At a conference convened by the National Council of Churches in India and the World Council of Churches last weekend, 31 churches condemned the concept of “untouchability”, which is still practiced in India today, despite being abolished from India’s constitution in 1950.
In a joint affirmation of faith, the churches described casteism as a “sin, apostasy and rebellion against God”, and a “crime against human beings”.
They hit out at the treatment of Dalits, who rank lowest in the caste system and are often given only manual labour work to do, including the removal of human faeces from dry latrines.
“We are ashamed that we as Christians have remained silent while our brothers and sisters have been violated and killed,” the church leaders state.
They are calling upon Christians around the world to make Lent 2011 a time of “purging caste” from church communities.
The “resilience and resistance” of Dalits were, they said, an invitation to the global church “to join in solidarity to denounce and resist the ‘spiritual forces of evil’”.
The Rev Dr Deenabandhu Manchala, WCC programme executive for justice and inclusive communities, said the conference had been “remarkable” in enabling Indian churches to name the caste system as evil and caste discrimination as a sin and crime.
“Equally important, it has moved from building on Dalit suffering to Dalit resistance and determination to dismantle an oppressive social order,” he said.