A sea of people representing Christians and Muslims from various states with their state names displayed prominently on placards and banners descended on Jantar Mantar in the national capital Thursday in a silent protest to ask the government to end the "continued discrimination and injustice" of Dalit Christians and Muslims based on religion.
The protest organised under the banner of the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians was well attended by religious heads of Catholics and Protestants led by Cardinal Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal, president of Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI), the Most Revd. Dr. G Dyvasirvadam, Moderator of Church of South India (CBI) and Mr. Alwan Masih, general secretary of Church of North India (CNI), many Dalit Christian leaders and many others who appealed to the government and Prime Minister Modi to make Scheduled Caste status religion neutral as recommended by various commissions and committees set up by the government itself.
Delivering the rally opening speech, Cardinal Thottunkal said, "We urge the Hon'ble Prime Minister of this great nation Shri Narendra Modiji to bring adequate measure to bring justice to these Indians (Dalits), whether they are Dalit Christians or Dalit Muslims, bring justice to them. Do not deny justice to our own citizens. They may belong to Christian community, Muslim community, Hindu community or others. Treat all Indians based on the constitution of India, not based on any religion," he urged the PM.
The unequal treatment of "religion" the Cardinal was referring to is the discrimination of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims who do not get the same Scheduled Caste (SC) status like their Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist brethren. Although the restriction was not in the Constitution, the clause not extending the reservation was inserted through Presidential Order of 1950 Paragraph 3.
"Dalit Christians and Muslims are rather waiting for liberation. How long will this injustice last," said the Most Revd. Dr. G. Dyvasirvadam, Moderator of Church of South India (CSI).
"We want the government to bring equal rights to all its citizens irrespective of their religion," said Mr. Alwan Masih, the General Secretary of the Church of North India.
The massive sit-in protest was initially planned to hold from Ramlila Ground to the Parliament, which is about 3-km stretch.
The non-violent protestors did not utter a word as they gagged themselves with black clothes.
Explaining how Dalit Muslims and Dalit Christians have been denied the same rights with their Dalit Hindu counterparts, Advocate Thomas Franklin Ceasar who had petitioned the same in the Supreme Court told the silent protesters that a civil write petition (No.180/2004) was filed in the Supreme Court by him challenging the constitutional validity of the Para 3 of the said order and appealing of its deletion.
"This discrimination is against the articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India which talks about non-discrimination and religious freedom... It is against the secular principle of our Indian constitution written by our beloved leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar which was also strongly condemned by the commission set up by the government in pursuance of this petition," Mr. Caesar said.
"The government must immediately implement the Ranganath Misra commission recommendations," he said.
According to the press statement, the Union government of India appointed the retired Chief Justice of India, Ranganath Misra commission otherwise known as the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities (NCRLM) to study the issue. The comprehensive report was submitted to the then Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh in May 2007, which recommended the Scheduled Caste status to be religious neutral but no action was taken.
"The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution (NCRWC) which was appointed by the BJP (NDA) government in 2002 also suggested that the converts to Christianity from Scheduled Caste should be protected under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989, since they are also subjected to crimes and atrocities as their exact Hindu counterparts," the press stated by the organisers stated.
"The National Executive Committee of the Minority Morcha of BJP in 2011 in Bangalore passed a resolution that excluding the Dalit Christians and the Dalit Muslims from the Scheduled Caste list is the sin committed by the Congress party and it should be rectified," it noted.
It further stated that the Ranganath Misra (NCRLM) report categorically says, "....We recommend that Para 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order 1950-which originally restricted the Scheduled Caste net to Hindus and later opened it to Skihs and Buddhists, thus still excluding from its purview the Muslims, Christians, Jains and Parsis, etc - should be wholly deleted by appropriate action so as to completely de-link Scheduled Caste status from religion and make the Scheduled Caste net fully religion-neutral like that of the Schedule tribe."
The statement pointed out that on 22nd April 2010, the National Commission for Schedule Caste (NCSC) had also acknowledged and duly endorsed the recommendation of the NCRLM concerning the deletion of the stated para 3.
"And the National Commission for Minorities (NCM) also has, after an in-depth study, strongly recommended for the same very positively," it noted.
Despite "all these positive developments, the last UPA government at the centre failed to take action on the issue," the statement alleged.
But protestors hope that the present government will end this "injustice" towards the minority communities.
Banners, placards and tracts were displayed and distributed inside the Jantar Mantar where the protestors have occupied the whole day starting at 9:30AM itself.
It was well represented by various states carrying their respective state name banners.
One leader from Karnataka Maglyn F. Jerry, founder of Mother Care Humanitarian Aid lamented, "Media is not highlighting our plight enough. I wished that the media will give more coverage to this kind of injustice being met out to fellow Indians," she told the Christian Today.
The protest came at the backdrop of Social Justice Minister Thawar Chand Gehlot who openly stated in Kerala on 16th February this year that the SC status will not be extended to the Dalit Christians and the Dalit Muslims as it will encourage conversion.
According to Prominent Christian leader and writer Dr. John Dayal said there is "no religious freedom in the country," the minister only "confirmed" it.
"It is not surprising. The BJP has been saying this for the past 20 years and the minister has only confirmed. It shows their attitude towards the minorities, to the Dalits many of them are Christians. They don't explain why they don't want," he said.
"Off the record among their political parties they said if they give reservations everybody will become Christians. Dalits do not have freedom of religion. Is this to stop freedom of religion?"
"In India Dalits have no freedom of religion. For the Dalit Hindu, there is no freedom of religion; he has to remain a Hindu if he has to survive. If he becomes a Muslim he loses everything. If there is no religious freedom for one person, there is no religious freedom," he said.
However, protestors do not lose their hope. They earnestly request the Prime Minister end the injustice.
"With earnest hope on the NDA government led by Hon'ble Prime Minister Narendra Modi Ji, we request him to end this continued injustice to these Minority Communities, we earnestly demand to urgently implement Ranganath Misra Commission's (NCRLM Report's) recommendations to extend the Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims," the press handout stated.