05/10/2007, 00.00
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Among Dalits, women are the most humiliated, laments the Indian Church

by Nirmala Carvalho
In welcoming a resolution before the US Congress on India’s caste system, the Bishops’ Conference of India insists on the role education for women can play in Dalit emancipation.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India’ Catholic Church has welcomed a resolution introduced on May 2 in the United States Congress by Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona demanding an end to India’s caste system, an “abhorrent form of persecution and segregation” that is particularly harsh on India’s Dalits, especially women. Although the resolution has not yet been adopted, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has expressed its gratitude that the issue has been brought to public attention.

In an interview with AsiaNews, the executive secretary of the CBCI’s Commission on Scheduled Castes and Schedules Tribes, Fr Arokiaraj Cosmon, tried to explain the tragic nature of the caste system, which the resolution highlighted.

“Dalits’ conditions are well-known both at home and abroad,” the priest said. “They are economically and socially ostracised, denied equal access to education and political life. Out of 250 million of them there are 16 million who are twice as penalised because they are Christian.”

Christian but also Muslim Dalits have been fighting for decades to gain the same entitlements reserved for Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits like reservations and quotas in public sector employment and in schools.

“Most violence visited upon Dalits affects women,” he added. “They cannot report crimes, especially sex crimes, or ask for police assistance because what they say is not taken into consideration. Most lawyers and police officers come from the upper castes and are not well disposed towards victims.”

Father Cosmon insists though that “whilst Dalit women are the most vulnerable group in society, if they can get an education and become aware of their rights, they will be better placed to educate their entire family and contribute to the necessary social and economic empowerment of all Dalits.”

In conclusion, for the clergyman, the country’s development needs the government “to extend quotas to all Dalits without distinction of religion in both the public and private sectors.”

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