Archbishop of Delhi Arrested by Police During Protest

Christian Leaders Subjected to Brutal Crackdown by Delhi Police for Calling for Rights for Dalits

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The Catholic Archbishop of Delhi and other Christian leaders were arrested by police in India’s capital city Dec. 11 in what the Cardinal archbishop of Mumbai has called a «disgraceful and deplorable» crackdown.

Archbishop Anil Couto was apprehended along with leaders of other denominations while taking part in a peaceful march that called for the rights of the Dalits.

They were demanding repeal of the presidential decree of 1950 which legalizes discrimination and denies equal rights to Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin. The discrimination was extended to Sikhs in 1956 and to Buddhists in 1982.  

The protesters had arrived in the area of Jantar Mantar and were heading towards the Indian Parliament. The police then violently beat the protesters, arresting some of them, Fides news agency reports. Other reports say at least 10 nuns and two lay leaders were injured in the crackdown.

The marchers reportedly defied police orders not to march on the capital’s parliament building.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, president of the Bishops’ Conference of India and Archbishop of Mumbai, condemned the use of water cannon and other violent means to stop a peaceful protest as «outrageous and appalling.»

He also condemned the «shameful assault» by male policemen on the women religious religious present, saying in a statement to Asia News that it was «disgraceful and deplorable behaviour, and reflective of the lack dignity and lack of respect given to our women in this country.

«Our women religious are consecrated to God and hence a double disgrace,» he said.

The cardinal has appealed to India’s prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh for an immediate end to six decades of discrimination against Christian Dalits, and an investigation into the police violence.

As well as Archbishop Couto, Protestant leaders Alwan Masih, Roger Gaikwad and Vijayesh Lal, leader of the «Evangelical Fellowship of India», as well as the Catholic John Dayal, Secretary General of the «All India Christian Council», were arrested. They were expected to be released that evening.

A complaint was lodged against the Delhi police for assaulting and beating the marchers.

Religious minorities in India consider the decree «totally unconstitutional» but successive governments have “turned a deaf ear», said Archbishop Couto.

Past protests have been peaceful, but yesterday’s action was “brutally” carried out “on defenseless protesters» according to the Christian marchers.

In a note sent to Fides, the «Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC)» said it was «shocked and dismayed». The Council recalls that some bishops were similarly arrested for defending the Dalits in 1997.

Some political leaders like Jayalalitha, Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu, strongly supported the demand of Dalit Christians and Muslims by stating that «the issue cannot tolerate any further delay» and that it «should be brought to Parliament». 

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