DEMONSTRATIONS AND RALLIES
The Christian demand for extension
of Schduled Caste rights and privileges has been denied despite numerous
peaceful protests, dharnas, and demonstrations. The government has been
discriminating against Christians on the basis of religion, ignoring the
undisputed evidence of Dalit Christians' social, educational and economic
backwardness which qualifies them for state protection and statutory rights.
These privileges are denied to Dalit Christians on the ground that
Christianity does not have caste discrimination. The law-makers seem to
ignore the plain truth that in our caste-ridden society, a Dalit is a
Dalit whether he or she professes faith in Hinduism or Christianity.
September 24, 1988: An Impressive Rally, Trichy
A Mammoth Rally and Dharmika Manadu was organized by Tamil Nadu Commission for SC/ST/BC under the leadership of Most. Rev. Michael Augustine at Trichy. 700,000 (Seven lakhs) people from all over Tamil Nadu assembled to demand the extension of reservation to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin. Ministers and members of Parliament addressed the participants giving assurances that they would introduce the required bill in Parliament.
August 17, 1990: Massive Rally, New Delhi
The first all-India convention and rally involving around 200,000 people was held on 17 August 1990 at New Delhi to highlight the question of Christian dalit rights. It was an impressive rally with many delegations from different Churches throughout the country. A memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister, Shri. V.P. Singh by Archbishop Arokiasamy and by Mr.S.K. Chatterji, President of the All-India Christian People's Forum (AICPF).
October 28, 1992, a huge
public meeting on the plight of Dalit Christians was held at Hyderabad
and a memorandum was submitted to the Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh
to be forwarded to the Central Government.
A Dharna was held in Karnataka
on 26 November 1993 to mark the Indian Constitution day and to press
dalit demands for human rights. A memorandum was presented to the
Governor of Karnataka.
March 12, 1994
March 6, 1994
October 29, 1994
April 24, 1995
April 27-28, 1995: Dharna in New Delhi
A two-day dharna was organised from April 27 to April 28, 1995 to demand the extension of Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians. Two hundred delegates came to Delhi from all over India. Ram Vilas Paswan, a Janata Dal leader said: "It is sad that Christians have to come to Delhi from all over India again and again with the same demand" .
AICPE stated that the law-makers seem to ignore the plain truth that in our caste-ridden society, a dalit is a dalit whether he or she professes faith in Hinduism or Christianity. It was pointed out that the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled Castes are eligible for job reservations, electoral representation, professional, educational opportunities and other statutory benefits but these privileges are denied to Dalit Christians on the ground that Christianity does not have caste discrimination. However, the law-makers seem to ignore the plain truth that in our caste-ridden society, a Dalit is a Dalit whether he or she professes faith in Hinduism or Christianity. It was repeatedly stressed that the social realities of the country are such that Dalit Christians are still treated as untouchables by society. Reservation is meant for the socially, educationally and economically backward groups. The social and economic status of Dalit Christians is not different from Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist dalits. The life of Dalit Christians is a life of frustration and helplessness.
November 18, 1995: Rally in Madras
A massive ralley was organised in Madras on Nov 18, 1995 to press once again the demand for the inclusion of Christian dalits in the Scheduled Caste list.
Mr.Karunanidi, the Chief Minister of Tamilnadu said that religious discrimination meted out to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin should be stopped since it is against the spirit of the Constitution and he urged the central government to bring in an appropriate bill in parliament to include Chrisitan dalits in the Scheduled Caste list, as Sikhs and Buddhists were included in 1956 and 1990.
Mother Theresa of Calcutta, Prayer & Fasting in New Delhi, November 18, 1995
Action programmes demanding equal justice for Dalit Christians were inaugurated at New Delhi with a solemn prayer service followed by relay fasting. The prayer service was led by Mother Theresa. Leaders of various parties expressed solidarity by visiting the fasting programme and exhorting the government to listen to our reasonable demands. The media, both national and international, gave wide coverage to all these events.
