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Indian Christians stand firm with Dalits

National Council of Churches says the practice of caste is a sin and untouchability a crime

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Indian Christians stand firm with Dalits

Dalit Christians, activists and civil society members protest in New Delhi on Dec. 4, 2018, demanding that the Indian government give them the same rights enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts. (Photo: Bijay Kumar Minj/ucanews)

Christians from various denominations across India observed Dalit Liberation Sunday to show solidarity with Christians of Dalit origin who are facing discrimination.

The theme of the Nov. 10 event was “If one suffers, we all suffer together.”

The Office for Scheduled Castes-Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), which comprises Protestant and Orthodox churches, urged the Christian community to remember their brethren who are rejected among their own people.

“We have been fighting for the rights of Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin with the government and annually we organize a protest march throughout India called Black Day,” Father Vijay Kumar Nayak, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops’ office for Dalits and lower classes, told ucanews.

“Dalit Liberation Sunday lets us collectively pray for Dalit Christians and look, reflect and examine their suffering. They are not only discriminated in the outside world but also inside churches.

“It is sad that Dalit Christians have been fighting for their rights and dignity among their own people.”

The struggle of Dalit Christians and Muslims started when a 1950 Presidential Order removed the privileges given to scheduled caste converts who were not Hindus.

But even though the privileges were restored to Sikhs (1956) and Buddhists (1990), Christians and Muslims have not been granted them despite protesting for many years.

Various commissions appointed by the government have clearly recommended that Dalit Christians and Muslims should be included in the scheduled caste list.

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.

The word “Dalit” means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit and refers to all groups once considered untouchable and outside the four-tier Hindu caste system. Government data show that 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to this socially deprived group. Some 60 percent of India's 25 million Christians are of Dalit and tribal origin.

“Even after many years of independence, the practice of untouchability continues in Indian society in many forms. Though there were efforts to empower Dalit Christians in education and economic development, the impact is very limited,” said Thomas Franklin Caesar, a Supreme Court lawyer and Dalit activist.

“Let our house be in order first. We have to leave our differences and unite as one church and fight for justice. We need to intensify our struggles both in the public and church domains.”

The NCCI said in a Nov. 8 statement that it has already declared that “no one can serve Christ and caste — the practice of caste is a sin and untouchability a crime.”

Through different programs and observance, the NCCI helps Christians and their peers to work toward the annihilation of the caste system and the prejudice and discriminatory practices that go with it.

The NCCI is committed to building a new India upholding the values of equity, liberty and fraternity accessible to all, its statement said.

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