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Indian bishops arrested during protest march

Catholic World News - March 05, 2010

Three Catholic bishops were among the activists arrested in Chennai, India on March 5 during a procession calling for an end to discrimination against Christian dalits.

Archbishop A. M. Chinnappa of Madras-Mylapore, Archbishop Peter Fernando of Madurai, and Bishop A Neethingathan of Chinglepet were among hundreds of Christians who had participated in a march covering 500 miles, from across Kanyakumari to Chennai, to dramatize the plight of dalitChristians.

Dalit-- which literally means "trampled upon"-- is the term used for the "untouchables," the members of the lowest castes in traditional Indian society, who lived in segregated neighborhoods and were confined to menial jobs. To improve their social status, in 1950 the Indian government established new programs giving dalits special preference in education and public employment. But these preferences-- originally provided only for Hindu dalits, then later extended to Sikhs and Buddhists-- have never applied to the Christians who account for about 18 million of India's 27 million dalits. The protest marchers, including the bishops, were released after being held until the evening. "We are shocked that this is the way the government is responding to the legitimate democratic struggles of the peace-loving Christian community,” said a spokesman for the Indian bishops' conference, decrying the arrests.

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