Christian women from Dalit groups in India have formed a network to curb physical and sexual abuse, foster leadership and promote education for women.
"It is a first network of Dalit Christian women to express
their concerns about discrimination and injustice," Isabella Xavier,
president of the newly formed Dalit Christian Women for Change told
ucanews.com Feb. 24.
She was referring to some 40 Dalit
Christian women from across India who gathered in the southern Indian
city of Bengaluru Feb. 13 to set up this new national-level
organization. That meeting was organized by the Indian bishops'
Commission for Dalits and Indigenous People.
"Dalits, especially women, do not have any identity. We are looked down upon as outcastes even within the church," Xavier said.
means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit and is used to denote groups of
so-called "untouchables" who are outside of India's four-tier caste
Although abolished by law, untouchability in various
forms continue and people of Dalit origin are not allowed to share water
sources, public places and worship spaces. Some parishes in southern
India have reportedly demarcated space for Dalit people in churches and
India has some 27 million Christians and at least 60
percent of them come from Dalit or indigenous backgrounds who struggle
socially and economically.
Christian Dalits suffer further
because the government denies them state benefits set aside for Hindu
Dalits. Indian law allows for job and educational quotas to Hindu Dalits
as a means for affirmative action but denies them to Christians and
Muslims on the grounds that their religions do not recognize the caste
Xavier said that the situation of female Dalits is
further complicated by India's patriarchal society that excludes women
and leaves them vulnerable to abuse. Women have no leadership or means
to speak up for their rights or education. Hence Christian Dalit women
in all 180 Indian dioceses need to build leadership programs.
Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' Commission
for Dalits and Indigenous People, said "it is high time" that issues of
Dalit Christian women are brought forward but added that such a new
network would be a "separate and independent entity" and not be part of
the bishops' office. "But we will promote and support them," he said.
to the International Dalit Solidarity Network, Dalit women experience
are discriminated against because of their caste, economic situation and
their gender. Dalit women often work in modern slavery and are key
targets for trafficking, often used as debt slaves in brick kilns,
garment industries and agriculture or "may also be born into temple
prostitution as 'Devadasis' (sex slaves) ... or be branded prostitutes
due to their caste status."
About 98 percent of those forced into
dehumanising work of removing human waste by hand, are Dalit women and
about 70 percent of Dalit women are illiterate in rural India.
women are therefore considered easy targets for sexual violence and
other crimes, because the perpetrators almost always get away with it,"
according to the website of the network that advocates for Dalit human
rights nationally and internationally.