“This strike is the expression of hunger for justice, hunger for equality
and hunger for the human dignity of Christian Dalits,” said the Rev. Roger
Gaikwad, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India at
the launch of protests scheduled to end July 28.
Dalit, which means “trampled upon,” refers to lower castes treated as
untouchables in Indian society. Most eke out a living with menial jobs in
rural areas while living in segregation from upper castes. Christian Dalits
seek the “scheduled caste” recognition from the government accorded
to other religions, such as Hindis, Sikhs, and Buddhists, that would allow them
better access to education and jobs. Two-thirds of India’s 27 million
Christians are Dalits.
According to Gaikwad, four bishops and several Christian leaders joined
Catholic archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi at the launch of the hunger
strike, where hundreds of people sang hymns in different languages and
shouted slogans. Half a dozen more bishops joined nearly 1,000
Christians in the strike on the second day.
The National Council of Dalit Christians, a protest organizer, said in a
statement that the government is withholding justice despite
several government commissions’ endorsement of Christians’ cause.
“We want the government to act on our decades-old demand,” said the
Rev. G. Cosmon Arokiaraj, executive secretary of the Dalit commission of the
Catholic Church, another organizer.
“The discrimination against us amounts to denial of the freedom of religion
and equality guaranteed by the constitution,” said Arokiaraj, who is himself