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Dalit rights delay dismays supporters

Attorney general tells government 'go slow' on legal anomaly

Dalit rights delay dismays supporters
Dalit Christian and Muslim protest in New Delhi (File photo)
Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

February 25, 2011

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The attorney general's advice to the federal government to go slow on granting special privileges to Christians of dalit origin, has shocked the community. “His words are alarming, but we have full faith in the judiciary,” Father Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops´ commission for tribal and dalit communities said yesterday. Attorney General Goolam Essaji Vahanvati reportedly told the federal government’s Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs on this week that dalit issues posed many legal complications and currently “no decision was called for.” Christian groups have for decades demanded statutory rights for dalit Christians to boost their socioeconomic advancement. About 70 per cent of India’s Christians are of dalit origin. The Indian Constitution provides special seats in legislative houses, jobs and places in educational institutions for Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh dalits. However, Christians and Muslims are denied these rights on the pretext that their religions do not recognize the caste system. Christians argue this violates the constitution which grants equal rights to all citizens. Father Arokiaraj says the Church is “deeply concerned about the indefinite delay” in correcting this constitutional error. “It is a shame this government cannot implement what we have been demanding for 60 years,” the Church official lamented. Franklin Caesar Thomas, a dalit Christian who has taken the issue to the Supreme Court, says the attorney general’s statement makes no sense. He said the Supreme Court is to deliberate on the matter very soon and if the attorney general wants to give his views, he should write to the court. “But he has no right to judge the matter” he added. The All India Christian Council condemned the attorney general’s comments. “This era of prevarication and political indecisiveness must end. Dalit Christians and Muslims must be given their rights now,” it asserted. Related reports Church urges immediate adoption of dalit-rights report Christians threaten to withdraw support for ruling party IC13433.1642
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