Dalit protest in New Delhi on July 25
Protesters began a three-day hunger strike in New Delhi yesterday to demand statutory benefits for fellow Christians from former “untouchable” castes.
“Ours is a non-violent movement and we will fight till we get justice,” Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told around 150 people gathered at Jantar Mantar, a venue in the Indian capital for public protests.
The hunger strike will end with a large march on parliament on July 28 attended by bishops, pastors and laity from all Christian denominations, Father G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, one of the organizers, said.
Father Arokiaraj, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ conference’s Commission for Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and Backward Castes, said people from other religions are expected to join the rally.
The hunger strike and the rally are being organized by the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, a joint body set up by the bishops’ conference and the National Council of Churches in India.
Archbishop Concessao accused the United Progressive Alliance-led government of being the main obstacle to Christians achieving their goal and of misleading people.
By not granting Scheduled Caste status for dalit Christians the government “is asking for trouble,” he warned.
Rights groups have for decades demanded statutory benefits for Christian and Muslim dalits to help their socioeconomic advancement.
The Indian Constitution provides seats in legislative houses, allocates jobs and provides places in educational institutions for Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh dalits.
However, Christians and Muslims are denied these benefits under the pretext their religions do not recognize the caste system.
Christians argue that such a stand violates a constitution that grants equal rights to all citizens.
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