04/12/2005, 00.00
INDIA
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Supreme Court to hear Christian Dalits' claim

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Indian Catholics have welcomed the decision by India's highest court to hear arguments over extending Scheduled Caste privileges to Dalit Christians. Final hearings are scheduled for August.

Catholic organisations such as the All India Catholic Union and the Bombay Catholic Sabha are launching an awareness campaign to inform the general public about the conditions and status of Dalit Christians.

The campaign will include rallies, round tables and prayer vigils. A series of public conferences on discrimination against Dalit Christians and their status and conditions in Indian society are scheduled for the states of Trivandrum, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The issue goes back to a 1950 presidential decree which established in law the principle of affirmative action for the Scheduled Castes in the fields of education and public employment. Originally, it included only Hindus but was eventually extended to Sikhs and Buddhists.

However, it left out Christian and Muslim Dalits.

It also provided that Dalits covered by the decree's provisions would lose their privileges if they convert to Christianity or Islam.

Back in February, the Supreme Court brushed aside the government's contention that the issue was the sole prerogative of Parliament.

The decision is supported by many local human rights activists who are fed up with this "odious discrimination" against Dalit Christians. (LF)

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