November 21, 1995
A National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, composed of representatives from the CBCI, National Council for Churches India and other church related organisation was formed to continue the struggle for Equal Rights and strengthen the confidence of the Christian community. Number of ecumenical delegations met heads of the government and members of Parliament, demanding justice for Dalit Christians. Intensive lobbying is being done by the commission. Awareness has been created among the Christian community and other people in society through public meetings, pastoral letters of the Bishops. Thus people are aware of injustice done to the Dalit Christians. They appeal to the government by memoranda, letter campaign, rally, public meeting, fast and prayer etc. Fast and prayer meetings were orgainised by regional bodies in several regions, such as Tamil Nadu, Andra, Karnataka, Kerala and Bihar.
Dharna at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi
A symboic crucifixion was staged during dharna on 30 November 1995. More than 2000 Christian representatives from all over India took part, demanding the extension of Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians. To reiterate the four-decade-old Christian demand, four Dalit Christians, including two women, stood leaning on crosses throughout the dharna, this symbolizing the denial of justice and equality to Dalit Christians through their exclusion from the Scheduled Caste category.
Dharna in Calcutta
Dalit Christians of West Bengal took to the streets of Calcutta on 15 December 1995 to draw attention to the injustice being done to Dalit Christians and to demand from the Government equal rights for Dalit Christians. A memorandum was submitted to the Governor of West Bengal.
A study undertaken by the Jesuits in Tamil Nadu reveals that 79.6 per cent of the Dalit Christians are landless, their average annual income have been as low as Rs. 1000. The illiteracy rate is 65 per cent.
July 17, 1996: Prime Minister's Assurances
A delegation of Christian Bishops and lay leaders met the Prime Minister Shri. Deve Gowda on 17 July 1996 at his residence and presented a memorandum urging the Government to pass an amendment Bill during this monsoon session of parliament to include the Dalit Christians in the list. The Prime Minister listened courteously and in his reply, assured the delegates, " we are at it and we are going to take up the issue in this session itself."
November 27 , 1996: Dharna For Equal Rights
Ten Archbishops and Bishops, five hundred nuns and priests, some heads of organisations and educational institutions and hospitals, jurists, doctors and nurses and other professionals and AICU members, staged a dharna on 27 November 1997, which led to their arrest. They were demanding the immediate introduction of the bill that would grant reservation rights to Dalit Christians. This bill was a part of the common minimum programme of the United Front Government. When the delegation led by Archbishop Arokiasamy met the Prime Minister Shri Deve Gowda, he explained that he needed to consult with various political parties to secure consensus and thus secure passage of the bill. He would do so within a few days. The bill, he said, was ready and had been discussed at the meeting of the Union Cabinet.
November 27 , 1997: National Conference on Human Rights
A National Conference on Human Rights was organised by the NATIONAL COORDINATION COMMITTEE FOR DALIT CHRISTIANS at YMCA in New Delhi on 27 November 1997. Bishops, Members of Parliament, Government officials, Commission Secretaries, Directors of various organisations, Theologians, Priests, Religious, Media Persons etc. participated in the meeting.
3 October 1998: HUMAN RIGHTS RALLY
On 3 October 1998, 7,000 people staged a rally in Delhi, the national capital, demanding the introduction of the long pending bill for constitutional rights for Dalit Christians. The rally was attended by three thousand highly aroused young people sporting black bands. They came from every corner of India. The rally was inaugurated at the Sacred Heart cathedral by the Most Rev. Dr. Alan de Lastic, Archbishop of Delhi, President of the CBCI. Also present were religious superiors and Christian Dalit leaders. The delegates to the rally were welcomed by Bishop Chinnappa, Chairman CBCI Commission for SC/ST/BC. In his speech, he criticized the government for delaying the extension of equal rights despite being fully aware of the inhuman conditions in which the Dalit Christians subsist. Loudly voicing their slogans in demand of change, the rally proceeded to parliament but they were blocked in front of the parliament street police station. Later, a small delegation, consisting of religious heads and youth representatives, met the President Shri K. R. Narayanan and submitted a memorandum. The President assured the delegation that he would place the demands of the Christian Community before the government, with his recommendation. A copy of the memorandum was also submitted to the Prime Minister Shri. A.B. Vajpayee, and the Home Minister Shri. L.K.Advani of the BJP government.
The struggle of the Dalit Christians is not only for government job reservation, but also to establish equal rights with the other Hindu or Buddhist dalits in India. It is well to remember just how modest is the plea of the Christian Dalits. They are not demanding to be placed at the pinnacle of the social order . They are asking to be raised up to equality with the lowest stratum of Indian society, the other Dalits.