22 October 2010

Indian Churches call major conference on caste

Methodist minister Revd David Haslam is to attend an international church meeting on caste discrimination taking place in Delhi from October 22-25.

Caste discrimination is believed to be the largest systemic human rights abuse in the world today, affecting up to 300 million people. The conference aims to explore the degree to which this discrimination still exists in the churches, and what should be done about it.

Mr Haslam, who this year received the MBE for services to community relations, commented: "We would like to think that the trade we're involved in and the products we buy from India are not tainted with the unpleasantness of a system which discriminates against so many. If the Indian Churches are being courageous enough to face up to this issue, the UK Churches should be doing as much as we can, with prayer and resources, to help."

The conference follows hard on the heels of the Commonwealth Games, around which Revd Haslam and colleagues have been protesting at the treatment of Dalits, the so-called 'untouchables'. Thousands of Dalits were evicted from Dehli to remove the sight of offensive slums for visitors to the Commonwealth Games.

Large sums of money were also taken from a special 'upliftment' programme for Dalits to pay for construction work around the Games venues, with Dalits being used to do the worst elements of the building and cleaning work in the desperate efforts to get everything ready for the athletes' arrival.

Revd Haslam and colleagues from Germany and Switzerland will speak on the international campaign to support Dalit communities who are pressing for an end to the discrimination which regards them as polluted for life. Those who protest are often subjected to threats, beatings and even attacks which can end in death. The conference will be discussing the recent attacks in Kandhamal in which dozens of Christians were killed, and where few perpetrators have yet been brought to justice.

On return Mr Haslam will report back to the Methodist Church in Britain and the Dalit Solidarity Network UK about the next steps to be taken in the campaign to end this discrimination. It also occurs in the UK and appeared for the first time in UK law when a 'trigger clause' on caste was inserted in the Equality Bill which became law at the beginning of May.

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