India's Bishops Advocate Rights for Christian Dalits

Converts Excluded From Financial and Educational Aid

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NEW DELHI, India, MAY 9, 2005 ( India’s bishops appealed to the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to extend constitutional rights and statutory benefits to Christian converts from lower castes.

The conference sent the resolution to Singh last week, signed by more than 30 bishops, the episcopal conference reported Thursday.

According to the Indian news service ICNS, the Indian Constitution has provisions to help the socioeconomic development of tribal people and socially backward groups, who live outside India’s four-tier caste system.

It is estimated that more than half of India’s 25 million Christians are converts from the lower castes, formerly called «untouchables.»

They are officially referred to as «Scheduled Castes,» but more commonly known as «dalits» (oppressed), denoting their centuries-long subjugation by the upper caste people.

While dalits among Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs get all the constitutional provisions, such as financial aid in higher education and job quotas, Christian dalits are excluded from these benefits on the ground that their religion does not practice the caste system.

«The Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity go through the same social, educational and economic disabilities on par with their counterparts in other religions,» said the bishops’ letter. «The change of religion has not altered their social and economic conditions.»

The bishops noted that «several representations» were made to successive governments on the issue, but without success.

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