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Bishops attacked and arrested by Delhi police

Water cannon used on archbishops, senior clergy and nuns marching for Dalit rights

<p>Police use a water cannon on Christian protesters in Delhi.</p>

Police use a water cannon on Christian protesters in Delhi.

  • Christopher Joseph, New Delhi
  • India
  • December 12, 2013
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Police in Delhi baton-charged and used water cannons on dozens of bishops, priests and nuns before making several arrests on Wednesday during a protest to demand an end to Christian Dalit discrimination.

Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi was among those arrested.

At least 10 nuns and two lay leaders were injured in the crackdown, which resulted when Christians defied police orders and insisted on marching on the capital's parliament building.

The archbishop along with several other bishops and lay leaders were taken to a local police station and later released.

The Delhi archdiocese later condemned what they said were heavy handed police tactics.

Lawyers are getting ready to "file a criminal case against the police for their brutal action," a Delhi archdiocese statement said.

"We were not insisting on marching on parliament, but … we defied police orders as a mark of civil disobedience," said Catholic lay leader John Dayal, who took part in the rally.

He said the protesters only wanted to present a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Archbishop Couto also criticized the police crackdown, saying the protest was part of their fight to end an "unconstitutional law”.

"Governments after governments have turned a deaf ear on the demands of Christians. Now they are going to the extent of brutally beating up our priests and nuns and arresting us too," he said.

The protest was to demand the repeal of a 1950 presidential order denying statutory benefits for Dalit Christians.

The Indian constitution guarantees a reservation of government jobs and places in educational institutions for underprivileged classes, but Christians and Muslims among these classes are denied such benefits on the grounds that their religions do not recognize the caste system.

"This is a human rights issue," Dayal said.

"We want to nationalize and internationalize the issue to make people aware of this gross injustice, and to end it.

"Unfortunately, no one takes responsibility for this. The media is silent about this; politicians don't care about it. That is why we are doing this," he said.

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