Concerns Grow After India Supreme Court Postpones Dalits' Equal Rights Case

Thursday, May 3, 2007

By BosNewsLife News Center

NEW DELHI, INDIA (BosNewsLife) -- There was increased concern Wednesday, May 2, about the plight of Christian Dalits after India's Supreme Court again postponed action in a landmark equal rights case, Christian rights workers said.

The case, filed in 2004 by India's Center for Public Interest Litigation and backed by Christians groups, challenges the practice of excluding Dalits who become Christians or adopt Islam from the country's affirmative action reservation system.

Under these rules, nearly 25 percent of government jobs and college enrollment slots are for Dalits. Affirmative action benefits in India are currently awarded only to Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist Dalits, but they stand to lose their benefits when they become Christians, experts say.

There are about 300 million Dalits in India, who are also known as 'untouchables' and considered the 'lowest caste' in India's ancient system of Hinduism. Dalits are often forced to perform menial, degrading tasks, such as unclogging sewers, disposing of dead bodies and cleaning toilets.


"They are forced to live in separate settlements, prohibited from worshipping in some temples, barred from using village wells and their children are often denied education or are made to sit in the back of the classroom," said Gospel for Asia (GFA), a mission group working with Dalits.

The caste system, created 3,000 years ago by invading Aryan tribes to prevent "pollution" of their race, was outlawed in 1950, but its practices are still deeply ingrained in India's society.

The Appeal Court's "failure to act" and award Christian Dalits equal rights now, underscores that this "is not simply a bureaucratic bungle [but] an apparent deliberate attempt to deny the religious [and other] rights of [Christian] Dalits," said GFA.

"This is just one example of the ways in which anti-Christian political parties deny justice to theDalits," added GFA President K.P. Yohannan in a statement.

The next hearing was expected mid-July. "In this case, they simply postpone the decision, causing lengthy delays. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters continue to suffer," Yohannan said.


Ironically, the delay by the Supreme Court came three months after a Dalit man was appointed to serve as Chief Justice of India's Supreme Court, GFA noted.

"When Konakuppakattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan's appointment was announced, the Indian media reported that this new justice sees the importance of standing up for the common man and allowing the voices of the poor to be heard in court."

India's National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes earlier rejected the demand that Christians and Muslims receive equal affirmative action benefits. The committee denied the need for the benefits, reportedly on grounds that "untouchability," the main criteria for the benefits, only affected Hindu Dalits.

It comes amid concern among human rights groups about violence against Dalits, including Christians. Every hour, two Dalits are assaulted, three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered and two Dalit homes are burned, GFA said. Nearly 65 percent of Christians in India belong to low caste and tribal groups, including the Dalits, according to estimates.


Violence against these and other Christians have increased across India, human rights watchers say.

In one of recent incidents last month, around 50 suspected Hindu militants of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) group reportedly surrounded a house church April 22, and later began beating the two pastors, identified as Jayaseelan and Daniel of Holy Assembly Church, about 10 kilometers (six miles), from Bangalore in Karnataka state.

Elsewhere, 300 Hindu militants of the Hindu extremist Sangh Parivar and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh groups demolished a Jeypore Evangelical Lutheran Church (JELC) church building on April 4 in front of the Orissa state's police and district administration in Gunthaput village, Indian Christians said. They allegedly also ransacked a pastor’s house in the same area. Nine persons were detained, Compass Direct News agency reported, but it was unclear whether charges had been filed against

The attack came days after roughly a dozen Hindu militants allegedly assaulted independent pastor Basanta Nayak, 21, of Sujeli village district in Orissa state. In published remarks, the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) said Nayak had organized a prayer and healing service in Sujeli with some 175 people in attendance.

He was allegedly dragged him into a jungle and beaten till he was unconscious for refusing to rejecting his faith in Christ. He later reportedly regained consciousness and returned home and seeking medical help.


In addition, Hindu nationalist groups have attempted to "reconvert" Christian Dalits. A Christian organization’s documentary film released last month shows evidence that Hindu militants made false claims about bringing Christian Dalits back to the Hindu fold.

Four Dalit Christian families in Balmiki Basti of Nahan town in Himachal Pradesh state had reportedly “reconverted” to Hinduism, but the documentary by the All India Christian Council revealed that none of these family members had converted to Christianity, Compass Direct News agency said.

The Dalits were allegedly tricked into signing forms saying they wished to reconvert to Hinduism. The reconversion claims were reportedly made by Tarsem Bharti, president of the Himachal Pradesh unit of the All India Scheduled Caste (Dalit) and Scheduled Tribe (aboriginal) Federation.

The film shows a joint statement by the four Dalit families declaring, “We never converted to Christianity any time and nor did anyone come to convert us to Christianity. No allurement was offered to us either.”

Human rights groups have accused law enforcement officials of not doing enough to end forced reconversions and violence in India, a predominantly Hindu nation where Christians comprise just over two percent of the over 1.1 billion strong population. (With reporting from India, BosNewsLife Monitoring and BosNewsLife Research).

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