(Vatican Radio) Dalit Christians and Muslims of India will once again observe ‘Black Day’ on August 10 this year to highlight the discrimination that low-caste Christians and Muslims have been facing for 67 years. India’s Catholic bishops want to remind the people that the country bears a constitution-based discrimination against Dalit Christians, i.e. Dalits who embrace Christianity.
Who are Dalits?
Dalit which means "broken" or “downtrodden”, denotes former "untouchables" so low in social status that they were considered outcasts or outside the caste system of Hindu society. The Indian Constitution reserves special privileges and benefits such as quota in government jobs and educational institutions for Dalit, tribal groups and scheduled castes to help their socioeconomic uplift.
The Constitution (Scheduled Caste) Order (Paragraph 3) that India’s first president Rajendra Prasad signed on August 10, 1950, initially stated that “…no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” Subsequently, the Order was modified to include Sikhs (in 1956) and Buddhists (in 1990) after they protested, but Muslims and Christians of low caste origin were excluded. Dalits form the bulk of India’s Christian community, who make up 2.3 per cent of the country’s population.
Dalit Christians and Muslims have been observing “Black Day” on Aug. 10, the anniversary of the signing of the controversial presidential order Paragraph 3. First observed in 2009, it is organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the National Council of Churches in India and the National Council of Dalit Christians.
To know about this and much more we talked to Fr. Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the CBCI Office for Scheduled and Backward Classes. Speaking on the phone from his office in New Delhi, Fr. Raj first explained who the Dalits are.