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Dalit Indians threaten poll boycott

Christians and Muslims say their decades-long plea for privileges is still being ignored

Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

March 2, 2011

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Two groups representing dalit Christians and Muslims have decided to boycott parties in a forthcoming election that oppose their demand for statutory privileges. The National Council of Dalit Christians and the All India Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz held a press conference yesterday to castigate the federal government for delaying their demand at a press conference in New Delhi. Christian and Muslim groups have for decades demanded statutory benefits to help their socio-economic advancement. The Indian constitution provides special seats in legislative houses, jobs and educational institutions for dalit groups in Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh religions. But Christians and Muslims are denied these benefits on the pretext that their religions do not recognize the caste system. Christians argue that such a stand violates the constitution that grants equal rights to all citizens. The meeting was held hours before the election commission of India, a federal body, announced assembly elections in Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. “If the government fails to address our plea we will organize mass rallies in all five states where dalit Christians and Muslims are in sizeable numbers,” said Ali Anwar Ansari, a member of parliament and president of the dalit Muslim group. Ansari demanded the federal government must decide on the matter now, when parliament is in session and the five states are preparing for elections. He said all national parties, including the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, support the groups, “but for an unknown reason the federal government is dilly-dallying the case.” The government has ignored the issue because “our group” does not indulge in violence in pursuit of its demands, the Muslim leader remarked. M. Mary John, president of the Christian council, says the Congress party that heads the ruling federal coalition “is the main hurdle.” The federal government has discriminated against “our group” by asking for “authentic data” on dalit Christians and Muslims in order to grant them the special rights, he said. The government had made no such demand when it granted scheduled caste status to dalit groups in Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh religions. “Why is the government asking us now?” he asked. Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops´ commission for tribal and dalit communities, said dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu may not vote for the ruling party if it does not persuade the federal government to meet their demand. IA13475.1643

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