Thousands of Christian and Muslim Dalits march against discrimination
Dubbed Parliament march by organisers, the event was sponsored by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI).
Mgr Vincent Concessao, archbishop of New Delhi, opened the dharna. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said, “India cannot claim to be a secular nation upholding religious freedom, when there is a discrimination of Dalit Christians purely on the basis of the faith they practice.”
At present, Christian and Muslim outcastes are denied job and basic services given to Hindu outcastes. They are also denied economic help, job and educational opportunities as well as political representation guaranteed by law to untouchables.
Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose every right they enjoyed before. For Mgr Concessao, this clearly constitutes “religious discrimination” at their expense, because “a change of religion does not alter their socio-economic status,” he explained.
Christian and Muslim Dalits want the central government to repeal Paragraph 3 of the Constitution Scheduled Castes Order of 1950, which grants Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits a certain status and a number of rights.
According to the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM), the exclusion of Christians and Muslims of Scheduled caste origin from the Scheduled Caste list is discriminatory, and violates Articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India.
India’s Union (federal) government has received the NCRLM report with the request to change the constitution. A petition was also filed in 2004 with the Supreme Court of India. State legislatures in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andra Pradesh have passed resolutions in support of demands to have Christian and Muslim Dalits granted the same status enjoyed by Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh outcastes. So far though, nothing has been done.
The Order was adopted 59 years ago and since then Christian and Muslim Dalits have organised demonstrations at the local and national level to have the constitution changed. A number of political parties have expressed support for their demands. Even current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, now in his second term of office, in the past said that the rule should change.
“It is most unfortunate that the Congress government by indulging in delaying tactics has joined the parties with vested interests, thus denying justice to our Dalit Christians,” Mgr Concessao said.
For him, since the constitution guarantees every citizen the right to practice his or her faith, the 1950 Order patently contradicts that principle.