03/15/2010, 00.00
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Delhi: demonstration against Dalit ‘Via Crucis’ ready to go

More than 10,000 Christian and Muslim ‘untouchables gather in the capital to ask the government to improve their condition. Mgr Neethinathan, bishop of Chinglepet, tells AsiaNews that discrimination makes no sense, that the economy cannot developed with such injustices.
Delhi (AsiaNews) – Christian Dalits face “an endless Via Crucis and I am honoured to take part in it. Christianity teaches that there should be no discrimination, but the situation of Indian society, which is defined by its caste system, is sadly different. Economic development cannot continue when some people are ostracised,” Mgr Neethinathan, bishop of Chinglepet, told AsiaNews as he spoke of the big demonstration scheduled to take place this afternoon in Delhi.

More than 10,000 Dalits, brought together by the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) and the All India Basmantha Muslim Mahaj, will march through the streets of the Indian capital to ask the government to implement the report released by the Ranganatha Misra Commission, which recommends granting Christian and Muslim Dalits scheduled caste status and responding affirmatively to the suit currently before the Apex (Supreme) Court.

Mgr Neethinathan will address the crowd. In the past, he was arrested for defending the rights of Dalits, India’s untouchables, who by tradition live at the bottom of the country’s social hierarchy, forced to perform the most menial tasks and take the humblest jobs. In practical terms, they cannot improve their living conditions since the legal and political systems tend to frustrate their every effort at self-improvement.

“Dalit represents three quarters of India’s 25 million Christians,” the prelate said. “It is a great injustice that one part of society should be marginalised on grounds of birth and religion. It is an open sore on the body of the whole nation, which cannot continue its economic development whilst preserving such practices.”

“The Presidential Order of 1950 violates the letter and spirit of many articles of our constitution,” he explained. “Article 15 [of the constitution] clearly states, ‘The State shall not discriminate against any citizen only on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth or any of them.’ Yet we see the state discriminate on the basis of religion within a given caste group. This violates the principles on which our country was founded.”

A few weeks ago, during a Dalit demonstration in Tamil Nadu, for a few hours police held in custody bishops, priests, nuns and lay people (see Nirmala Carvalho, “Tamil Nadu: police arrests then releases bishops and faithful marching for Christian Dalit rights, AsiaNews 5 March 2010.). (NC)

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