August 10th is observed every year as ‘Black Day’ by the member Churches of National Council of Churches in India, Theological institutions and Christian organisations across India demanding the deletion of the infamous Presidential Order 1950, Paragraph 3, which excludes Christian and Muslim Dalits from the Scheduled Caste list.
The foundation of state discrimination against Christian Dalits was laid in the 1930s when the then British India Government passed the “Scheduled Caste (SC) Act 1936”. This Act made only ‘Hindu’ Dalits eligible for protective discrimination (SC reservation) and deprived Dalits of other religious faiths, including Christian Dalits from it. In post independent India, the “Presidential Order (SC) 1950” was very similar to the Act of 1936, denying again protective discrimination for Dalit converts to Christianity. This clearly violates the principle of equality and religious freedom guaranteed in the Indian Constitution – Articles 14, 15 and 25. The argument of the Government very often has been that since Christianity is an egalitarian religion where caste has no place, the question of granting protective discrimination to Christian Dalits does not arise! This argument is not just simplistic but ill-motivated. It is a universally known truth, a fact even amply proved by several Central and State Government-appointed Commissions that the phenomenon of caste is so pervasive and wide spread that it has made deep inroads in all religious communities in the country, without exception. Subsequent to the Presidential Order of 1950, the Government of India brought in amendments and granted protective discrimination (SC reservation) to Sikh Dalits and Neo Buddhists, but the plea of Christian and Muslim Dalits has remained a cry in the wilderness until now. The Government of India appointed a National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities to investigate the demand of Christian and Muslim Dalits on 29 October, 2004. Ranganath Mishra, Head of Commission submitted the Commission Statement on 21 May, 2007. According to the Commission Report, paragraph 3 of the Constitution’s Order 1950 should be deleted from the Constitution in order to bring Equality and Justice for Christian and Muslim Dalits. However the Central Government kept silent when 12 state governments along with Union Territories and several political parties had endorsed the proposal to delete Paragraph 3 from the Constitution of India.
Black ay observance at NCCI Secretariat, Nagpur
All NCCI Staff members observed “Black Day” on August 10, 2016 at the NCCI Campus, Nagpur to protest about the continual negligence of the government to the cry for the rights of Dalit Christians and Muslims in the country. Mr. Pradip Bansrior, Executive Secretary- Commission on Dalits, Tribals and Adivasis, highlighted the injustice related to the issue and lamented that the Civil Writ Petition 180/2004 in the Honorable Supreme Court of India praying for the deletion of paragraph 3 of the Presidential Order 1950 has been pending in the Supreme Court of India for the past 12 years, since the Government has not yet replied to the Supreme court. The NCCI Staff members along with the Secretaries assembled in front of the NCCI Secretariat, with black ribbons pinned on their chests/shoulders and held Black Day posters in their hands as a mark of protest. Rev. Christopher Rajkumar hoisted a Black Flag as an affirmation of solidarity with the suffering Christians and Muslims of Scheduled caste origin. The protest came to a close with the word of prayer by Rev. Caesar David.
Black day observance at Bishop’s College, Kolkata
Bishop’s College, Kolkata observed “Black Day” in a unique way. This year the College decided to show a Marathi movie ‘Fandrey’ which describes the life struggles of Dalit brothers and sisters in the midst of caste based discrimination. Students wore black ribbons as a sign of protest on their shoulders for the day and offered a special prayer during their intercessory hour at 12:30pm. The students affirmed that as a Christian community, they will stand united to continue the demand for equal justice for Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims.
Black day observance in Tamilnadu
Mr. Somu Seker, Working Committee member of NCCI-Urban Rural Mission along with NCDC (National Council for Dalits Christians) and other like-minded organisations planned to observe Black Day in a more meaningful and powerful manner this year. They decided to have a poster campaign. 2000 multi colour posters in Tamil language were printed and sent out in various cities like Chennai, Madurai, Trichy, Coimbatore, Thanjavur, Viruthnagar, Rajapalayam, Ramanathapuram, Kumbakonam, Villuppuram, Karaikal, Nagapattinam, Chidambaram etc demanding that the Central Government should include Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Scheduled Caste List and should implement the recommendations of Justice Ranganath Mishra Commission. The Roman Catholic Church of Kumbakonam Diocese organized a grand four-wheeler rally and a public meeting in which more than 200 four- wheelers and 5000 people participated.
Black day observance at Kalvari Church, Ludhiana (Punjab) Diocese of Chandigarh- CNI
Kalvari Church, CNI Ludhiana, Punjab stood for their rights as Christian Dalits and observed 10th August as a Black Day by protesting against the state and central governments. Around 100 – 150 congregation members gathered together to raise their voices against the presidential ordinance which was passed in 1950s. The Diocese of Chandigarh, Church of North India resolved to make Christian Dalits aware of their roots and foundations. As almost every converted Christian in Punjab is a Dalit. While they are growing in faith, their social level of living is still inhuman. Being a minority, Christian Dalits don’t experience the gospel in the social realm. Today Christian Dalits form a large component within the Indian Church. But they are yet to be given opportunities to grow in the society. It is a well known fact that until today the interest shown by the State and Central Governments in the Christian Dalit struggle for justice and equality is far below expectation. The Diocesan Bishop Rt. Rev. Yunas Masih along with Presbyter-in-charge, elders, women, youth and children wore black ribbons as a symbol of protest. They organized a protest rally against the infamous Presidential Order, raising a slogan, “Hame Hamara Hakh Do” which means “Give us our rights!” as a way of demanding justice and equality for Dalit Christians.. They also offered prayers for Justice and Equality and demanded the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims in the Scheduled Castes list
The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary, Kerala
The Malankara Syrian Orthodox Theological Seminary observed Black Day on 10th August and conducted a seminar on the theme: “Empowering the marginalised Communities”. They discussed the “Prevention of Atrocities (SC) Act 1989” as a special measure to give protection to Dalits from caste harassment and atrocities. However, Christian Dalits are not entitled to make use of this vital law since they are not included within its scope. Under these circumstances, they are left totally in the lurch without any effective protection whenever caste violence is committed on them. The seminar impressed upon the students the importance of observing the Black Day for demanding the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Muslims in the Scheduled Caste list.
Faith Theological Seminary, Kerela
The Faith Theological Seminary, Teachers and Students gathered in the chapel on 10th August 2016 to observe Black Day. They observed both Black Day and Tribal and Adivasi ‘Sunday’ together. The Principal of the Seminary highlighted the issues and concerns of Dalits and Tribals. All the students and faculty members joined hands together and prayed for the liberation of Dalits and Adivasis who are most victimized in the Indian society.
Commission on Dalit, Tribal and Adivasi
National Council of Churches in India.