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100,000 'Untouchables' Expected for Massive Religious Freedom Rally

One hundred thousand Dalits, formerly known as 'untouchables,' are expected to participate in a rally for religious freedom in India this week.
( [email protected] ) Oct 12, 2006 01:24 PM EDT

One hundred thousand Dalits, formerly known as "untouchables," are expected to participate in a rally for religious freedom in India this week.

The "World Religious Freedom Day" rally will be held Saturday in Nagpur, India, where participants will protest the continued oppression of the caste system and state-level anti-conversion laws, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

"We fully support the AICC and the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organizations in their fight against caste-based oppression and anti-conversion legislation," said CSW National Director, Stuart Windsor, in a statement. "It is abhorrent that the Dalits are consistently denied the right to religious freedom through discriminatory legislation, social pressure and outright violence. We join with our partners in a call for true religious freedom in India."

The demonstration, which is sponsored by CSW and partner the All India Christian Council (AICC), will include a mass conversion ceremony. The rally is supported by a wide range of religions including Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu leaders.

Religious freedom is a particularly sensitive topic as the Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP) has strived to introduce or strengthen existing anti-conversion laws in states where it holds power. According to CSW, the conversion legislations are especially harsh on Dalits and other vulnerable groups who are given more severe punishment for conversion.

"We believe this peaceful rally will be the start of nationwide movement promoting the most basic human right – the freedom of conscience and the ability to choose one’s religion," said Dr Joseph D’Souza, President of the AICC and Dalit Freedom Network (DFN). "The citizens of India will overturn these anti-conversion laws through an unrelenting campaign in the media, in the courts, and in civic life."

High-profile attendees will include legislators and ‘Bollywood’ actors.