Thursday, December 12, 2013

(Delhi) police arrest bishop for defending Dalit Christians

The Dalits, people traditionally called untouchables, still experience widespread discrimination in India. Non discrimination laws and statutory benefits similar to American affirmative action were extended to Dalits in the past , but non-Hindu Dalits were not included. This discriminatory exclusion was removed for Sikhs in 1956 and for Buddhists in 1982, but remains for Christians.

Vatican Insider
December 12, 2013

The Catholic Archbishop of Delhi, Mgr. Anil Couto, was arrested by Delhi police today, along with other Christian bishops and leaders of other confessions. The Vice Secretary General and spokesman of the Indian Bishops’ Conference Fr. Joseph Chinnayyan reported the news to Fides news agency.

The archbishop joined other Christian leaders and lay faithful in a peaceful protest march in support of the rights of Dalit Christians. Demonstrators had arrived at Jantar Mantar in downtown New Delhi and were heading towards the Indian Parliament. Fides learnt that the police were violent towards the demonstrators and arrested many of them. Archbishop Anil Couto, Protestant Christian bishops Alwan Masih, Roger Gaikwad and Vijayesh Lal, leader of the Evangelical Fellowship of India and All India Christian Council Secretary General, John Dayal, a Catholic, were among those arrested.

According to Fr. Chinnayyan, bishops are asking for a delegation of demonstrators to be received by the government and in Parliament which is currently holding its winter session. Christian leaders “will be released by this evening,” the spokesman adds. A complaint was filed against Delhi police for having assaulted and beaten Catholic nuns and priests.

Demonstrators were demanding the repeal of the 1950 Presidential Order that denied statutory benefits for Dalit Christians. The benefits were extended to Sikhs in 1956 and the Buddhists in 1982. Religious minorities in India see this provision as “completely unconstitutional” but the governments that preceded us have turned a deaf ear to the demand of Christians,” Mgr. Anil Couto said. “Peaceful protests have taken place before, but today the police has acted in a brutal way against defenceless demonstrators,” Christians say.

The Global Council of Indian Christians sent a note sent to Fides saying it was “shocked and dismayed by the provocative arrest of the bishops and other leaders.” The Council recalls a previous case on 2 November 1997, when bishops were arrested for defending the Dalits.

Some political leaders like Jayalalitha, Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu, strongly supports the cause of Dalit Christians and Muslims, saying that the issue needs to be addressed immediately and should be discussed in Parliament.

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