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Commission Rejects Affirmative Action for Christian Dalits

From Gospel for Asia

3/15/07 India (ANS) – The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (NCSC/ST) in India recently rejected the demand for affirmative-action benefits for Dalit Christians and Muslims. The committee denied the need for the benefits on the grounds that “untouchability,” the main criteria for the benefits, only affected Hindu Dalits.

Dalits continue to face discrimination and harassment as a result of the Caste System.

Some Christian organizations in India conducted rallies opposing the decision. They also submitted letters petitioning various government officials to ignore the commission’s rejection.

In 2005, the Supreme Court requested that the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) conduct an investigation and complete a report concerning the need for affirmative-action benefits for Dalit Christians and Muslims. Following the investigation, the commission is to submit a report to the Supreme Court. Yet after two years of “investigation,” no report has been filed.

One of the petition letters was sent to a key official, Justice Ranganath Misra, who is chairman of both commissions, the NCSC/ST and the NCRLM. Many Christian groups are concerned that because Justice Misra is chairman of both commissions, the NCRLM’s report submitted to the Supreme Court will also reject the need for affirmative-action benefits for Dalit Christians.

“If this restriction is passed, it will be a disappointment for the Dalit community,” said Simon John, a Gospel for Asia leader in India . “Christians need to pray that the government will not side with the commission’s report.”

Nearly 65 percent of Christians in India belong to scheduled castes, including the Dalits, which suffer from oppression and exploitation. Many Christian groups believe it is unconstitutional for the government to deny the Christian Dalits the same rights as others.

The caste system was officially abolished in 1950, yet it still directs most of Indian society. Affirmative-action benefits in India are currently only awarded to Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist Dalits, and these Dalits lose their benefits when they become Christians.

Although overall Mahatma Gandhi and Bhim Roa Ambedkar held very different views, the two leaders of Indian independence agreed that the social status of a person does not change by changing religions.

The demand for Scheduled Caste status for Christians is still pending before the Supreme Court of India. Many commissions and important government departments have strongly recommended Scheduled Caste status for Dalit Christians based on the fact that they experience the same socio-economic disabilities as other Dalits.

“When the court rules in favor of the Christians, it will be like a dam bursting. The possibility is that 300 million ‘Untouchables’ who have been living in slavery will at last find their way to freedom and hope,” said GFA President K.P. Yohannan. “This is the last barrier to them moving out of the oppression of the Hindu caste system.”