According to India’s caste system, the Dalit class scrape at the bottom. The Indian government have made the plight of the Dalits no better by forcing those who are Christian to convert back to Hinduism in order to receive governmental benefits. Often referred to as the ‘untouchables’, the Dalits are severely oppressed and live in extreme poverty. Those who profess to be Christian are not only a target for discrimination and persecution but face government oppression, as state officials declare that only Hindu Dalits are entitled to government program benefits, proving a life and death situation for the estimated 15 million Christian Dalits; as such financial relief enables many recipients poverty alleviation.
This deeply religiously-politicised action leaves millions of Christian Dalits to choose between following their faith or denouncing it, in a country where Christians have been systematically persecuted for 65 years. The entrenching of the Schedule Caste Order 1950 which denies routine aid to Dalit Christians is effectively resulting in the denial of the Christian faith. International Christian Concern (ICC) cites the example of a Dalit Christian who they name ‘Mr Batnam’, in which he implores the pastor of his church to write a letter to the government, stating he and his family are not members of any church.
‘I need this letter in order to show the government that we are low caste Hindus so that my son can do higher studies under the Schedule Caste Reservation Quota. I do not want my children to struggle like we do, as unskilled labourers barely meeting the ends. I want my children to study and to escape the struggles that we’re going through because we’re uneducated. Myself and my family could be denied the Scheduled Caste benefits because I go to church and believe in Jesus. We found ourselves in a worse position being Christians. As Hindus we had no status but at least we were given Scheduled Caste benefits.’
Batnam’s situation is not unique. This correlation between government benefits to Indian Dalits and religious identity is a very convenient method of de-incentivising primarily Hindu Dalits from converting to Christianity. It also serves as an enticement used by Hindu radicals to convert Christian Dalits, using the lure of Scheduled Caste benefits. Christian rights activist Franklin Ceaser states that governmental manipulation is unconstitutional.
‘The system is against the fundamental rights provided to all Indian citizens in the constitution. The Presidential Order of 1950 has destroyed fundamental and constitutional rights of Dalits from Christian and Muslim backgrounds, this benefit must be delinked from religion.’
This new policy should be viewed as nothing less than an aggressive government campaign in spreading Hinduism and given the dominance of Hindu nationals currently in power and led by Modi, it is highly unlikely the situation will change any time soon.