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Dalit Christian dies in police custody in India

Maid's relatives claim she was tortured as religious leaders call for a fair and unbiased investigation

Dalit Christian dies in police custody in India

Dalit Christians and activists protest in New Delhi in August 2019 demanding the government give them the same rights enjoyed by Hindus. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)

A Dalit Christian woman in the southern Indian state of Telangana has died in custody after allegedly being tortured by police.

Maid Ambadipudi Mariyamma of Yadadri-Bhongir district was booked along with her minor son Udaykiran on June 17 by Addagudur police after a complaint of theft by her employers, according to media reports.

Her relatives and daughter Swapna alleged that she was tortured by police while in detention.

Mariyamma, 44, was found collapsed early on June 18 at the police station and was rushed to a hospital where doctors declared her dead.

“When people in America protested after a black man was killed and started a campaign — Black Lives Matter — some people here voiced Dalit Lives Matter. The time has come to intensify it,” Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, former secretary of the Indian bishops' office of Dalits and backward classes, told UCA News.

“Dalits and minorities community are always at the receiving end at the hands of people of so-called high society, elite groups, administration and government, hence police brutality upon them is nothing new. Anyone who speaks up for Dalits and the downtrodden is subject to attacks or branded anti-national.”

The life of a Dalit seems to be of no value to this government

Pastor Sudarsan Masih of the Apostolic Christian Assembly Church in Khammam told UCA News that members were shocked to learn about the incident.

“Our prayers are with the family of the woman and we pray that there will be a fair and unbiased investigation and the culprit will be booked,” he said.

“The government should do justice to poor and underprivileged people, otherwise it will give them the wrong message and cause insecurity among them.”

Meanwhile, opposition Congress Legislature Party leader Bhatti Vikramarka said that “the life of a Dalit seems to be of no value to this government.”

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He and other Dalit leaders in Telangana have demanded compensation of 2.5 million rupees (US$33,680) for Mariyamma’s family.

Last year deaths from alleged police torture in Tamil Nadu sparked outrage across India, with many drawing parallels with the killing of George Floyd in the United States.

According to a National Campaign Against Torture (NCAT) report released last year, 1,731 persons died in custody in India in 2019 — 1,606 in judicial custody and 125 in police custody.

“Out of the 125 deaths in police custody reported in 2019, 75 persons or 60 percent belonged to poor and marginalized communities,” said NCAT director Paritosh Chakma.

Dalits, or untouchables, are the lowest caste within Hindu society. Huge numbers of Dalits have converted to Christianity and Islam over the decades, though in reality the religions offer limited protection from societal prejudice.

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