"The Dalit (revolt) issue is the single most significant civil rights issue in the world, and maybe in world history," said the Most Rev. Dr. Joseph D'Souza on Friday after India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the caste system that has disenfranchised hundred-of-millions of Indians for centuries. The Dalit Uprising began in the Indian state of Gujarat in July.
Regarding the persistence of caste-based-discrimination in India, D'Souza said Modi went where no other prime minister has gone before.
D'Souza is the moderating bishop of the Good Shepherd Church and Associated Ministries of India. He also presides over the All India Christian Council.
"Modi reminded me of the beloved author of India's constitution, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. His courage to criticize members of his own party and to acknowledge the destructive effects of caste on Indian society were courageous, important, and significant," said D'Souza.
"The Indian constitution enshrines the rights of Dalits, yet it remains largely unenforced."
At least 250 million Dalits, who sometimes are called "untouchables," revolted against the Indian system this summer, and demanded the civil rights granted to them by India's constitution. The uprising was prompted by a video uploaded to social media of the abuse of seven Dalit teenagers.
"Should he chose to, Prime Minister Modi could become an Ambedkar of our day. He could be a kind of Abraham Lincoln for India intent upon liberating the most oppressed people on planet earth, perhaps even in human history. This is the right thing to do, and it is the sensible thing to do. Modi's ambition for economic development in India can never be realized as long as the country systematically discriminates against millions of its own citizens," said D'Souza.
The bishop stated that while there can be no 'end of caste' in India without massive social reform, for the first time in his lifetime, he actually believed that there could be a casteless India. "In fact, I pray for and imagine an India where there are both equal rights and equal opportunity for all Indians regardless of the fortune of their birth," he said.
"Modi is right: caste is a poison that threatens to destroy India. The Dalit Uprising has spoken to our conscience, and has granted us an opportunity to correct centuries of wrong and to show the world we are not only a great nation but a good nation," said D'Souza, who is the recipient of numerous awards for his work as a human rights activist.
He is also the founder and international president of the Dalit Freedom Network.