New Delhi: Police today arrested several Christians and Muslims, including the Catholic archbishop of Delhi, who defied prohibitory orders and marched to the parliament house demanding reservation for their brethren from dalit groups.
Several priests, nuns and lay leaders were wounded when the police used canes and water cannons to stop the marchers.
Thousands of Christians from various denominations and Muslim groups gathered at Jantar Mantar, a venue for protest meetings in downtown Delhi, before marching to the parliament house some 1.7 km south.
The march was led among others by Archbishop Anil Couto of Delhi. The police stopped the marchers after a short distance on the Parliament Street that links the legislative house with Connaught Place, the heart of the national capital.
As protest on the Parliament Street is banned the police used force to stop the marchers. However, the Christians insisted on marching to the Parliament House and the police arrested them and took them in a public transport bus to the nearest Parliament Street Police Station.
The arrested also included Church of North India General Secretary Alwan Masih, Evangelical Fellowship of India’s Rev. Vijayesh Lal, Roger Gaikwad of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), president of National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC) Mary John, Delhi Minorities Commission Member A C Michael, National Integration Council Member and All India Christian Council Secretary General John Dayal and Member of Parliament Anwar Ali.
The organizers have lodged a complaint with the women cell of the police station against the Delhi police for male policemen assaulting and beating Catholic nuns and other women with baton and manhandling some of them.
There was no woman police present at the spot, said Rev Richard Howell, general sectary of the Evangelical Fellowship of India.
The arrests evoked widespread condemnation in social media networks.
This was the second time bishops and Church leaders courted arrest for espousing the cause of Dalit people from Christian and Muslim communities. Earlier on November 27, 1997, hundreds of Christians, including late Archbishop Alan de Lastic of Delhi, were taken to the Parliament Street police station.
The latest protest was organized by two Dalit movements in yet another attempt to press the government to include Christians and Muslims of former deprived caste groups for the constitutional rights.
Earlier, announcing the protest march, NCDC’s Mary John, had said Christians, Muslims, Dalit organizations and movements would join secular groups from all over India at the protest.
The National Coordination Committee for Dalit Christian, a forum set up by the NCCI and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, also supported the protest.
John said the groups want the federal United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to take speedy steps to implement the recommendations of commissions it had set up to study the matter. As an immediate step, they want the government to introduce a bill in the ongoing winter session of parliament to amend a constitutional provision that keeps Christians and Muslims out.
The matter had assumed urgency as the country is preparing for the general elections in early 2014, the NCDC leader said.
The UPA government should immediately file a reply (counter affidavit-written statement) to the query of the Supreme Court in a case on this issue and end its “deliberate delaying tactics,” John said in an earlier press note. It said the government had dilly dallied on this matter for nearly nine years.
The Dalit Christians and their Muslim counterparts are denied the SC rights for the past 63 years. The federal government failed to amend the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950, para 3, which discriminates against them solely on the basis of religion. The clause introduced after the Indian Constitution came into force had initially restricted the statutory benefits only to Hindus. It was amended twice later to include Sikhs and Buddhists.
Christians and Muslims now demand another amendment to include them arguing that the discrimination violates the Constitution that treats all citizens as equal, a view upheld by the government commissions.