Hindu converts to Christianity to keep Caste status

By: George Conger

Church leaders in India have welcomed the call by the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly for India’s federal government to allow Hindu Dalits who convert to Christianity to keep their protected status as members of a Scheduled Caste (SC).

On Aug 25 the legislature of the southeastern Indian state passed a resolution presented by the state’s chief minister YS Rajasekhara Reddy that petitions the national government to amend the Constitution to confer SC status on Dalit Christians.

The Indian Constitution allows quotas in educational institutions and government jobs for members of castes once considered “untouchable,” to support their social and economic advancement. According to the 1950 Presidential Order however, SC privileges are meant only for Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, but not Christians.

Members of the Hindu nationalist party, the BJP, opposed the resolution saying it would lead Dalits to convert to Christianity. But the governing Congress Party with the support of the rest of the legislature’s members, save for a single deputy, backed the resolution. The chief minister told the assembly that Dalit Christians faced the same levels of discrimination as Hindu Dalits and needed government assistance.

Granting Christian Dalits SC status was only just, Fr Anthoni Raj Thumma, executive secretary of the Andhra Pradesh Federation of Churches, said as the 1950 Presidential Order had been amended in the past to extend SC status benefits to Dalit Sikhs and Dalit Buddhists.

The All India Christian Council on Aug 27 hailed the resolution as an “undoing of a historical error on the Dalits and on their freedom of choice and conscience.”

Last week the Church of North India said it welcomed “the decision of the Andhra Pradesh State Assembly in taking the first step towards removing the 50-year-old deprivation of the Dalit Christians and Muslims.”

Christian Dalits “have been facing discrimination like other Dalits” the CNI said, and the vote recognized the “gravity of genuineness in the struggle for justice of Dalit Christians.”



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