Indian Christians observe Day of Mourning for Dalit brethren

The constitutional rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims are denied based on religion for more than 68 years

By Matters India Reporter

New Delhi: Catholic and Protestant Churches in India observed August 10 as the Day of Mourning for Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin.

Christians cutting across denominations jointly organized meetings, rallies, demonstrations, hunger fasts, candle vigils and other forms of demonstrations at state capitals and district headquarters to show support and solidarity to their brethren of the Scheduled Caste Origin.

In the national capital, various Christian groups observed an hour of mourning from 4 pm at the downtown Parliament Street.

They demanded that the federal government should immediately resolve the demands of Dalit Christians and Muslims for reservation.

The government should also give appropriate reply to a Supreme Court query based on the recommendation of Justice Ranganath Misra Commission.

The constitutional rights for Dalit Christians and Muslims are denied based on religion for more than 68 years, bemoaned Father Zacharias Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Office for Scheduled Caste and Backward Caste under the Catholic bishops’ conference, one of the groups that organized the nationwide protests.

According to him the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order was signed on August 10, 1950, by the then President of India which says that “No person who professes a religion other than Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of the Scheduled Caste.” This was later amended to include Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in1990 in the Scheduled Caste net.

Father Devasagayaraj further says the presidential order is against the secular nature (Preamble of the Constitution) of the country, against Article 14 (Equality before the law), article 15 (prohibition of discrimination of any citizen on ground of only religion), Article 25 (Freedom of Conscience and free to profess any religion), Article 26 (equality before the law and equal protection of the law) and against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a party.

A Civil Writ petition 180/2004 seeking the deletion of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order 1950 has been pending in the Supreme Court for the past 14 years.

“That is why every year the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims observe August 10 as Black Day throughout India.

The Church official also noted that different commissions appointed by the government have recommended inclusion of Dalit Christians and Muslims in the Scheduled Caste list.

The National commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, in its report says the presidential order is unconstitutional and calls it “a black letter written outside the Constitution introduced through the back door by an executive order.”

So, the commission recommended to the government to delete the order by “appropriate action so as to completely delink the scheduled caste status from religion and make the scheduled castes net fully religion – neutral like that of the Scheduled Tribes”.

The national Commission for Scheduled Castes has recommended extension of the Scheduled Caste status to the Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin. The National Commission for Minorities too has given its consent.

So far, 12 state governments and federally administered units known as Union Territories have recommended to the national government for granting SC status to these people. The legislative assemblies of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Puducherry and Uttar Pradesh have passed resolution for granting SC status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.

Most national and regional political parties have supported the demand by writing letters to the Prime Minister and concerned authorities.

“We are sorry that the rights of the minority communities of Scheduled caste origin is denied and delayed for many years. Our peaceful and democratic demonstrations will continue till our rights are attained,” Father Devasagayaraj says.

The New Delhi program was attended also by the National Council of Churches in India, and National Conference of Dalit Christians, Presentation Sister Sneha Gill, a member of Minority Commission of the Delhi government, Vidya Jyoti theology college, Delhi Conference of Religious India RI, Members of AICU and other leaders.

It was coordinated by Sister Robancy A Helen, program coordinator, CBCI Office for SC/BC, and Raj from NCCI. A memorandum was submitted to the President and the Prime Minister.

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