IIRF Reports Vol. 2, No. 6 (March 2013)

By: Thomas Schirrmacher

When Indian Dalits Convert to Christianity or Islam, they lose Social Welfare Benefits and Rights they are Guaranteed under the Constitution

The International Institute for Religious Freedom is seeking sponsors for a research project that will address the combination of the oppression of Dalits in India as well as the growing persecution of Christians in India. What is primarily happening with regard to these issues?

“The number of Hindu Dalits is estimated to be over 160 million, and together with Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian ‘untouchables’ the number amounts to approximately 240 million, or almost one quarter of the Indian population. Up until the present day they are often massively discriminated against by caste Indians, and in some cases also experiencing persecution and violence. They are to some extent outside of the caste system or on its lowest rung, and for that reason considered to be ‘unclean’ or ‘untouchable.’ In particular in rural areas, this discrimination is up until the present day a reality, something that in the West is often viewed as a form of racism or slavery. This can go so far as to mean that contact with their shadows has to be avoided. Again and again they are the victims of violence and land con scation.”

Up to today 400,000 to perhaps 800,000 Dalits clean latrines daily with their bare hands.

Dalits who convert to Islam or Christianity in India lose their legal status as Dalits and with that the nancial and legal support to which they are entitled according to the constitution and legal code. Using the logic that as Muslims or Christians they no longer belong to the lowest order of society, they lose their constitutional rights. Strangely this does not apply to Dalits who become either Buddhists or Sikhs. At least this is the way the constitution views it. Reality is at this point often something else.

That is at least the complaint that one of the two large international associations of Dalits that exist worldwide, the Dalit Freedom Network (www. Dalitnetwork. org) under the leadership of its international president Joseph D’souza, has with human rights campaigners. The other international association, International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) (www.idsn.org), with its central organization in India, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) (www.ncdhr. org.in), and the German branch, Dalit Solidarität in Deutschland (DSiD) (www.dalit.de), is more cautious but does not, however, contradict the analysis.

Still, the question comes up again and again as to whether this extreme discrimination of Christians and Muslims is constitutionally as well as legally truly preset. Furthermore, an additional question is whether in reality this discrimination is also so intensely practiced and directly applicable to many Dalits. Statements from relevant investigations of the condition Dalits nd themselves in serve as the initial rationale for the research project.

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch domiciled in New York at the headquarters of the UN published the rst major human rights report on the condition of Dalits in India (and in Indian communities around the world) in 1999. It was entitled “Broken People – Caste Violence“ and since then has been made available on the web by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at the New York University School of Law presented an opinion regarding reports from India to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2007. This was due to the fact that India’s report had been submitted eight years too late and did not include a single actual infringement against Dalits. The HRW report is considered one of the best reports on the condition of Dalits from the viewpoint of human rights. Regarding the religious freedom of Dalits, there is the following rather lengthy excerpt. (References to excerpts have to do with the entire report, and footnotes are found at the end of the excerpt.)