India’s Dalit Christians press new government for rights

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Indian-ChristiansINDIA’S Christian leaders have called on the new federal government to include low caste Christians in quotas for places in educational institutions and civil service jobs, a demand ignored by successive governments for six decades.

“Our demand remains the same,” Samuel Jayakumar of the National Council of Churches in India, told UCA News on Tuesday.

Soon after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took power on May 26, Christian leaders held a national consultation to discuss the Dalit Christian demand for “government reservations”. The Indian Constitution allows quotas for places in educational institutions and government jobs for Dalits, members of castes once considered “untouchable”. The aim is to help them advance socially and economically. But Christian and Muslim Dalits are denied such benefits because their religions do not recognize the caste system.

“We have decided to write a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and bring the issue to his consideration,” Jayakumar said. Some 50 leaders representing different churches, organizations and movements from different parts of the country took part in the May 29 meeting, he said. Christians have been demanding inclusion in the quota system since the 1950s when the then Indian president, in a special order, restricted quotas to Hindu Dalits only.

Later, the government amended the order to include Sikhs and Buddhists. According to Catholic Church sources, more than 60 percent of India’s 25 million Christians are Dalits. Changing religion does not help them as they are still excluded. Christians and Muslims are not holding out too much hope the new government will grant them what they want since the BJP has traditionally been emphatically against granting them quotas.

“The ideology of the BJP is clear, but a prime minister is supposed to be for all and we have every right to approach him with our demands,” Fr Z. Devasagaya Raj of India’s bishops’ conference told UCA News. He said it is the prime minister’s duty to look into the grievances and concerns of the marginalized and minorities regardless of which party he belongs to.

Echoing the same views, Jayakumar said that though the possibilities of our demands being met are slim, “we would continue our struggle through lobbying the political leaders.” “We feel sad the [last] Congress-led government did not do justice to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims during their 10 year rule,” Jayakumar added. UCA News

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