[USPG Yearbook/North India Church Review] In the caste system of Indian Hinduism the Dalits - meaning "slaves of the upper caste" - are excluded from society because of their lowly status and for many are "untouchables". Christian Dalits also suffer a degree of social and legal discrimination that is not imposed on Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits.
While three quarters of the Christians in India are Dalits, in a sad reflection of the secular culture the church often perpetuates the caste system, with separate pews, services and even churches for Dalits.
The Church of North India (CNI) was among the first of the Indian churches to take official action on the issues of Dalits. Several resolutions have been passed at Synods, recognising the problems that Dalits face both inside and outside the church, and committing the church to action for the restoration of equal right to Dalit Christians.
CNI has called on the Indian government to amend various legislation that discriminates against Dalits, and especially Christian Dalits. It has also set in motion a process to examine CNI's own attitude to Dalits, with a Joint Consultation held in February between the church and the Dalit Solidarity Peoples.
Despite the problems that continue, Dalits have greeted Christianity as liberation, being known after baptism as "Jesudoss" or "Christudoss" - "slaves of Jesus Christ." The influence of Dalits has helped the Indian church to see the Gospel as liberation from oppression. This in turn has promoted a world view that takes issues of equality, justice, tolerance and inclusiveness seriously.