Indian bishops call for an end to caste system

Ekklesia discusses the challenges for Christian churches in India when facing the injustices caused by the caste system in their country. Even though the Indian constitution forbids discrimination based on caste, discrimination including violence and rape continues. Christian bishops have called for repentance as well as stricter enforcement of the law.

As the United Nations declares caste-based discrimination a human rights violation, Indian Christian leaders have called on the churches to confess that the caste system has not been fully removed from their own communities.

The call came as senior representatives of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) met last week to discuss the churches’ response to poverty and exclusion on the International Day of Prayer for Peace.

They called the UN declaration a “small but significant step forward” on the issue of caste discrimination – an issue on which campaigners from different religious traditions have been active for a number of years and on which humanists and non-religious groups in Europe and beyond have recently been mobilising.

“Women are being raped, children are undernourished, food is not available to everyone and natural resources are not being distributed equally. Although the Constitution has laws to protect these people, in practise it is not happening,” he added.

The Indian Constitution first outlawed discrimination on the basis of caste in 1955 with the introduction of the Anti-Untouchability Act, renamed the Civil Right Act in 1979. Further protection for the outcast Dalits and tribal Adivasi people came with the Prevention of Atrocities Act in 1989. However, according to church leaders and social activists in India, the implementation of these laws has been almost non- existent.

Bishop Dr D.K. Sahu, NCCI General Secretary, commented: “The Indian church has to make a confession first. If you are alienated in society and you become a Christian, you are alienated again. We tell them, ‘if you become Christian then there is no discrimination’, but once they become Christian they are looked down upon by Christians of higher castes. A higher caste Christian will never marry a Dalit Christian, yet we say we are all one.”

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