Indian churches launch hunger strike to protest treatment of Christian Dalits

Indian churches launch hunger strike to protest treatment of Christian Dalits

Major churches in India are taking part in a hunger strike that began July 25 in New Delhi to demand an end to discrimination against Christian Dalits.

“This strike is the expression of hunger for justice, hunger for equality and hunger for the human dignity of Christian Dalits,” said the Rev. Roger Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India at the launch of the protests, set to run until July 28.

Dalit, which means “trampled upon,” refers to lower castes treated as untouchables in Indian society. Most eke out a living with menial jobs in rural areas while living in segregation from upper castes.

Christian Dalits seek the “scheduled caste” recognition from the government accorded to other religions, such as Hindis, Sikhs, and Buddhists, that would allow them better access to education and jobs. Two-thirds of India’s 27 million Christians are Dalits.

According to Gaikwad, four bishops and several Christian leaders joined Catholic archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi at the launch of the hunger strike, where hundreds of people sang hymns in different languages and shouted slogans.

Half a dozen more bishops joined nearly one thousand Christians in the strike on the second day.

The National Council of Dalit Christians, a protest organiser, said in a statement that the government is withholding justice from Christians despite the fact several government commissions endorse their cause.

“We want the government to act on our decades-old demand,” said Fr G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, executive secretary of the Dalit commission of the Catholic Church, another organiser.

“The discrimination against us amounts to denial of the freedom of religion and equality guaranteed by the constitution,” said Arokiaraj, who is himself a Dalit.

More than 10,000 Christians including several bishops and church officials from across the country are expected to reach New Delhi for the concluding march to the parliament on July 28.

By Anto Akkara, Ecumenical News International  

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