Christian leaders meeting with United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief have sought to end discrimination of dalit Christians and Muslims, ensuring protection of their religious freedom.
National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) organized the meeting with the UN official Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt. Church leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, leaders of the Muslim community and representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India attended the meeting.
Bielefeldt is in India until 27 February on invitation from the civil society organizations including the Indian Social Institute and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
Dr Ramesh Nathan of from the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights spoke about numerous forms of “untouchability” resulting from the caste system practiced in India.
Nathan added that Dalit Christians are most vulnerable to caste-based violence but are not protected by the Prevention of Atrocities Act in the Indian constitution, which is meant to prevent atrocities against the scheduled castes.
The Indian constitution allows special quota and concessions for the uplift of these most marginalized communities. However, dalit people of Christianity or Islam are denied these concessions on the ground that their religion does not follow cast system.
Haji Hafeez Ahmad Hawari, a representative of Muslim community said his nomination to the national elections under the category of “caste with reserved constituency” was rejected because he is a follower of Islam.
Hawari said that he experienced discrimination within the Muslim community as well as in the larger society because he is a Dalit.
“Both Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslim are not considered Dalits by our government, and hence, they are denied affirmative action programmes that empower marginalized communities,” said Samuel Jayakumar, the NCCI’s executive secretary for the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness, who chaired the meeting.
“We see this as religion based discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits in India,” he said.
Leila Passah, general secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of India also brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur the “inhumane treatment meted out to the Dalit community by the Indian police, when they organized a peaceful protest in Delhi.”
She said “the police beat up protestors with sticks as Christian and Muslim leaders marched towards the Parliament House to hand over to the prime minster of India a memorandum of demands.”
Around 30 people were injured in this incident and several protestors including church leaders were detained in the police station on 11 December 2013, according to media reports.
Bielefeldt assured participants that the UN human rights mechanism will continue to raise these issues at their forums.
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