THE Prime Minister of India has apologised to church leaders in
the country after police used batons and water cannons on
protesters demanding an end to discrimination against Dalit
The rally in New Delhi on Wednesday of last week was organised
by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, the National Council
of Dalit Christians, the National Council of Churches in India, and
the Church of North India.
Protesters demanded equal rights for Dalit Christians. Dalits
were formerly known as "untouchables", and are regarded as the
lowest caste in India.
Addressing the rally, the General Secretary for the Church of
North India, Alwan Masih, said that the Presidential Order of 1950,
which denies equal rights to Christians and Muslims of Dalit origin
on the basis of religion, was "violative of the fundamental rights
assured by the Constitution of India".
A report from the Church of North India said that, during a
peaceful march towards the Parliament House, the police "brutally
cane-charged" protesters, before using water cannons to throw "cold
and dirty water with unbearable pressure". A number of protesters
were "badly injured".
Among the many senior church leaders arrested were Mr Masih and
the RC Archbishop of Delhi, the Most Revd Anil Couto. Several monks
and nuns were also arrested. The Church reported that this was the
first time since 1997 that bishops had been arrested for supporting
the Dalit cause.
The day after the protest and arrests, the Prime Minister of
India, Dr Manmohan Singh, met church leaders and apologised for the
use by the police of batons and water cannons.
Last Thursday, the Revd David Haslam, convener of the Churches
Dalit Support Group, said: "This appalling incident shows again how
caste discrimination is still all around in Indian society. Daily
news briefings tell of threats, beatings, rapes, and house-burning.
Dalits - Christian, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu - remain in constant
danger, especially when they stand up to protect their rights."