100,000 Dalit Christians to Attend 'World Religious Freedom Day' Rally in India

One hundred thousand Dalits (formerly known as 'untouchables') are expected to participate in a rally calling for genuine religious freedom in India. The rally will be held in Nagpur, India, on Saturday 14 October 2006.

|PIC1|The 'World Religious Freedom Day' rally will protest against the continued oppressiveness of the caste system and the proliferation of state-level anti-conversion legislation, tells Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).

The demonstration is co-sponsored by CSW partner, the All India Christian Council (AICC), and marks the fiftieth anniversary of Dalit icon Dr B.R. Ambedkar's ceremonial departure from the Hindu caste system by embracing Buddhism. It will include a mass conversion ceremony, led by Dalit leader and politician Dr Udit Raj, chair of the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organisations.

The rally is supported by Buddhist, Christian, Muslim, Sikh and Hindu leaders, and will be attended by international observers. High-profile attendees will include legislators and Bollywood actors.

The event will be preceded on 13 October 2006 by an invitation-only symposium for key Indian activists and international partners to discuss global efforts to emancipate Dalits.

The rally takes place against the backdrop of increased antagonism to conversions from Hindu extremists.

|QUOTE|During 2006, the opposition Hindu Nationalist Party (BJP) has either introduced or strengthened existing anti-conversion legislation in each of the states in which it holds power. The conversions of Dalits and other vulnerable groups are particularly restricted, with four of the six anti-conversion laws stipulating harsher punishments where the convert is a Dalit, tribal, female or a minor.

Hindu extremist groups have also targeted Dalit converts to minority religions, particularly Christianity, in violent attacks which are often committed with impunity.

Dr Joseph D'Souza, President of the AICC and Dalit Freedom Network (DFN), said, "India's Dalits are taught by the Hindu caste system that their fight against injustice is contempt for the divine. I urge the global community to stand in solidarity with the Dalits as they seek liberation from caste-based discrimination and modern-day slavery."

"We believe this peaceful rally will be the start of nationwide movement promoting the most basic human right - the freedom of conscience and the ability to choose one's religion. The citizens of India will overturn these anti-conversion laws through an unrelenting campaign in the media, in the courts, and in civic life".

CSW National Director, Stuart Windsor, stated, "We fully support the AICC and the All India Confederation of Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes Organisations in their fight against caste-based oppression and anti-conversion legislation. It is abhorrent that the Dalits are consistently denied the right to religious freedom through discriminatory legislation, social pressure and outright violence. We join with our partners in a call for true religious freedom in India."