Churches meet to express global solidarity with Dalits

By agency reporter
19 Mar 2009

The suffering and injustice experienced by millions of Dalit people and communities "is a challenge to the credibility of the churches' affirmation{s} of faith in India and worldwide," according to the Rev Deenabandhu Manchala who heads the World Council of Churches (WCC) Just and Inclusive Communities Programme.

Manchala was speaking on the eve of the 'Global Ecumenical Conference on Justice for Dalits' which will take place from 21 to 24 March 2009 in Bangkok, Thailand, at the joint initiative of the WCC and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF).

Hosted by the Christian Conference of Asia, the conference will bring together over 100 representatives of churches and church-related organizations from all over the world with a significant representation from Indian churches and members of affected communities.

The first of its kind, this global ecumenical event is intended to gather up experiences and perspectives on the challenge of securing justice for Dalits and similarly affected communities. It will also provide a forum for articulating theological and ethical responses to the struggles of Dalits for survival and identity, focusing on the role of the global church family in relation to these struggles.

An estimated 250 million people in South Asia are Dalits, who are traditionally regarded as "untouchable". This type of social convention can also be found in communities in many other parts of the world. It goes against every Christian, ethical and human rights perspective. "Untouchability and discrimination based on caste affect a significant proportion of the world's people, and are a direct contradiction of the God-given dignity of every human being," noted LWF deputy general secretary the Rev. Chandran Paul Martin.

The Bangkok conference comes just one month before the United Nations' Durban Review Conference, to be convened in Geneva from 20 to 24 April 2009, which will review the implementation of the plan of action adopted by the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance – in which the problem of caste discrimination was not mentioned.

"The entire international community turned a blind eye to the plight of the world's Dalits when they met in Durban, and they are set to do so again in Geneva in April," said Peter Prove of the LWF Office for International Affairs and Human Rights. The Bangkok conference organizers expect the churches of the world to take up the challenge that the governments of the world have refused to confront.

The churches in India have taken the issue of justice for Dalits as a core priority for their ongoing mission and have been supported by the National Council of Churches in India, the WCC and the LWF. These organizations have actively promoted the empowerment of Dalits in church and society by providing theological and ethical responses to the Dalit struggle and in advocating the elimination of [the] centuries-old discrimination on the basis of caste.

These ecumenical initiatives have also been instrumental in initiating many community-based programmes for Dalit empowerment. Recent years have also seen a growing mobilization of civil society in India and elsewhere for the human rights of Dalits.

Representatives of Dalit social movements and national and international coalitions are also attending the Bangkok conference. The principal aim of this historic event is to affirm and strengthen the solidarity of the global ecumenical movement with the Indian churches and other organizations that are committed to the cause of justice for the Dalits.

Additional information about the conference on the LWF website: http://www.lutheranworld.org/What_We_Do/OIahr/OIAHR-Dalit_Justice.html

Read more about WCC work in solidarity with Dalits: http://www.oikoumene.org/?id=3249

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