India ‘s High Court to Consider Christian Dalits’ Demand For Equality
By Allie Martin
October 5, 2005
(AgapePress) – The Supreme Court of India will soon hear a case affecting millions of Dalit Christians. At issue is whether Christian Dalits will be given the same basic rights that Hindu, Sikh, and Buddhist Dalits already enjoy under the law.
For generations many Dalits, also known as untouchables, have been at the bottom of the Hindu caste system in India . Back in 1950, the government tried to address the issue when a presidential decree granted quotas in schools and government jobs to Sikh, Buddhist, and Hindu Dalits. But, as Gospel For Asia founder K.P. Yohannan notes, millions of Dalits have become Christians and, under current law, are no longer eligible to benefit from the quota system.
Yohannan hopes lawmakers in India will eventually address the anti-Christian discrimination. “If — and I believe God is going to do it — they pass the bill saying that if these 300 million Dalits become Christians, no problem, they will still have all the benefits and everything,” he says, “a dam is going to break, and that means no one can stop these millions of people [from] coming into the kingdom because this is the last obstacle the enemy is using: the fear of the economic development of the Dalit community.”
The Gospel for Asia founder says current Indian laws give Dalit Christians virtually no rights whatsoever. He explains, “The Hindu fundamentalists in India know if these benefits for the Dalits are given and nothing is going to stop it, that means there will be mass exodus toward the Christian faith — and that is what the problem is. They are against [that].”
Yohannan was a key speaker at a rally in 2001 at which Dalit leaders urged their people to leave Hinduism and its oppressive caste system. He believes the case now pending before India ‘s highest court will be critical for the future of the millions of Dalit men, women and children who suffer systemic persecution and discrimination at the bottom of that system, many living as virtual slaves for generations.
Last August the Supreme Court of India postponed discussion about extension of full civil rights to Christian Dalits after state Attorney-General Milon Bannerjee asked for more time to study the matter. After the postponement, Christians following the case presented a petition to the government, asking for urgent insertion of a discussion about their situation in the order of the day in Congress.
Among the petition’s signatories were Franklin Caesar of the Christian Dalits of Tamil Nadu, the National Forum of Dalit Christian Rights, the All India Catholic Union, the All India Christian Council, Voice of Dalit International, and other Christian church and pro-Dalit organizations across the country.
The Supreme Court of India has set a new date, October 18, 2005, for reviewing the case. Members of the many outcaste advocacy groups in India that have been calling on the government to end the religious discrimination in the quota system are hopeful that this new hearing date will be final and that the court will resolve the matter in favor of equality for Dalit Christians.