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Indian Christians step up caste protests

Posted on: July 19, 2016 8:49 AM
A silent protest in March 2016 against discrimination towards Christian and Muslim Dalits in India. The Churches have announced that another national day of protest will take place in August.
Photo Credit: Church of North India

[ACNS, by Gavin Drake] Churches throughout India are stepping up protests against the country’s discriminatory caste system which disadvantages Dalit Christians and Muslims. The caste system is a Hindu-based status system that grades different groups of people on a social scale.

The lowest castes – the Dalits, or untouchables – are discriminated against in the job market and in the provision of services. Officially, the government is trying to remove the caste discrimination and has introduced measures to provide support for Dalits – designating it a scheduled caste and providing additional state benefits.

But because the caste system is part of the Hindu tradition, the government introduced the Presidential (Scheduled Caste) Order in 1950 specifying that only Hindus can be deemed to be members of the scheduled caste. This was extended to Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.

The 1950 law effectively bans Christian and Muslim Dalits from receiving the support available to other members of the caste; and is seen by some as a bar to conversion. Despite repeated requests, the Indian government show no sign of amending the discriminatory approach and the churches have staged numerous protests.

Now, the National Council of Churches in India have designated a national day of protest on 10 August “to raise our protest to the continual negligence of the government to the cry for the rights of Dalit Christians in the country.”

“The Church of South India (CSI), which is one of the members of the National Council of Churches in India, will observe the ‘Black Day’ in the dioceses and the local congregations by organising protest meetings, rallies, demonstrations, hunger fasts, submitting memoranda, candle vigils, special prayers, and other appropriate programmes in [churches and institutions] to express our solidarity with the suffering Christians of scheduled caste origin,” the Revd Sunil Raj Philip, a spokesman for the CSI said.

The CSI is a united church which was formed in 1947 when the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches came together in a new union. In addition to being a member of the Anglican Communion, the CSI is also a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.