Dalit Indians planning march for equal rights

Protest organized jointly by Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches
Dalit Indians planning march for equal rights

Indian Dalit Christians and Muslims sit in the rain during a protest rally demanding that the government grant them equal rights in terms of benefits as those enjoyed by Dalit Hindus. (Photo by AFP)

Dalit Christians in India are planning a march to demand equal rights, including reservation in educational institutions and government jobs.

More than 20,000 people across the country are expected to take part in the march scheduled on March 10 in New Delhi that Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox churches are organizing jointly. 

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of India's office taking care of Dalit and indigenous people, the National Council of Churches in India, a joint forum of Protestant and Orthodox churches, and the National Council of Dalit Christians are the main organizers.

"It is our moral duty to fight against injustice. This would be one of the biggest protests by the Dalit Christians to demand equal rights," Franklin Caesar, founder of the National Council of Dalit Christians, told ucanews.com.

The Sanskrit term Dalit means trampled upon and denotes the former untouchable castes within Hindu society. At least half of India's some 25 million Christians are of Dalit origin. A 1950 presidential order denied government benefits, such as quotas in government jobs and educational institutions, meant for advancement of Dalits, on the grounds that Christianity does not recognize the caste system.

Christian leaders say successive governments have failed to undo the 1950 order to bring justice to Dalit Christians.

According to Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishop's commission of Dalit and indigenous people, the government is afraid that granting benefits will cause an exodus of conversions of Hindu Dalits to other religions.

He said currently, 12 of India's 29 state governments have recommended that the federal government treat Dalit Christians, Muslims and Hindus equally in terms of benefits and social rights.

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