For more than half a century, Indian law has set aside government jobs and education benefits for the socially ostracized Dalits, commonly known as "untouchables." About 60 percent of India's 24-million-member Christian community has a Dalit background. Yet not one of them benefits.
An expected Indian Supreme Court ruling on what Indian Christians call this "decades-old injustice" against Dalit Christians could soon change all that.
In a surprise move, in February the Supreme Court announced that it will hold a hearing on the law in August. The court notified the federal government that it would rule on extending the benefits to Christians.
Proponents of the current practice defend it on the grounds that those who convert to Christianity have left Hinduism and are no longer Dalits and part of the caste system. Christians say politically powerful Hindu radicals fear many more Dalits would likely become Christians.
Christians seek to emulate the political success of Dalits of Sikh and Buddhist backgrounds, who lobbied successfully for their rights in 1956 and 1990, respectively.
"Why, when a Hindu Dalit starts praying to Jesus Christ, should his rights be taken away?" Richard Howell, general secretary of Evangelical Fellowship of India, asked CT.
Tehmina Arora, secretary of the Christian Legal Association, said the association's attorneys "are very well respected and qualified."
The All India Christian Council has taken a pro-Dalit stand in recent years. "We have strong faith in [the] Indian judiciary Quotation Marks and have great hopes," John Dayal, AICC secretary general, told CT. "Now all we need to do is to convince the judiciary."
Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Christianity Today's past coverage of India includes several articles on Dalit Christians and activism on their behalf.
The Evangelical Fellowship of India and All India Christian Council websites also have information and news about Dalit Christians.
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