When Christians all over the world engage in prayer this coming week (18-25 January), their thoughts will be with India’s Dalits – millions of whom share their faith, but are, nevertheless, still subjected to caste discrimination.
The theme of this year’s global ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’ which begins today is the continuing struggle for human dignity of India’s Dalit population.
The material for Prayer Week, published jointly by the World Council of Churches and the Vatican, does not shy away from the fact that caste discrimination is a serious issue within Christian communities in India. An estimated 80 per cent of India’s Christians – or as many as 24 million people – are of Dalit background.
“Christian disunity in India within churches and between them is further accentuated by the caste system. Casteism, like apartheid, racism and nationalism poses severe challenges for the unity of Christians in India,” it notes.
The situation of the Dalit community in India is compared to the situation “facing the people of God in the time of Micah”, an Old Testament prophet. He strongly criticised those in political and religious authority who abused their power and stole from the poor. The headline of Prayer Week is a Micah quotation: “What does God require from us?”
The Student Christian Movement of India (SCMI) marked its centenary in 2012 and was asked to prepare the resources for Prayer Week. Given “the great injustice to Dalits in India and in the Church,” SCMI – in cooperation with the All India Catholic University Federation and the National Council of Churches in India – decided to focus on the plight of the millions of people who are subjected to caste discrimination.