- ADF India allied lawyers challenge 1950 presidential order that denies Dalit Christians basic rights
- Case to be heard 16 years after filing
NEW DELHI (29 January 2020) – In India, Dalit Christians and Muslims are restricted from receiving the same basic rights as Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist as a result of a 1950 Presidential Order. Today, 16 years after it was filed, the Indian Supreme Court in New Delhi agreed to hear a legal challenge to this Order. The challenge argues that because of the order Christian and Muslim Dalits are denied basic services simply because of their faith. ADF India allied lawyers are arguing the case on behalf of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in India.
“Nobody should be persecuted because of their faith. This case will influence millions of Christians and members of other religious minorities. Estimates say 70% of Christians in India are Dalits. Dalit Christians continue to experience severe hostility and are denied basic rights simply because of their Dalit identity. Because of the law as it currently stands, Dalit Christians are left out of the ambit of legal protections and benefits available to similarly placed Dalit Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Overturning this Presidential Order would come as a huge relief to some of the poorest and most neglected people and groups in this country, bringing them more protection. We hope that the court will recognize the plight of Dalit Christians and ensure that their fundamental rights are protected,” said Tehmina Arora, Director of ADF India.
Exclusion of Dalit Christians
In 1950, a Presidential Order granted Dalit status to Hindus. Subsequently, the government expanded this protection to Dalit Sikhs and Buddhists. This gave the lowest in the former caste system equal rights and access to government services, special protections under law as well as participation and representation in politics. The Order however excluded Christians and Muslims. It stated, “no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Caste.” Multiple studies have recognized that Dalits including Dalit Christians and Muslims have been deeply affected by socio-economic and educational discrimination and inequality. As a result both religious groups have been advocating for equal rights ever since. The studies also highlighted that Dalits continue to experience discrimination and violence even when they convert to Christianity and Islam.
The case, Centre for Public Interest Litigation & Anr. v. Union of India & Ors, challenging the 1950 Order, has been pending for 16 years. The Supreme Court has now directed the government of India to file its reply in the various cases within four weeks.
“All people have the right to freely choose, and live out their faith. Dalit Christians should not be denied basic rights simply because they are a religious minority. This case could be of fundamental importance for the lives of a whole section of Indian society, granting them rights they have been denied for 70 years. After 16 years of waiting for this case to be heard, the situation of Dalit Christians is finally being addressed,” said Paul Coleman, Executive Director of ADF International.
In 2019, violence against Christians has risen significantly. The United Christian Forum and ADF India documented over 300 incidents of harassment and mob violence against Christians. The attacks often take a similar shape and rarely receive any police attention. A mob will arrive at a prayer meeting or Christian gathering, shout abuse and harassment, and beat up those in attendance including women and children. Then, the pastors or priests are usually arrested by the police under false allegations of forced conversions.