The National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) has raised concerns about the exclusion of Christians and even Muslims who originally hailed from Dalit and other historically oppressed caste backgrounds from Scheduled Castes.
In a statement released to mark August 10 “as a day to highlight and protest the denial of the fundamental constitutional rights” to these communities, the NCCI says, “When India became a Republic, we resolved as a nation to secure Justice, Equality, Liberty and Dignity for all our citizens. Members of castes worst affected from centuries of social oppression, the Scheduled Castes (SCs), were constitutionally assured special protection and affirmative benefits.” But Dalit Christians and Muslims were left out of the fold. The statement says, “Unfortunately, these fundamental rights have been denied to the Dalit communities converted to Christianity and Islam through the infamous Presidential (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950. This privilege was extended in 1956 to Sikhs and in 1990 to Buddhists of dalit origin. Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims continue to be kept outside this privilege.”
According to the NNCI, approximately 70 percent of the Christian population in India hails from Scheduled Caste backgrounds. The statement says, “Dalit Christians have a unique history of faith experiences because of their caste identity. They embraced Christianity as a faith affirmation against caste slavery and these experiences vary according to regional contexts. It is not only common knowledge but also borne out of numerous extensive research studies that the Dalits are unfortunately still identified first by their caste by a large section of the Indian society. All their other identities, arising from their religious, regional, linguistic and other affiliations are secondary identities that do nothing to displace the severity of the caste-based discrimination and violence that they suffer.”
Tracing the legal journey of their quest for equality, the statement says, “Followed by the decades long mass struggles and advocacy initiatives, finally a Writ Petition (180/2004) was filed in the Supreme Court of India by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation challenging the Presidential (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950. The Writ Petition is also looking for justice from the apex court to allow and extend the Scheduled Caste status to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin for availing special privilege in education, getting scholarships, employment opportunity, welfare measures, affirmative actions, right to contest in the reserved constituencies from panchayat, legislative assemblies up to the Parliament and for availing the legal remedy/protection under Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes (Prevention) of Atrocities Act, 1989 amended in the year 2018.”
The entire statement may be read here: