Indian Christians step up caste protests

By Gavin Drake
Posted Jul 19, 2016

[Anglican Communion News Service] Churches throughout India are stepping up protests against the country’s discriminatory caste system which disadvantages Dalit Christians and Muslims. The caste system is a Hindu-based status system that grades different groups of people on a social scale.

The lowest castes – the Dalits, or untouchables – are discriminated against in the job market and in the provision of services. Officially, the government is trying to remove the caste discrimination and has introduced measures to provide support for Dalits – designating it a scheduled caste and providing additional state benefits.

But because the caste system is part of the Hindu tradition, the government introduced the Presidential (Scheduled Caste) Order in 1950 specifying that only Hindus can be deemed to be members of the scheduled caste. This was extended to Sikhs in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990.

The 1950 law effectively bans Christian and Muslim Dalits from receiving the support available to other members of the caste; and is seen by some as a bar to conversion. Despite repeated requests, the Indian government show no sign of amending the discriminatory approach and the churches have staged numerous protests.

Now, the National Council of Churches in India have designated a national day of protest on 10 August “to raise our protest to the continual negligence of the government to the cry for the rights of Dalit Christians in the country.”

“The Church of South India (CSI), which is one of the members of the National Council of Churches in India, will observe the ‘Black Day’ in the dioceses and the local congregations by organizing protest meetings, rallies, demonstrations, hunger fasts, submitting memoranda, candle vigils, special prayers, and other appropriate programs in [churches and institutions] to express our solidarity with the suffering Christians of scheduled caste origin,” the Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, a spokesman for the CSI said.

The CSI is a united church which was formed in 1947 when the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational churches came together in a new union. In addition to being a member of the Anglican Communion, the CSI is also a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the World Methodist Council.


Comments (1)

  1. Joe Prasad says:

    The Churches in India should first recognize that there is a problem of casteism in the Christian community. Many Hindus who converted to Islam or Christianity were led to believe that there is no caste discrimination in Islam or Christianity. This obviously was not the case. Also most conversions were either forcible or due to economic inducements. Why is the church leadership and administration dominated by upper castes. Why are Dalits and the lower castes not allowed to rise up within the rank and file of Church hierarchy? The Church is very much complicit in caste discrimination. It would be good if the Indian Govt provided benefits solely based on economic needs but in a multi-cultural / multi-religious society, it may prove to be difficult.

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