presidential order that excludes members of scheduled castes who converted to Christianity from public jobs available to Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits.

For Mgr Sarat, the Order is first of all “unconstitutional because it violates the fundamental rights enshrined in Articles 14, 15, 16 (2), 29, 338 and 341” of the constitution, which proclaims equality before the law and of opportunity in the public sector, protects minority interests, and bans discrimination based on religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.

Secondly, the presidential decree "is discriminatory because it excludes Christian Dalits on the basis of religion. Thirdly, it is unjust because he treats equals (Dalits of all religions) unequally. [. . .] Fourthly, it is against the secular nature of the Constitution because it favours Dalit Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, and indirectly promotes Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism.”

India’s Christians represent 2.3 per cent of the population, or 27.8 million out of a total of almost 1.3 billion inhabitants. Christian Dalits number 18 million or two thirds of the community.

According to the prelate, Dalits “have suffered injustice for too long a time and should be given justice without any further delay. They have been deprived of the equal opportunity in education, job opportunity, economy and politics.

“They also don’t get the legal protection under the Prevention of Atrocity Against Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Act 1989. Thousands of educated Dalit Christian youth do not get government jobs and depend only on private companies for their employment.”

Ultimately, “they can neither participate in the country's development process nor benefit from government development plans."

Now, “not only I but also two million Dalit Christians and those who work for equality and justice, most eagerly wait for the positive judgment of the Supreme Court.

“I expect that the mind of the honourable judges are without any fear, their knowledge is free from any prejudices, they keep their heads high above the fragments and divisions of society, their reasons are clear and the words of their judgment come out of the depth of truth that leads to the freedom of God’s Kingdom.”

For Bishop Sarat, "The issue of Dalit Christians is organically connected to the mission of Catholic Church in India and apart from it, she will certainly miss her mission, lose her Catholicity and forfeit her reason and right to exist as a Church” if she did not act.

Ultimately, the latter does not stem from the fact that “Dalit Christians constitute two thirds of Christians in India and all Dalits constitute 17 per cent of total Indian population, but because the Church exists to continue the very mission of Christ who was anointed to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, to release the oppressed and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour (Lk. 4: 18).

Given the Church's mission, the bishop notes that the Office he heads “takes a lead role in the struggles of Dalits, both for their rights as citizens of India and for their equality and equal opportunity in the Church as her members.”

With this in mind, the Church adopted an action plan in 2016 and set up the Office. “The CBCI Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India is aimed at realising the equal dignity of all as children of God, equal call to holiness and equal mission to make Christ known.” (A.C.F.)