Dalit Christians and Muslims in India are demanding that the government ensure them quotas in jobs and educational institutions, a right enjoyed by their Hindu counterparts.
"The government's thinking that granting rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims will lead to conversion is not right because people do not convert for money," said Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian Catholic bishops' commission for Dalit and indigenous people.
The Catholic priest was one of the main organizers of the protest by some 2,000 Dalit Christians and Muslims from all over the country in New Delhi on March 10.
The protestors were objecting to a federal minister recently saying that granting special rights to Dalit Christians and Muslims "would encourage conversions and weaken the Hindu religion."
Father Devasagayaraj said their demand for quotas is on the basis of social discrimination and not on the basis of religion that Dalits have been facing in the country for generations.
"Dalits have been facing stigma in this country be it Hindus, Muslims or Christians," he said.
Dalits, often the target of oppression and persecution, belong to the former untouchable castes within the Hindu caste system. At least half of India's 25 million Christians are of Dalit origin.
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 system.
Arun Lokhande, a Dalit Catholic, who came from the western Indian state of Maharashtra to take part in the protest, told ucanews.com that Dalits from all religions face poverty, lack education and good jobs, not just Hindus.
Shaik Sattar Saheb, a Dalit Muslim wanted the government to "remove the blot of being Christians and Muslims in the country by giving us our rights."
Around 100 organizations, including the National Council of Dalit Christians, Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, National Council of Churches in India, took part in the protest.
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