A rally by Christians and Muslims demanding statutory benefits for their Dalit members blocked traffic today in the main streets of New Delhi. More than 10,000 people, including bishops, priests and nuns from across the country braved intense heat to march five kilometres to the Indian parliament.
The march capped a four-day protest that began on Monday with a fast organized by several Christian groups, and ended at Jantar Mantar, a venue designated for public protests in New Delhi.
Cardinal Oswald Gracias, who attended the rally, has urged the government to grant scheduled caste status to dalit Christians and Muslims. The prelate, who heads the Catholic Church in India, said excluding them from reservations is “blatant discrimination” and in violation of the Indian constitution, which guarantees equality.
Cardinal Gracias also asked the government to follow its own commission’s recommendation to grand Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Muslims.
The National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as the Ranganath Misra Commission, said in a 2007 report that denying the quota right to Christian and Muslim Dalits violated justice. The government tabled the report in parliament in 2009.
The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, a joint program of the Catholic Bishops’ Council of India and the National Council of Churches in India, organized the hunger strike and rally.
Organizers have previously said Christians and Muslims of scheduled caste origin should get the educational and employment benefits given to their counterparts in other religions.