Indian bishops campaign for rights of Dalit Christians

Catholic bishops in a southern Indian state have launched a campaign to mobilize political support to end discrimination against Dalit Christians in the country.

“We have already delivered memoranda to all Federal Ministers, Parliamentarians and State Legislators of Kerala seeking their support to end discrimination against Dalit Christians,” Auxiliary Bishop Jacob Muricken of Pala told UCA News February 23.

The Bishops of Kerala want India’s political leaders to help them improve the conditions of Dalit Christians who still bear the brunt of social discrimination and economic backwardness.

“We know that our Christian Dalit brothers and sisters are discriminated against on the basis of their faith despite the fact that India’s constitution is religiously neutral,” Bishop Muricken said.

Dalits (formerly untouchables), who are the lowest stratum of the Hindu caste system, have converted to various other religions including Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. They are officially classified as Scheduled Castes (SC) and are entitled to special social benefits.

However, Dalits among Christians and Muslims are denied SC status and are therefore deprived of social welfare schemes such as reservations in government jobs, educational institutions and electoral politics.

They joined Christianity because it had no caste system. However, more efforts will be put in place to ensure their empowerment

Dalit Christians have been fighting to end this discrimination since 1950, but so far without success. In 2004, they even approached the highest court in the land to obtain the restoration of their constitutional right to equality.

The sustained efforts have led the pro-Hindu government of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in New Delhi to consider setting up a panel to explore whether SC status can be made non-religious.

The bishops are eager to see the improvement of their Dalit brothers and sisters. “We hope that the government will take a positive stance on this and therefore we are approaching all elected representatives from all political parties to end this discrimination against a particular caste,” Bishop Muricken said.

Each state’s regional episcopal conference will contact parliamentarians and lawmakers within their jurisdiction before the government makes a final decision on the matter, he added.

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Meanwhile, Bishop Jose Pulickal of Kanjirapally in Kerala has stressed the need to keep Dalit Christians close to the heart of the Church.

“They joined Christianity because there was no caste system. However, more efforts will be made to ensure their empowerment,” he told a recent gathering of Catholic caste leaders. of Kerala, Scheduled Tribe and other Backward Class Commissions.

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