Indian Churches call major conference on caste

Methodist minister Revd David Haslam is to attend aninternational church meeting on caste discrimination taking placein Delhi from October 22-25.

Caste discrimination is believed to be the largest systemic humanrights abuse in the world today, affecting up to 300 millionpeople. The conference aims to explore the degree to which thisdiscrimination still exists in the churches, and what should bedone about it.

Mr Haslam, who this year received the MBE for services to communityrelations, commented: "We would like to think that the trade we'reinvolved in and the products we buy from India are not tainted withthe unpleasantness of a system which discriminates against so many.If the Indian Churches are being courageous enough to face up tothis issue, the UK Churches should be doing as much as we can, withprayer 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 thetreatment of Dalits, the so-called 'untouchables'. Thousands ofDalits were evicted from Dehli to remove the sight of offensiveslums 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 Gamesvenues, with Dalits being used to do the worst elements of thebuilding and cleaning work in the desperate efforts to geteverything ready for the athletes' arrival.

Revd Haslam and colleagues from Germany and Switzerland will speakon the international campaign to support Dalit communities who arepressing for an end to the discrimination which regards them aspolluted for life. Those who protest are often subjected tothreats, beatings and even attacks which can end in death. Theconference will be discussing the recent attacks in Kandhamal inwhich dozens of Christians were killed, and where few perpetratorshave yet been brought to justice.

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