India's Supreme Court Delays Dalit Ruling

India's Supreme Court blamed the country's National Scheduled Caste Commission for the latest delay in reaching a ruling in a case involving the civil rights of millions of Christian Dalits ("Untouchables").

The Supreme Court had planned to issue a decision on November 27, but took no action. The court said the Caste Commission, a government- appointed committee charged with studying the issue, again failed to present its findings to the court.

"Once again, I am asking that Christians around the world to pray for the outcome of this case," said K.P. Yohannan, founder and president of Gospel for Asia. "It grieves our hearts to know that these precious people lose their civil rights when they choose to follow Christ. We must intercede on their behalf."

The case, filed in 2004 by India's Center for Public Interest Litigation, seeks an amendment to a 57-year- old law restricting Dalit Christians from participating in India's reservation system. This affirmative action program was instituted in 1950 when the caste system was outlawed. Along with other legal protections, the law sets aside a percentage of government jobs and college enrollment slots for Dalits. The goal of the program is to help Dalits climb out of the centuries of caste-defined abuse.

Shortly after the reservation program was introduced, it was amended to limit those rights to Dalits who follow the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh religions, which are dominant in India. Christianity and Islam are the only faiths excluded from the reservation benefits. If a Christian holds a reservation job or is a student in one of the reserved slots, they can be fired or kicked out of school for choosing to follow Christ.

Opponents of expanding the reservations to Christians argue that the caste system was formerly part of the Hindu faith; therefore the reservations should only apply to Hindus and to Buddhists and Sikhs, who are seen as branches of Hinduism. Christians point out that caste discrimination is a deeply-ingrained aspect of Indian society and is not simply tied to one religion. The caste system was outlawed in 1950, but it still maintains a stronghold over much of society. For that reason, the Dalits are routinely oppressed and subjected to inhumane treatment, regardless of their religion.

The Supreme Court will conduct another hearing on this case in 2008.