Christian leaders in India were left aghast by the government's rejection of quotas for government jobs and educational institutions to Dalit Christians and Muslims, a right enjoyed by Hindu citizens. "Though we knew about the stand of the government, it has now come out clearly on the issue. This is very humiliating for Dalit Christians and Muslims," Samuel Jaikumar of the National Council of Churches in India told ucanews.com. Thawar Chand Gehlot, the federal minister for social justice and empowerment reportedly said
Feb. 16 that the Indian government was concerned that granting special rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims "would encourage conversions" and "weaken the Hindu religion." Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' commission of Dalit and indigenous people, told ucanews.com that the government's policy "is against the multicultural, multireligious nature of our country." 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. Dalits are often the target of disempowerment, oppression and persecution. A 1950 presidential order denied government benefits, such as quotas in government jobs and educational institutions, meant for the advancement of Dalits, on the grounds that religions such as Christianity and Islam do not recognize the caste system. Successive governments have failed to undo the 1950 order to bring justice to Dalit Christians. "We have a secular government but I do not understand how the government can speak only for one particular religion," Jaikumar said. The Indian government is run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party, also considered a political offshoot of the right-wing Hindu group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh often accused of promoting the ideology for a Hindu nation. The group has also been accused of being involved in incidents of hatred and violence against Christians and Muslims, the two main religions minorities in India.