WCC in India speaks against discrimination faced by Dalits
Member churches of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in India have expressed deep concern over discrimination faced by Christian and Muslim Dalit communities there, demanding protection of the right to freedom of religion in a meeting with Prof. Dr Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief who is currently visiting India on invitation from the civil society organizations including the Indian Social Institute and Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.
The meeting attended by a number of church leaders, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, leaders of the Muslim community and representatives of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India, was organized by the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI). Samuel Jayakumar, the NCCI’s Executive Secretary for the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness chaired the meeting.
Haji Hafeez Ahmad Hawari, a representative of Muslim community shared at the NCCI meeting that his nomination to the national elections under the category of “caste with reserved constituency” was rejected because he is a follower of Islam. Hawari said that he experienced discrimination within the Muslim community as well as in the larger society because he is a Dalit; and yet because of his religion affiliation he could not seek the position reserved in the Indian constitution for scheduled castes.
“Both Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslim are not considered Dalits by our Government and hence, they are denied affirmative action programmes that empower marginalized communities,” said Samuel Jayakumar, the NCCI’s Executive Secretary for the Commission on Policy, Governance and Public Witness. “We see this as religion based discrimination against Christian and Muslim Dalits in India,” he said.
Leila Passah, General Secretary of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) of India also brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur the “inhumane treatment meted out to the Dalit community by the Indian police, when they organized a peaceful protest in Delhi.” “The police beat up protestors with sticks as Christian and Muslim leaders marched towards the Parliament House to hand over to the prime minster of India a memorandum of demands,” she said.
Dr Heiner Bielefeldt recognized issues of discrimination against Dalits in India, calling religious conversion a test case for freedom of religion. He added that the right to equality has been denied to the Dalit community in India and they cannot be forced to follow a particular religion. He assured participants in the meeting that the UN human rights mechanism will continue to raise these issues at their forums.
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