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Christians, Muslims march for Dalit rights

Muslims and Christians demand inclusion in Dalit benefits

Dalit Christians and Muslims protest in New Delhi Dalit Christians and Muslims protest in New Delhi
  • By Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi
  • India
  • August 2, 2012
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Christian and Muslim groups yesterday marched to Parliament House in New Delhi to demand social equality for people of minority religions from low caste origins.

Around 3,000 people, including bishops, priests and nuns from across the country gathered in the capital, braving monsoon rains to join the 5 km. march.

More than a dozen groups from both faiths organized the march to press for government job and educational institution reservations for Dalit Christians and Muslims.

“We cannot wait any longer. This injustice should end. We are also mobilizing political parties to support our demands,” said one of the organizers, Father Devasagayaraj, executive secretary of the office of the Catholic bishops’ commission for former low caste people.

A Sanskrit word, ‘Dalit’ literally means “trampled upon.”

The Indian constitution does allows quotas in educational institutions and government jobs for Dalit, members of castes once considered “untouchable,” to help them advance socially and economically. But Christians and Muslims are excluded from these benefits.

Christians have been demanding inclusion since the 1950s when the Indian president, in a special order, restricted the statutory benefits to Hindu Dalits only.

Later, the government amended the order to include Sikh and Buddhist Dalits. The protesters in New Delhi yesterday called on the government to follow a recommendation by its own commission to extend the benefits to Dalit Christians and Muslims.

The commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge Ranganath Mishra, said in a 2007 report that denying the quota right to Dalit Christians and Muslims violated the constitution that upholds equality for all.

The government presented the report to parliament in 2009 but nothing further was done on it.

"This has not deterred us from our struggle for justice," Fr. Devasagayaraj said.

He told ucanews.com that Christians “still have faith” that the federal government will accede to their demand.

According to Church sources, more than 60 percent of India's 25 million Christians come from Dalit castes.

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