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Hearing on Dalit Christian Rights in India Again Deferred

Supreme Court puts off discussion on issue until April 2007.

by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI, October 12 (Compass Direct News) – India’s Supreme Court deferred a hearing on a case related to the rights of India’s 16 million Dalit Christians for the sixth time yesterday after a federal advisory panel sought more time to submit findings on the issue.

The hearing was to decide whether Dalit Christians (formerly known as “untouchables”) can be denied job and education rights extended to Dalits of other faiths.

Dalits from Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh backgrounds qualify for a government plan that reserves 26 percent of jobs and educational institution placements for them. But Dalits who convert to Christianity or Islam lose their reservation privileges.

Already the government has deferred five hearings of the case – on July 12 and February 18 of this year, and on November 28, August 23 and October 18 of last year.

John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council of the Government of India, told Compass, “The aspirations, and the future, of tens of millions of India ’s Dalits, particularly Dalit Christians, have been cruelly trapped in an official time web woven by the federal government.”

As soon as Chief Justice Y.K. Sabharwal took up the issue, which was the first item on the agenda, government counsel Gopal Subramanian reportedly sought an adjournment on grounds that the advisory panel, the Justice Rangnath Mishra Commission, needed a further extension to submit its report.

“It is understood that the Commission has sought six more months to file its report,” Dayal said.

Attorney Prashant Bhushan from the Centre for Public Interest Litigation, a non-profit organization, pleaded with the high court to allow him to argue the matter without waiting for the Commission, but the court adjourned the matter till April of next year.

The Mishra Commission, part of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, is said to be still collecting data and conducting consultations.

Scores of organizations representing Dalit Christians have already submitted voluminous evidence before the Commission.

“In fact, the All India Christian Council (AICC) and the All India Catholic Union (AICU) delegations were the first to meet the full Commission,” said Dayal, also a leader of the AICC and AICU.

He said a vast amount of historical data, documents and records as well as proceedings of public hearings were already with the Commission.

“These documents conclusively show that Dalit Christians suffer the same social infirmities and caste trauma as is experienced by the Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists,” he said.

Double Victims

The Commission, set up in October 2004 to look into several issues related to Dalits, took on the Dalit Christian issue after a “writ petition” was filed in the Supreme Court in 2005 by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation.

Rev. Madhu Chandra, regional secretary of the AICC and national secretary of the All India Federation of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, said that although the Christian faith does not have high or low castes, Dalit Christians continue to face hardships and disadvantages due to their identity in society and sometimes also in certain churches.

“Like me, most Dalit Christians are double victims,” Rev. Chandra said. “They are looked down upon in their villages because they are Dalits, and when they convert to Christianity they are ostracized also.”

A Presidential Order of 1950 provided affirmative action only for Dalits who belonged to Hinduism on the premise that, because Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam did not have caste systems, Dalits who had converted to these religions did not need special privileges.

The order was, however, amended in 1956 to include Dalits of Sikh backgrounds in the list of the beneficiaries of the privileges. It was again amended in 1990 to include Dalits of Buddhist backgrounds.

Several commissions set up by federal and state governments have recommended that reservation privileges be extended to Dalit Christians. These commissions include the Mandal Commission, Backward Class Commission of Andhra Pradesh, Kumara Pillai Commission of Kerala, Elayaperumal Commission, Satananthan Commission, Chidambaram Commission, Kaka Kalelkar Commission and Union Minorities Commission.