Christians not untouchable, Indian court rules

India's Chennai High Court has ruled that Christian Dalits are not entitled to the special benefits provided under the Indian Constitution for so-called "Scheduled Castes".

AsiaNews reports that the court made the ruling in a case concerning a Dalit born to Hindu parents who had converted to Christianity but who had re-converted to Hinduism.

As a Hindu Dalit, the person was entitled to quota benefits provided to members of "Scheduled Castes" enabling members of India's lowest castes to gain preferential access to government posts.

A division bench comprising of Justices Dharma Rao and S K Krishnan allowed a petition by R Shankar, who challenged the Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission's rejection of his application to the post of civil judge under the Scheduled Caste quota.

Shankar said he was born to Dalit Christian parents, but in 1983 he converted to Hinduism and received a Scheduled Caste community certificate.

Despite passing exams and interview for a civil judge post, his appointment was held up for verification of community (caste) status.

When he was told that he could not be appointed under the quota system since he was born in a Christian family, he challenged the decision in court.

The judges ruled that although his parents were Christian, his re-conversion to Hinduism was acceptable.

For Fr Babu Joseph, spokesman for the Bishops' Conference of India, the case raises a serious question, namely "why talk about rights when two people with the same social status are treated differently on the basis of their religious status?"

"The court's decision has reinforced our resolve to obtain for Dalit Christians the same treatment for members of other religions," he insisted.

"This kind of discrimination cannot exist in a democratic nation like India, which should deal fairly and impartially with its citizens and their rights."

John Dayal, chairman of the All India Catholic Council and a long time activist for the rights of Dalit Christians, said that "the court''s ruling reflects the fact that in India the problem of the caste system is misunderstood, a problem that transcends religion."

"The caste system is a societal malaise," he said. But "Sikhs and Buddhists, who belong to religions very different from Hinduism, now have the same rights as Hindu Dalits because of political patronage. By contrast, Christians are alone. Such rulings punish those Hindus who want to adopt the Christian faith. If they do, they can lose their jobs and benefits."

Court rules Dalit entitlements only for Hindus (Asia News, 13/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Catholic Council of India

Indian Dalits in mass conversion to Buddhism and Christianity (CathNews, 16/10/06)
Activists support "Untouchables" at big conference in India (CathNews, 21/1/04)

14 Nov 2006