01/12/2019, 14.08
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Indian bishops ‘deeply concerned’ about forward caste reservation

The Office for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India criticises “the dichotomy in rendering social justice in India ". Christians and Muslims want to be included in the list 1950 Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes list. The Conference of Catholic Bishops of India has new leaders with Mgr Filipe Neri Ferrão replacing Card Oswald Gracias as president.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – India’s Catholic bishops have released a statement saying they are "sorry" that the Indian parliament adopted a law this week giving reservation in employment and education to members of forward castes. The note was signed by Fr Z Devasagayaraj, national secretary of the Office for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.

The prelates say they are "deeply concerned about the dichotomy in rendering social justice in India.” For them, “It is a known fact that the Economically Weaker Section is not affected by the caste system in India.” Under the new law, this section would get “10% reservation”.  For this reason, they ask for the inclusion of “Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin in the Scheduled Caste List.”

Catholic leaders have addressed the issue of reservation for the weaker section of the forward castes, something that has been part of a broader debate in the country. They complain that the new law “was introduced in the Parliament without a scientific study of the Economically Weaker Section.”

The Office for Scheduled Castes (Dalits) and Backward Classes notes that there are “various schemes, scholarships and programs available for the economically weaker section” and the “Government was keen and haste in passing the bill”.

For this reason, "we are sorry that the Government does not show the same kind of concern for the issue of Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin, thus discriminating [against] them in the name of religion.”

The latter have demanded “to be included in the Scheduled Caste List since 1950” when the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 was adopted, giving reservation status to Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, but not to converts to Christianity.

Christian and Muslim Dalits, the bishops say, "still experience exclusion and stigma of untouchability. They are educationally and economically backward as their counterpart Hindu Dalits.”

Over the years, various national commissions have clearly stressed the need to include Christians and Muslims in government affirmative action programmes.

The latest in time was the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) of 2007, which stated “that the non-inclusion of Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin in the SC list is a discrimination based on religion and goes against the Constitution."

According to the bishops, "It is really a social injustice that in spite of all the recommendations of the Commission and scientific studies”, nothing has been done

Hence, the note ends with a plea. The bishops “request the Hon. Prime Minister of India to pass a bill to include Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste origin in the Scheduled Caste list [and] to increase the reservation to SCs and STs, proportionate to their population.”

Meanwhile, the Synod of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI), the national episcopal conference of the bishops of Latin rite, currently underway in Chennai, has chosen its new leaders.

Card Oswald Gracias, archbishop of Mumbai, is stepping down. He was president for three terms from 2013 to 2019. Mgr Filipe Neri Ferrão, archbishop of Goa and Daman, was elected in his place.

Mgr George Antonysamy, archbishop of Chennai-Mylapore, and Mgr Anil Joseph Thomas Couto, archbishop of Delhi, were elected respectively as CCBI vice president and general secretary.

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