Dalit Christians losing patience; Protest demands restoration of rights

Upping the ante against the Central government, leaders from the Dalit Christian and Muslim communities today called for mass protests and state-wide campaigns to force the UPA-led government to act on their demands before the 2014 elections.

In a show of unity, several hundreds of Dalit Christians and Muslims joined by activists, priests, nuns and church leaders, took out a 'Parliament March' and dharna in the capital demanding the restoration of the Schedule Caste rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Carrying banners and donning T-shirts with the slogan 'UPA - Reply to the Supreme Court', the protesters braved the rains to register their anger against the government's procrastination despite studies and specially-designated panels denouncing the discrimination based on religious affiliation.

Before the dharna at Jantar Mantar, several groups of people, a sizeable number from Punjab and Tamil Nadu, marched from the Ramlila Ground despite a steady downpour. The church leaders, bishops and priests were also unmindful of being soaked or covered in mud. The march formally began with a prayer by Alwan Masih, the general secretary of the Church of North India (CNI).

Later, speaking at the dharna, held under the aegis of the National Council of Dalit Christians, Archbishop of Delhi Vincent Concessao declared that the discrimination against Dalit Christians and Muslims goes against the Constitution which is secular in nature.

"We are to not only to promote what is good, we must also oppose what is evil. Discrimination based on religion is an evil we must fight. It is our duty and our responsibility," said Concessao.

Para 3 of the Constitution Order 1950 excludes Scheduled Caste origins converted to Christianity and Muslims the right to special rights and protections. The Order was amended for the inclusion of Sikhs and Buddhists in 1956 and 1990 respectively.

Criticising the UPA Government for its 'delay tactics', Prof Mary John, chairman of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), said the government was not honest and was complicating the matter through false hopes and promises.

The discrimination, he said was done selectively against Christians and Muslims as other minority groups have already found their place in the SC net.

"We have to find new ways of fighting the government. It has been sabotaging our efforts and coming with empty promises each year. During the cabinet meeting last year, instead of redressing the discrimination, they called for another study on caste census," he said.

Prof John urged for a political decision and stand before the 2014 elections so the government can bestow the legitimate rights of Dalit Christians and Muslims.

The Ranganath Misra Commission, Sachar Committee and National Commission for Minorities have criticised the decades of discrimination and called for SC status being made religion-neutral.

"We are not demanding SC rights for all Christians and Muslims. It is not right. We rather ask it for people from the Dalit background, so they can be granted equal rights on par with other Scheduled Caste people," said Member of Parliament Ali Anwar Ansari.

He recalled that the Misra report although was submitted in the year 2007, the government supressed the truth till some Parliamentarians demanded the tabling of the report.

"The government responds when people use violence to express their anger, but they take us lightly for being the weak and voiceless minorities," he said, adding that state-wide campaigns must be taken for awakening the public and putting pressure on the government.

There are several suits pending in the Supreme Court concerned with this matter. Protests and rallies are being organised frequently to goad the government to furnish an appropriate reply in the apex court.

"The very Constitution that must protect us appears to be against us. We must unite and fight for our rights. We must heighten our concerns and raise our voice so it can be heard in the Parliament and Government corridors," suggests the CNI general secretary, Alwan Masih, who began his remarks by heaping praise on the crowd for fighting through the rain.