Religion must be de-linked from caste, in order to provide Dalit Christians and Muslims an opportunity to benefit from the schemes designed to achieve social and economic equality, speakers at a public meeting have stressed.

Participating in the Black Flag Day observation to demand SC status to Dalits among Christians and Muslims, MJM Mahalingam, Vice-Principal, Loyola College, who is also the co-ordinator of the Black Flag Day, said the Indian Constitution Scheduled Caste Order 1950 restricted the classification only to Scheduled Castes who were Hindus. While it was amended in 1950, and later in 1990, to accommodate SCs who had converted to Sikhism and Buddhism, the same had not been extended to Christians and Muslims.

L. Yesumarian, lawyer and founder, Dr. Ambedkar Centenary Movement, said the Caste system had permeated into society that even those forsaking Hinduism is not able to escape the effects of caste-wise discrimination and segregation. Even within the Catholic Church, discrimination, segregation, and untouchability of Dalit Christians continued as issues to be addressed. The Tamil Nadu Bishops Council had estimated that 65 per cent of all Catholics in Tamil Nadu, and 75 per cent of Catholics in the country were Dalits, he added.

A.M. Chinnappa, Archbishop of Madras Mylapore Diocese, said in addition to aiming to reap the ‘fruits' of such a caste-based society, in terms of reservation and special status, it is also essential to get to the root of the issue and eliminate caste.

D. Pandian, State Secretary, Communist Party of India, said the demand was one of basic rights. Even with conversion, things do not change at all and caste follows people up to the grave. He also promised that the party would espouse this cause, taking it up with the Centre and State governments.

Parveen Sultana, lecturer, Basheer Ahmed Syed College for Women, said the Sachar Committee report had indicated that not more than five per cent of Muslims in the country could be categorised as “Above poverty line.” It is the duty of the government to help them, she added.

Ezra Sargunam, former Minority Commission chairperson, B. Jeyaraj, Principal, and K. Amal, Rector, Loyola College, A. Victor, Chennai Mission Superior, also joined the students of Loyola who participated in the signature campaign, slogan shouting and later, the public meeting held at the gates of the college.

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