Christian leaders gather in New Delhi to observe Black Day on Aug. 10, 2017. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/UCA News)
Christians from various denominations across India observed Black Day on Aug. 10 in solidarity with Dalit Christians who have been denied scheduled caste status for more than seven decades.
The day was marked with virtual meetings, debates and protests via webinars as Covid-19 restrictions precluded social gatherings.
“We demand delinking religion from caste and our demand remains the same until we get justice. We will maintain our peaceful protests and press the government to meet our demand as it is injustice to our brethren,” Father Vijay Kumar Nayak, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for Dalits, told UCA News.
“It pains me when I see the situation of our brethren. Their socioeconomic circumstances could have been changed, but I have full faith in the judiciary and one day we will succeed.
“The good news is that at least it has now come to the notice of the Supreme Court and it was even listed for hearing early this year, so I hope the result will be positive.”
On Jan. 7, the apex court agreed to examine a plea filed by lawyer Franklin Caesar Thomas that Dalit Christians or Christians of scheduled caste origin should enjoy the same quota benefits reserved for scheduled castes.
Black Day is observed by Dalit Christians across India every Aug. 10 because of a 1950 presidential decree that day denying special rights to non-Hindus.
The constitution guarantees reserving government jobs and places in educational institutions for Dalits (former “untouchables") and other underprivileged classes.
However, Christian and Muslim Dalits are denied these benefits on grounds that their religions do not recognize the caste system.
“The 70 years of struggle for justice should be supported by the people who believe in equality and democracy,” said a press release from Asir Ebenezer, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India, an ecumenical forum for Protestant and Orthodox churches.
“The Supreme Court has a monumental opportunity now to render justice to millions of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims who continue to suffer from social stigma and the horrors of untouchability.”
Different commissions appointed by the government have clearly recommended that Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims should be included in the scheduled caste list.
To date, 12 state governments and union territories have recommended granting scheduled caste status to these people. The state assemblies of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh and Puducherry passed resolutions granting scheduled caste status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in 2000, 2006, 2009 and 2017 respectively.
Most national and regional parties have supported the demand for scheduled caste status for Christians and Muslims of scheduled caste origin by writing letters to the prime minister and relevant authorities.
Dalits 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.
Christians account for 2.3 percent of India's population, of which around 70 percent are Dalits.