India’s Supreme Court Postpones Dalit Decision Again

( [email protected] ) Jul 25, 2007 04:30 AM EDT

The outcome has emerged of a hearing in India’s Supreme Court last week on a case arguing the equal rights of Dalit Christians.

The court once again postponed a decision on the case, prolonging indefinitely the suffering of millions of Dalit – or “Untouchable” – Christians in India.

The Christian Dalits are seeking an amendment to a law that excludes them from the country’s reservation system which guarantees a quota of government jobs and college places for Dalits. The law has been in place since 1950 but only covers Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, while Muslim Dalits are also excluded. Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits also face losing their benefits if they convert to Christianity.

According to Gospel for Asia, the justices sitting at last week’s hearing questioned the motive of Christians who support a change in the law, alleging that support of the Dalit cause must mean that Christians in India admit they practise caste-based discrimination.

The Christian mission organisation has urged Christians around the world to pray for India’s Christian Dalits following this latest delay.

"The Bible teaches us that all people are created in the image of God and all are equal in His sight," said KP Yohannan, Gospel for Asia president and founder. "That is why Christians are working to help Dalits escape from the oppressive caste system that has kept them in virtual slavery for over 3,000 years.

"But this delay does give us another opportunity to pray. Literally millions of Christian Dalits are seeking for an end to their grinding poverty, and I ask Christians around the world to intercede on their behalf."

Efforts to change the law have made little progress because legal officials continue to justify the exclusion of Christian Dalits from the reservation quotas on the grounds that the caste system was only part of the Hindu religion and therefore only applied to members of that faith, explained Gospel for Asia.

The charity warned, however, that the practice of caste discrimination was so engrained in the Indian social structure that it still permeates all aspects of daily life regardless of religion.

It also said that all Dalits, whether Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Muslim or Christian, continue to suffer “inhumane treatment” and are only allowed to take up the “most degrading” low-paid jobs, like garbage cleaning or handling sewage. Meanwhile, Dalit children go largely without schooling, depriving them of the opportunity to improve their standards of living.

"While Indian society may still look upon Dalit people as outcastes, God loves each and every one of them," Dr Yohannan said. "We want them to know this truth and we welcome all people, including Dalits, to worship and follow Him."

There has been one positive development lately for India’s Christian Dalits, however. The National Commission on Minority Religion and Linguistics submitted a report to the high court in May supporting the case for Christian Dalits to be included in the reservation system.

Following the latest delay, the court has assigned a government committee to study the case for a change in the law before another hearing in eight weeks.