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In case you missed it, you can read Part 1 here.

11/06/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Religious freedom is a fundamental right promised to all Indians by their founding fathers. This promise is enshrined in India’s constitution. Article 25 gives Indians the freedom to profess, practice, and propagate the religion of their choice.

Religious freedom has been the law of the land for seven decades.

However, a worrying trend of increasing religious intolerance and religiously motivated violence have many concerned India is tilting away from its promise of religious freedom. Fueling much of the violence is an ideology of Hindu nationalism that stands in direct contrast to India’s democratic and secular history.

In October, International Christian Concern (ICC) shared how anti-conversion laws are used by radical Hindu nationalists to curtail the rights of India’s Christian community. Unfortunately, anti-conversion laws are not the only challenge to Indian Christians fully realizing their religious freedom rights. Government benefits are also used by India’s government to restrain the religious freedom rights of hundreds of millions of people from low caste backgrounds.

Often called Dalits, individuals from India’s lowest castes have access to government benefits designed to help them overcome generations of discrimination and oppression. These benefits are called Schedule Caste Benefits. Under this benefits scheme, individuals from low caste backgrounds can access various benefits, including jobs and university positions reserved for low caste individuals, meant to move marginalized populations into the social mainstream.

However, according to a 1950 president order, “No person who professes a religion different than the Hindu, the Sikh, or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” By this presidential order, Scheduled Caste Benefits are denied to low caste individuals from the Christian and Muslim communities on the basis of religion.

According to the most recent census data available, there are approximately 200 million Dalits in India, accounting for nearly 16% of its population. Among India’s Christians, about 80% come from Dalit or low caste backgrounds.

The unfortunate truth is caste-based discrimination and marginalization are experienced by all Dalits, regardless of their faith. Despite this truth, however, India continues to deny benefits to some Dalits based on their religious identity.

The law is a mockery of our constitution,” Advocate Franklin Caesar, a representative of the National Council of Dalit Christians, told ICC. “The special provisions under the reservation policy are being deprived of scheduled caste people who have converted to Christianity or Islam.

Provisions in education, employment, and the right to contest for reserved political seats are blatantly deprived,” Caesar continued. “This is patently discriminatory against Christians of Dalit origin.

For many Dalit, the discriminatory policy forces them to choose between much-needed aid and the faith of their choice. For those that choose to convert to Christianity, this discrimination forces many to live double lives.

I could easily lose my livelihood if I am open about my faith at the workplace,” Padma, whose name has been changed, told ICC. “It would have never been possible for me to get this job if I mentioned that I practiced Christianity on my official records.

Padma is one of five children from Dalit parents in India’s Telangana state. Using the Scheduled Caste Benefits, Padma was able to study at university and become a nurse.

I have to survive with two identities and with two names,” Padma continued. “One as a Christian at church and the other as a Hindu in the workplace. It has been hard living with this guilt. I feel I cannot freely exercise my faith.

My wife and children go to church regularly, and they are Christians on the government records,” Pereke shared with ICC. “However, I cannot go to church because the moment the authorities see me going to church, I will become disqualified from the Scheduled Caste Benefits. I am hoping to use these benefits to help my family socially and economically catch up.

We don’t have the freedom to choose our religion,” Pereke continued. “In most cases, we Dalits suppress our spiritual feelings. Many people choose to keep practicing the faith of their choice in secret so they can still receive the benefits.

Several Public Interest Litigations have been filed in India’s Supreme Court to challenge the discriminatory nature of the Scheduled Caste Benefits. However, successive governments have failed to push these lawsuits forward, and the discrimination against India’s Christian and Muslim Dalits has been allowed to continue for 70 years.

If all Indians genuinely realize their full religious freedom rights, Dalits should not be penalized by the government for practicing the religion of their choice. Until this issue is corrected, India’s promise of religious freedom in Article 25 of the constitution remains just words on paper for more than 200 million citizens.

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected].[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]