Sitaram Yechury, leader of the Communist Party of India, addressed the rally in New Delhi on Sept. 16. (Photo by Bijar Kumar Minj)
Christian Dalit leaders joined communists and opposition political parties for a rally in New Delhi demanding an end to the oppression of their people, formally known as "untouchables." Some 1,000 people from more than 10 leading Dalit organizations, including those associated with political parties and church groups, gathered near the Indian parliament on Sept. 16. They claimed violence against people of lower castes has increased since the Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014. "This government has no interest in Dalit people. It does not consider them [proper] citizens," Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India said while addressing the rally. Dalit, meaning "trampled upon" in Sanskrit denotes some 201 million people who form 16 percent of India's 1.2 billion population. They were once considered polluting even to touch: a practice that has now been banned. Even so, high caste Hindus still avoid social interaction with people of a lower caste. Yechury and Jesuit Father Father A.X.J. Bosco, a Dalit activist, explained that BJP and its associated Hindu nationalist groups do not attach any value to the masses of Dalit people in the country. "They consider Dalit people a religious minority and not part of India," Yechury said. Yechuary and other leaders said the Friday rally was "only a beginning" and more such gatherings will be organized across India before December this year when the next session of parliament begins. "We need to show our strength to get our rights," he told the gathering. Bezwada Wilson, a Magsaysay Award winner for his efforts to eradicate manual scavenging, said that hundreds of Dalit people die in India annually while cleaning dirty drains without any safety gear or technical expertise. Father Bosco said the government is neglecting Dalit people at a huge risk. "If the BJP is trying to destroy us, the entire country will be destroyed" he said, explaining that if the country ignores their cries it cannot develop. The Catholic Church is also supporting the movement. "We welcome any movement which speaks for the Dalits and their welfare," said Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian Bishops' Office for Dalit and Indigenous People. "The new talk of a Dalit-left political combination will help improve their situation." India witnessed unprecedented unrest after some upper caste Hindu young people publicly stripped and flogged four Dalit youth in July accusing them of trading in cowhide. The Dalit people were transporting the carcasses as part of their job in a tannery when they were attacked in Gujarat State. As cows are revered by orthodox Hindus, their slaughter is banned in Gujarat and several other Indian states. In the debates following the incident, Dalit leaders maintained that the government placed them below cows in dignity and respect. According to National Crime Records Bureau data, 47,064 cases crimes against Dalit people were registered in 2014, up from 39,408 in 2013 and 33,655 in 2012, a steady increase that correlates with the rise of BJP.
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