India's Bishops Praise U.S. Proposal on Castes

Resolution Decries Plight of Untouchables

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MUMBAI, India, MAY 15, 2007, Zenit.org - The bishops of India welcomed a resolution placed before the U.S. Congress that asked the lawmaking body to encourage an end to India's caste system.



Republican Congressman Trent Franks of Arizona introduced the resolution May 2. In his presentation he called on "the Indian government and the world community to look with compassion upon India's untouchables and reach out to one of the most oppressed peoples on earth.''

In his address to the members of Congress, Franks called the caste system an "abhorrent form of persecution and segregation" that is particularly harsh on India's Dalits -- members of the "untouchable" caste -- especially Dalit women.

"This Congress," Franks argued, "must urge an end to the social discrimination and injustice faced by the nearly 250 million people known as Dalits in India."

Franks told ZENIT why he brought this issue to light now: "The plight of the 'untouchables' in India is truly one of the most critical human rights issues of our time.

"Millions of these individuals are regarded as less than human and live in some of the most wretched conditions known to humanity.

"We are compelled by the unalienable truth that all men are created equal to contend for the rights of the poor and the oppressed, and it is to that end that I have and will continue to stress the urgency of the Dalits' cause to Congress and to the world."

Indian response

Although the resolution has not been adopted, AsiaNews reported that the Catholic bishops' conference of India expressed its gratitude that the issue was brought to public attention.

Father Arokiaraj Cosmon, the executive secretary of the episcopal commission on Dalits, explained the tragic nature of the caste system, highlighted in the resolution.

"Dalits' conditions are well-known both at home and abroad," the priest said. "They are economically and socially ostracized, denied equal access to education and political life.

"Out of 250 million of them, there are 16 million who are twice as penalized because they are Christian."

"Most violence visited upon Dalits affects women," Father Cosmon continued. "They cannot report crimes, especially sex crimes, or ask for police assistance because what they say is not taken into consideration.

"Most lawyers and police officers come from the upper castes and are not well disposed towards victims."

Still, Father Cosmon insisted that education could aid the plight of the untouchables: "While Dalit women are the most vulnerable group in society, if they can get an education and become aware of their rights, they will be better placed to educate their entire family and contribute to the necessary social and economic empowerment of all Dalits."