Church leaders in India condemn decision to deny equality to low-caste Christians and Muslims

Church leaders in India have spoken out against the decision to deny equal rights to low-caste Christians and Muslims.

ReutersDalits are the group formerly known as the "untouchables".

Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs who are born into the lower castes have been granted special privileges to help them break free of discrimination.

The government has refused to give the same rights to low-caste Christians and Muslims, however, apparently out of a fear of encouraging conversions.

One official spoke of fears that it would "hurt the Hindu religion." This prioritisation of Hinduism over Christianity and Islam shows that India "isn't entirely the pluralistic and secular nation" it claims itself to be, said International Christian Concern.

Church leaders wanted Dalit Christians and Muslims to be granted quotas for government jobs and in education.

Samuel Jaikumar of the National Council of Churches in India told UCANews: "This is very humiliating for Dalit Christians and Muslims." 

Dalits are those considered "untouchables" by the higher castes. Dalit Hindus can however receive benefits, but Christian and Musim Dalits cannot.

Thawar Chand Gehlot, federal minister for social justice, was reported as saying the Indian government feared that giving special rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims "would encourage conversions" and "weaken the Hindu religion".

Dalit Christians are now planning a nationwide rally in March to demand equal rights.

There are thought to be about 25 million Dalit Christians in India.  

International Christian Concern said: "It has left millions of Dalits to have to decide between choosing to follow Jesus as their Lord and Savior and receiving government benefits that have the ability to take their families out of poverty. All added up, this discrimination has affected the official appearance of India's religious landscape."

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