If Dalits change their official religious identification from Hindu to Christian, they can lose benefits such as access to federal jobs or admission to government-funded universities. In December, the Supreme Court of India delayed hearings for Muslims and Christians demanding full constitutional rights.
Two months earlier, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) had issued a statement of conscience that urged the United States and Indian governments to protect Dalits from physical violence, discrimination, and economic despair.
“It is a compelling human rights issue,” said Richard Cizik, vice president of governmental affairs for the NAE, “and we believe as evangelical Christians that the Dalits need to know we hear their concerns and are willing to come to their defense in a way that is diplomatic and salutary.”
The church has grown significantly in India, thanks partly to an estimated 100,000 mostly native missionaries preaching throughout the country. But discrimination, both official and unofficial, continues against the Dalits.
The NAE’s statement cited a 2005 killing of a Dalit man and a high-caste woman. They were beaten with rods and their throats were slit for marrying outside of their castes. The young woman’s family had hired the killers.