CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Archbishop of Delhi arrested

New DELHI (SE): Archbishop Anil Couto was arrested in New Delhi, India, on December 11 during what he claimed was a peaceful march made up of Christians and Muslims in defence of the rights of the Dalit people (formerly known as Untouchables).

Antony Arulraj, a field worker in India from the Hong Kong-based Asian Centre for the Progress of Peoples, told the Sunday Examiner that it was inspiring to see the archbishop walking at the front of the rally and facing the police head on, as they lashed out with their lathi (batons) and attacked the people with water cannon.

All who were arrested were held at a police station near the parliament building. Several other people were reported to have been injured.

Arulraj said that the people were buoyed on their way to the parliament buildings when they were able to walk through a police roadblock at Jantar Mantar with ease, but became angry when they were attacked with lathi-wielding police and water cannon further down the road.

He said that their mood became worse when they saw the archbishop being beaten, but managed to hold their discipline. “I saw one protester picking up something to hurl at the police,” he related, “but was immediately stopped by others.”

Oswald Cardinal Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, said, “The excessive violence on our bishops, priests and nuns (sisters) was a disgrace. They were arrested and detained because they fought for the rightful demands of the country’s poor and marginalised.”

AsiaNews reported that in addition to Archbishop Couto, the general secretary from the Anglican Church of North India, Alwan Masih; Roger Gaikwad, from the National Council of Churches in India; the president of the National Council of Dalit Christians, Mary John; a member of the Delhi Minorities Commission, A. C. Michael; the general secretary of the All India Christian Council, John Dayal; and member of parliament, Anwar Ali, were all arrested as well.

“The Catholic Church of India is deeply saddened by the detention of our clergy, religious and other people, who were merely asking for justice and equality for Dalit Christians and Muslims,” Archbishop Couto was quoted as saying.

Arulraj said that the rally responded to the police violence by daring them to arrest them. Dayal was among the first to be put inside the police bus, but he continued to wave the wooden cross that he was carrying through the window.

He quoted one person at the rally as saying, “We wanted to ask the government to furnish a reply to a People’s Interest Litigation filed before the Supreme Court, but they sent police to beat us on the streets.”

The litigation is asking for Christian and Muslim Dalits to be granted reservation, which refers to a percentage of places in schools and other areas of society being reserved for what are referred to as backward groups.

Christians and Muslims are arguing that it is not sufficient just to carve a percentage out of the share that was granted to the Buddhist Dalits in 1956 and the Sikhs in 1990, but separate allotments need to be made, according to population ratios.

The current law states that the total reservation percentage must remain below 50, but the Dalit people want this increased.

A delegation headed by the former archbishop of Delhi, Archbishop Vincent Concessao, visited the prime minister, Manmohan Singh,  on the following day.

The archbishop told the prime minister that by dithering on the issue, his government was stoking the anger of the people. He encouraged him to act decisively.

Singh apologised to the delegation saying that violence has no place in public life in India.

 

This is the first time since 27 November 1997 that bishops and religious leaders have been arrested for embracing the Dalit cause.

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