India's Christian outcasts plan massive hunger strike for equal rights

.- Thousands of Dalit Christians and Muslims known as the “untouchables” or “slumdogs” of India will gather in the streets of New Delhi to protest for equal societal rights.

From July 25-27, over 5,000 local Muslims and Christians of all denominations will fast publicly, and on July 28, march to the palace of India's federal parliament.

The Dalits or “outcasts” are on the lowest level of the social scale in India. Although the country has formally abolished the caste system, it still lives on in cultural practice and social institutions.

Next week's massive protest has been organized by the National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christians, the National Council of Dalit Christians, and the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

At a population of over 250 million people, Dalits comprise nearly one-quarter of India’s society. According to the international advocacy group the Dalit Freedom Network, the group constitutes the largest number of people categorized as victims of modern-day slavery. They also live at the highest risk of violence and human trafficking in the country.

The term “Dalit” translates to “those who have been broken down deliberately by those above them in the social hierarchy.”

Although all Dalits face discrimination in India, Christians and Muslims encounter additional hardships.

The upcoming protests will call on the government to revise current law to extend equal constitutional rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims.

According to paragraph three of India's Constitution or “Scheduled Castes Order,” the law only grants economic, educational and social advancements for Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh Dalits.

Organizers say that because of the the stigmas of untouchability and prejudice, Dalit Christians and Muslims are denied limitless societal opportunities.

But the Catholic bishops of India have said that a bigger obstacle than the constitution is the unwillingness of the country's leaders to extend basic rights to Christian and Mulsim Dalits.

“From what is happening in the political corridor, it is rather evident that it is not the Constitutional mandate which is a hurdle, but the lack of genuine political will of the ruling elite of the country to uphold and concede the Constitutional rights to the Muslim and Christian Dalits,” the bishops wrote in a June 22 online post.

The bishops expressed hope, however, that the protests will increase pressure on government leaders and secure constitutional change.

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