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India’s Dalit Christians face caste discrimination and loss of government assistance

15 March 2004

Dalits in India who have converted to Christianity not only continue to face caste discrimination, they also lose privileges accorded by the government to Hindu Dalits. Representatives of Christian Dalits claim that the removal of such rights, including the ability to qualify for government and public sector jobs under a quota system, is discriminatory since despite exercising their rights to change religion, they continue to face the same exclusion and social and economic segregation as other Dalits.

Mr J. Suresh from India, representing the Human Rights Lawyers Forum focused his comments to the Working Group on Minorities on the Dalit struggle in India, and in particular the situation of Dalit Christians. He pointed out that the Special Reporter on Religious Intolerance had published a report on his visit to India during 1997, in which it was mentioned that the Secretary of the Ministry of Law of the Government of India has accepted ‘Loss of privileges of Dalit Christians’ and that a proposal to remove discrimination against Dalit Christians was before Parliament. Mr Suresh brought to the attention of the Working Group the fact that the Government of India has not yet introduced in Parliament the proposed law to remove this discrimination.

The Human Rights Lawyers Forum stated that the seriousness of this situation should be brought to the attention of the Indian Government to remove such discriminatory laws against the Dalit Christians. According to Mr Suresh. the Civil Protection Acts should include Dalit Christians who are subject to increasing violence in rural parts of the country where 84% of all Dalits live. ‘The legitimate demands of the Dalit Christians to remove discrimination against them should be immediately attended to because of their long standing struggle for equal treatment before the law’ stated Mr Suresh.

Under the provisions of Article 9 of United Nations Declaration on Minorities, Mr Suresh urged the UNDP and other specialized Agencies including UNESCO, UNICEF, the ILO, and WHO in India, to reorient their projects and policies to protect the human rights of the Dalits, to improve their socio-economic conditions and to ‘uplift the Dalit people from their down-trodden life’. The problem of Dalits, like any other deprived people, he suggested, should be studied in an integrated manner including human rights, ecology and sustainable development.

Notes for editors

Download the full intervention delivered to the UN Working Group on Minorities.

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