New Delhi, September 1: A powerful call by a Dalit Bishop for unity amongst Dalit Christian groups, and a pioneering bureaucrats advice to the Church to win support amongst non-Christian Dalits for its cause by voluntarily opening up its education institutions to Scheduled Castes, (SCs), and Other Backward Classes, (OBCs), have marked the current phase of advocacy before the Justice Mishra Commission which ended on Wednesday at a Workshop in Delhi university.
The Workshop organized for the Justice Ranganath Mishra National Commission for Minorities by the Delhi School of Economics was the last in a series of similar seminars seeking expert opinion on the demand for Scheduled Caste status, and its inherent protection under law, made by Christian converts from former untouchable castes. Workshops have been held earlier in Delhi and Mumbai (by the Tata Institute of Social Sciences). The Commission also held hearings in several other towns.
The Ranganath Mishra Commission is to submit its report by October 31, 2006 to the Government, which has promised to pass on its findings to the Supreme Court of India which is hearing a series of Public Interest Litigation, (PIL), petitions on the issue. The Hindutva Parivar, by proxy, is also in the Supreme Court challenging the Christians who want the court to undo the Presidential order of 1950 which restricts affirmative action only to Hindu Dalits (later extended to Buddhists and Sikhs too).
Eminent Dalit activists including priests and lay leaders, as also internationally well-known scholars, had been going from center to center appearing at the workshops and before the Commission giving evidence on the Dalit cause. They include famed sociologist and former Jawaharlal Nehru University Professor T K Oomen, former Catholic Bishops conference executive secretaries Fr. Louduswamy and Fr. Philomen Raj, Jesuits Fr. John Bosco and Fr. Prakash Luis, CSI Bishop Sahayam, Catholic Union National Secretary Advocate Edward Arokiadoss and National Integration Council member Dr. John Dayal (also of the Catholic union and All India Christian Council.)
The Christian community is represented on the NCRLM by Dr Anil Wilson, Principal of St Stephen`s college and former Vice chancellor of Himachal University, Shimla. Its first Member is Prof Tahir Mahmood, former Chairman of the National Commission for Minorities, and the Sikhs are represented by Dr Mohinder Singh. Retired IAS officer Asha das is member secretary.
It was at the final Delhi university workshop that retired IAS officer PS Krishnan, who worked in the Union Welfare Ministry and allied department for almost three decades till 1991, and supervised the grant of SC status to Sikhs and Buddhists, told the Christian hierarchy that it would help the cause of Dalit Christians if it won over the trust of the non-Christian Dalits and OBCs by voluntarily opening up its educational institutions to the deprived communities. The church should not shy away from this as it was not just a Christian duty to a poor and deprived section, but also good strategic canvassing, he added.
He pointed out that Hindutva elements and other opposed to give Dalit rights to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin, for fear of mass conversions or other bigotry, would fire their guns using the shoulders of the Dalit community. The Dalits may not play into the hands of the Hindutva forces, but they were also seeking a gesture from the Church leadership which had so far focused its attention on educating the elite of the Hindu upper castes in its institutions.
"Voluntarily, give them entry. First fill up your seats with Christians Dalits, then give to non-Christian Dalits and OBCs. This will help your own cause,` Krishnan said. Krishnan was among the few who came out strongly in support of the Christian community at the Workshop, together with some Leftist professors.
Even in Delhi, hardcore Hindutva elements had been deliberately invited to the workshops to oppose the Christian demand. They even managed to locate so-called Ambedkarite institutions in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra which had been heavily penetrated by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, (RSS), and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Kishnan also said the government had made a mistake by not consulting he National Scheduled Castes Commission as also the Anthropological Experts` Cell in the office of the Census Commission, which it was legally obliged to do. He feared this lapse could hurt the Christian cause at a later date.
Significantly, Krishnan`s suggestion comes when the Catholic Bishops Conference is firming up its new education policy. The Data submitted at the Workshops will also be of use in fine-tuning the education policy as it has been shown that tribal and Dalit Christians themselves largely remain untouched and uncared for by the much in demand elite Christian schools and colleges.
The call for unity was as powerful. It came from Church of North India`s Bishop Karam Masih, a pioneering activist of the cause, who expressed his sadness at the poor attendance of a rally, held in Delhi on August 24 at Parliament street. The rally was supposed to bring over 40,000 Dalit Christians and their supporters from all over the country, but not more than 200 came, and of them, only 100 were present at the public meeting held in the air-conditioned hall of Delhi`s old St. Thomas Girls School which was given free by the bishop.
The rally, organized by a newly set up group out of Chennai and Trivandrum, was earlier addressed by Catholic Bishops Conference secretary general Archbishop Stanislaus Fernandes of Ahmadabad, Delhi Archbishop Vincent Concessao and representatives of the churches of North and South India, the Mar Thomas Church, the Orthodox Church, the Salvation Army, and other leaders.
Over 50 persons had come from Andhra and about the same number from Tamil Nadu. There were also representatives from Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Several prominent Catholic leaders from Andhra Pradesh had also come, among them Hyderabad Catholic Association president Martin and Sleeva Galilee Bishop Karam Masih was anguished at the poor attendance from north India and the absence of any group from New Delhi. He called upon the Dalit Christian leaders to sink all differences and be united if victory was to be achieved. He reminded them of the rally he and others had helped organize in 1991 which for the first time brought over 100,000 of Dalit Christians to the national capital and marked the high water mark of their campaign for human rights.The Bishops of the Catholic Church, the CNI and the CSI assured the movement all support in the future. (firstname.lastname@example.org)