an unprecedented demonstration this week. About 800 Dalits, previously known as the ‘untouchables’, comprising those of Christian, Hindu and Buddhist backgrounds protested in New Delhi's famous Parliament Street, urging the Indian government to provide Dalit Christians with the same rights as other Dalits, organizers said.
Dalits are seen as the 'lowest caste' in India's ancient system of Hinduism, although authorities have tried to combat discrimination by providing preferential treatment in for instance job search cases. Christian Dalits have so far been exempt from what is known as the 'scheduled-caste status.'
Advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which supported Monday's rally, said that although demonstrators were "applauding the positive reforms of India ’s United Progressive Alliance government, they also called upon the government to guarantee the protection of the Christian minority which has experienced widespread violence throughout 2006.:
Human rights groups have expressed especially concern about the situation of states ruled by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), where they claim police have often been inactive or even complicit in the attacks.
This week's Dalit demonstration organized by the All India Christian Council (AICC) and the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organizations who sent a joint memorandum outlining their concerns to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress Party leader Sonia Gandhi.
The "demonstration of solidarity between Dalits of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian background shows that this is a matter of concern not only to Christians but to the whole Dalit community," said CSW Advocacy Director, Alexa Papadouris. "It also disproves the assumption that Hindu Dalits do not support equal rights for Dalit Christians," the official said.
CSW has urged the Indian government to "end restrictions on the religious freedom" of Dalits resulting from what it called India's "unequal" reservation policy and state-level anti-conversion laws, "and to protect Dalit Christians from violent attacks often committed with impunity”.
Aid workers say there are about 300 million Dalits living in India, accounting for roughly 30% of the total population of over 1 billion people. Nine out of 10 Dalits live below the poverty line, a total of 270 million people, according to estimates. Most Dalits are Hindu's, but several
Christian groups have reported that Christianity is rapidly spreading within the Dalit community. (With BosNewsLife Research and reports from India).