Millions of Christians from India’s ‘untouchables’ known as Dalits are eagerly awaiting a ruling by the country’s Supreme Court, which they hope will finally give them the equality they have sought for more than 60 years.
Around 14 Christian groups have petitioned the court seeking reservations in education and government jobs for Dalit Christians who comprise 20 million or 75 percent of India’s total Christian population.
The petition is expected to appear before the court in January and Christian groups actively involved in campaigning for equal rights are hopeful their decades old legal battle will soon yield results.
Dalits are members of the lowest social group in the Hindu caste system. They have had constitutionally guaranteed “reservation rights” allowing them access to government jobs, and places in educational institutions which can enable them to have a better standard of living. About 16.6 per cent of India’s total population are Dalits.
But while these rights were given to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, Christians and Muslims were denied them by a 1950 presidential decree because they did not recognize India’s now-outlawed caste system.
“Denying these people their rights because of their faith is a violation of the very secular principles of this country,” Tehmina Arora, director of the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) India, a legal firm fighting for Dalit Christian rights told LiCAS.news.
PI Jose, a lawyer representing the All India Catholic Union (AICU), told LiCAS.news that he is hopeful that the Supreme Court will give justice to Dalit Christians and guarantee social acceptance of underprivileged people irrespective of their religion.
He said there are 14 petitions lodged with the Supreme Court in support of the case, which is being countered by Hindu groups which has filed 20 petitions, pushing the old argument that rights should not be afforded because Christians and Muslims do not recognize castes.
“We will keep fighting for justice even if it takes another 100 years. But we are optimistic this time because government commissions examining our demands have painted a more favorable picture of why untouchables in India deserve government benefits irrespective of their religion, faith or creed,” he said.
One of the petitioners, Franklin Caesar Thomas, who is a Supreme Court lawyer, said his great grandparents converted to Christianity from Hinduism in order shake off caste oppression. However, Thomas said he and his family have continued to face social discrimination.
“Hindu friends never share food with me. Shopkeepers wash their hands after selling us things. This is unprecedented and unbelievable in the modern world,” he said.
The 56-year-old, who has been fighting against this discrimination for the past two decades, said he is hopeful that 2020 will be the year of justice for millions of Dalit Christians.
Christian leader A.C Michael echoed that view, saying it is high time that India’s justice system should recognize that the rights of the underprivileged people cannot be denied because of their faith.
“No matter, whether you are a Christian, Muslim or Buddhist. You continue to face discrimination at every level in a society entrenched in age old Hindu traditions and beliefs. No religion should be involved in propagating discrimination,” he said.