India: Christians, Muslims observe “Black Day”

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SHAFAQNA - Christians and Muslims in Delhi on Monday observed “Black Day” to mark the 65th anniversary of signing of a presidential order that excluded their Dalit brethren from reservation.

Some 200 people wore black badges and demonstrated in front of New Delhi’s Sacred Heart Cathedral to demand the repeal of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order India’s first president Rajendra Prasad signed on August 10, 1950.

The order initially restricted to Hindus the constitutional benefits for former untouchable castes such quota in government jobs and educational institutions. The parliament amended the order in 1956 to include Sikhs and in 1990 to extend the benefits to Buddhists. Christians and Muslims have been excluded under the pretext that their religions do not recognize the caste system.

The demonstrators shouted slogans such as “We demand justice,” and “We will fight to death until our demands are met” while their leaders explained the decades-long struggle by Christians and Muslims to rectify what they termed as the violation of India’s Constitution.

They asserted that the presidential order is against the secular nature of the country as enunciated by the Preamble of the Constitution.

It also violates the Article 14 of the constitution that upholds equality before the law, article 15 that prohibits discrimination of any citizen on ground of only religion, Article 25 that guarantees freedom of conscience and freedom to profess any religion and Article 26 that promotes equality before the law and equal protection of the law.

The order is also against the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which India is a party, they pointed out.

The demonstration was jointly organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) and the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC).

Every year, the Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims observe August 10 as Black Day throughout India. A petition seeking the deletion of paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Caste) order 1950 is pending in the Supreme Court for the past Eleven years.

The demonstrators noted that several government-appointed commissions that looked into the matter have recommended extending reservation to Dalit Christians and Muslims.

The national commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, popularly known as Justice Ranganath Misra Commission, found the Constitution Scheduled Caste Order 1950 paragraph 3 as unconstitutional and “a black letter written outside the Constitution introduced through the back door by an executive order.”

The National Commission for Minorities has also recommended that Scheduled Caste status must be extended to the Christians and Muslims of Scheduled Caste Origin. The national Commission for Scheduled Castes too has given its consent, noted a press release.

A press release was signed by Fr. Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the CBCI Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Castes, Reverend Roger Gaikward, NCCI general secretary, Franklin Casear Thomas, national coordinator of NCDC and Fr Victor Immanuel, secretary of Delhi Catholic archdiocese’s commission for Scheduled Castes, Backward Castes and Tribals.

They noted that at least 12 state governments and Union Territories have recommended to the federal government to the Scheduled Caste status to Dalit Christians and Muslims.

While the legislative assembly of Bihar recommended the same in 2000, itsUttar Pradesh counterpart did so six years later. The Andhra Pradesh (united) assembly passed a similar resolution in 2009.

Most of the national and regional political parties have supported the demand by writing letters to the prime minister and other concerned authorities, the Church leaders noted.

The demonstrators demanded that the federal government should take initiative to resolve the issue immediately. They also want the government to give “appropriate answer to the query of the Supreme Court based on the recommendation of Justice Ranganath Misra Commission’s report.”

The press release noted that churches of all the denominations throughout India observed the Black Day on Monday. They offered special Mass and prayers, organized meetings, rallies, candlelight vigils and other demonstrations and submitted memoranda to local authorities demanding reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims.

The protestors included Reverend Gaikward, Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi, Bishop Collin C Theodor, secretary of the North West India Council of Churches, Alwan Masih, general secretary of the Church of North India and political leaders such as Ali Anwar Ansari of the Janata Dal United and J D Seelam of the Congress party.

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