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.

Here is an overview of public demonstrations carried out so far.

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.

November 21, 1992 At Vijayawada mass rally, Hon'ble Union Minister Shri Sitaram Kesari declared that the demand for statutory benefit for Christians of Scheduled Caste origin was justified and the Government would initiate the immediate introduction of the required bill in parliament during the winter session.

An all-India Dalit Dharna with a participation of over 500 representatives from 24 November to 8 December 1992 took place at New Delhi. A memorandum was submitted to the Union Welfare Minister, Mr.Sitaram Kesari of the Congress 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 1, 1994: Christian Rally Demanding Equal Rights

A huge rally of over 90,000 Christians of all denominations, churches and organizations took place on 1 March 1994 in New Delhi. Prof. S.K. Chatterji, the President of AICPE deplored the discrimination against  the dalit Christians on the basis of religion and the denial of  Scheduled Caste privileges, declaring that such denial is against   the spirit of the Constitution.  Dalit Christians are being persecuted, particularly in South India, like the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Scheduled Castes; but the difference is that, unlike the hindu dalits, the Christian dalits have  no recourse to protection and compensation under the Civil Rights Laws of 1936 and SC-ST Prevention of Atrocities Act 1989. Dalit Christians have been demanding protective discrimination and affirmative action to be taken by the Central Government under Articles 14-17, 21,25, 38, 46, 330, 332, 335, 338 and 341 of the Indian Constitution. Bishop Anand Chandu Lal, the Moderator of the Church of North India  condemned the denial of S.C. rights to the Dalit Christians as a gross violation of human rights. Archbishop M. Arokiasamy, Chairman of the CBCI Commission for SC/ST represented the Catholic Bishops of India. A memorandum was submitted to the Prime Minister of India, Mr.P.V. Narasimha Rao.

March 3, 1994
Twenty  Archbishops and Bishops of India met the Prime Minister on 3 March 1994 and submitted a memorandum  requesting him to pass the government  bill  to extend statutory benefits to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin.

March 12, 1994
The United Christian Conference held in Madurai on 12th and 13th of March, 1994. Five Lakhs (500,000)  people gathered at the rally and passed a unanimous resolution demanding the inclusion of Christians of Scheduled Caste origin in the Scheduled Caste   list. The resolution  was  sent to all  Ministers and Members of the Parliament.

October 25, 1994
In Karnataka Region,  Christians of Scheduled Caste origin,  the Welfare Sangha (association) and the Karnataka Christian Progressive Front jointly staged a dharna (protest)  at M.G. Road in Bangalore on 25 September 1994 and a rally in Kolar Gold Field to demand  justice for Chrstians of Scheduled Caste origin.

March 6, 1994
In Tamilnadu, SC/ST/BC Commission of Pondicherry organised a Rally-Convention - Hunger Strke at Cuddalore on 6th March, 94, pressing the government to extend statutory benefits to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin. The Convention was attended by Bishops of Vellore, Kumbakonam and by about 50,000 people. The hunger strike was led by the Archbishop of Pondicherry.

October 29, 1994
Hunger strikes have been organised in the regions of Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka and Tamilnadu  to  pressure the government to extend statutory benefits to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin. Two weeks of intensive agitation, including a relayed hunger strike all over Andra Pradesh State, culminated in a mammoth rally and a Maha Sabha (great gathering) on 29 October 1994 at Eluru. This brought to Eluru an estimated four lakhs (400,000) of Christians of varous denominations to express their opposition to discrimination.

April 24, 1995
There were hunger strikes and rallies in many places in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

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
The closure of all Christian educational Institutions all over the country, as part of the on-going struggle was grand success. In all 20,000 Christian schools and 240 colleges remained closed on that day expressing solidarity with the justice seeking programmes. The nationwide closure of the educational Institutions had a great Impact and millions came to know about the Injustice to the Dalit Christians and the need for a speedy solution.

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.

Concluding Remarks

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.