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Dalit Christians threaten election boycott

Equality demands must be met, they say

Ritu Sharma, New Delhi

July 3, 2013

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Dalit Christians in India are threatening to boycott political parties, particularly the ruling Congress, if they do not heed their demands for social equality for people of minority religions from low caste origins.

Their threat assumes significance as general elections are due next year.

“We have been fighting for a quota since 1950. The government is taking us for granted. If they don’t listen to our demands, we will not support them,” Franklin Ceasar of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), told yesterday.

Dalit is a Sanskrit word meaning “trampled upon.”

India’s constitution allows quotas in educational institutions and government jobs for Dalit, members of castes once considered “untouchable,” to help them advance socially and economically.

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

Later, the government amended the order to include Sikhs and Buddhists.

A commission, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge said in a 2007 report that denying Dalit Christians and Muslims the quota violates the constitution which advocates equality for all.

The commission recommended scheduled caste status for Dalit converts, which would give them access to the quota system.

The Supreme Court in 2008 asked the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance where it stood on the issue, but the government has been delaying things and has not replied, he said.

Ceasar said there are more than 10 million Dalit Christians in India.

Samuel Jaykumar of the National Council of Christians in India said a large proportion of Dalit Christians live in the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala.

“Dalit Christians can influence results in many constituencies in these states. The government will have to face this situation if it does not take our cause seriously,” said Jaykumar, who is a rights campaigner for Dalit Christians.

He said the government has 3-4 months to reply to the Supreme Court and if it does not, then the NCDC would mobilize Dalit Christians against it.

Jaykumar said Dalit Muslims would take similar action.

“We are meeting and will surely take a tough stand on the issue,” said Abdul Raheed, who is campaigning for the cause of Dalit Muslims.

Asked why the government and other political parties are reluctant to grant them scheduled caste status, Ceasar said they fear a voter backlash from Hindu Dalits.

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