10/12/2006, 00.00
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Hearings to determine full Dalit rights postponed . . . again

by Nirmala Carvalho
Supreme Court adjourns hearings till April 2007. Frontline Christian leaders are "frustrated" their campaign to have rights cover all Dalits has to wait further.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – India's Supreme Court yesterday adjourned hearings in the case involving a request that full civil rights and legal protection be extended to all Dalits irrespective of their religion. Leaders of the Christian community, who are leading the Dalit rights campaign, have slammed the court's decision calling the constant delays "frustrating".

India's highest court had already postponed hearings for two months in August 2005 because the Solicitor General had to further study the issue. He had previously set up a commission of inquiry into Dalits' conditions. The commission itself requested the latest delay because it is behind schedule in preparing its report.

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Union and secretary general of the All India Christian Council, wrote to Sonia Gandhi, head of the ruling United Progressive Alliance, and to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, asking them to urge the commission to finish its work and present its findings as soon as possible.

A 1950 presidential order set up education and public sector employment quotas for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits. Muslim and Christian Dalits, who are not bounded by the caste system, are excluded. Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose the aforementioned rights.

According to bishop Peter Remigius, head of Caritas India, these delays and repeated postponements are "frustrating and humiliating".

"Our requests are justified," he explained. "Delaying the hearings can only further marginalise Christian Dalits in society and within their own group."

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