The World Council of Churches (WCC) central committee said “Casteism is sin” and is calling on member Churches to “end any discrimination and exclusion of millions of people on the basis of caste”.
In a “Statement on caste-based discrimination” passed on Wednesday, the committee says that at least 160 million people in India and up to 260 million globally are considered by their own societies as “untouchable” or “Dalit”. The committee said it is the worst form of human rights violation.
“We are convicted that caste-based discrimination is a crime” and that “casteism is sin” because it contradicts the Christian teaching that all are created equal in the image and likeness of God,” said the statement.
The committee is calling upon WCC member churches to recognize the fact that untouchability practised against Dalits in India and South Asian countries as well as other similarly affected communities elsewhere, represents one of the gravest systemic violation of human rights in the world today.
The committee in particular noted, “Every hour two Dalits are assaulted; every day three Dalit women are raped, two Dalits are murdered, two Dalit homes are torched, and in the year 2000, 25,455 crimes were committed against the Dalits,” quoting the statistics compiled by India's National Crime Records Bureau.
“The stigma that is attached to Dalits is based on their descent and their traditional occupations – usually the most dirty, dangerous and demeaning occupations in their societies.
“One of the most extreme examples of caste-based assignment of the worst jobs is “manual scavenging”, the manual collection and removal of human faeces from dry latrines,” the statement said. And is calling upon churches and the international community to support the campaign for the elimination of “manual scavenging” in India by 2010.
The committee said: “It is unfortunate that the practice of caste-based discrimination exists in some churches in India.
“The Dalit Christians in India are also discriminated against by the state, which denies them certain rights and privileges ascribed to other Dalits as part of its affirmative action.
The committee acknowledges that the South Asian caste system is a product of inherited social exclusion and discrimination is shared with a number of other geographically and culturally disparate societies, and the Churches must end such practices, the statement said.
The statement also said it supports the ongoing work of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the International Labour Organization and other international organizations to address untouchability and caste-based discrimination around the world.
WCC also urges the UN Human Rights Council to ensure that the draft Principles and Guidelines for the Effective Elimination of Discrimination based on Work and Descent, developed under the former Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, are adopted in order to provide a firm and appropriate basis for the international community to address caste-based discrimination.
The statement said WCC has long been involved in supporting the efforts of assisting churches and civil society organizations engaged in the struggle of Dalits against discrimination.
The statement recalled the statement of the Conference on Racism in Notting Hill, UK way back in 1969 in which the ecumenical body had already had condemned racism.
“Every human being, created in the image of God, is a person for whom Christ has died. Racism, which is the use of a person’s racial origins to determine the person’s value, is an assault on Christ’s values and a rejection of his sacrifice.
“Wherever it appears, whether in the individual or in the collective, it is sin. It must be openly fought by all those who are on Christ’s side, and by the church as the designated vehicle and instrument of Christ’s purpose in the world.”
The central committee of the WCC meeting was held in Geneva, Switzerland from 26 August - 2 September 2009, during the meeting the committee had taken up many issues faced by Christians around the world. WCC is the biggest ecumenical body representing over 560 million mainly Protestant and Orthodox Christians around the world.