ASIA/INDIA - Presidential vote, challenge between two Dalit candidates: who will defend the rights of minorities?

Friday, 7 July 2017 dalit   religious minorities   ethnic minorities   politics   human rights   hinduism   violence   citizenship   civil society  

New Delhi (Agenzia Fides) - Two seventy-year-old leaders who represent the dalit community (the untouchables) will run for president of the Indian Union in the upcoming July 17th elections. In India, the President of the nation has a purely representative role, while the executive power belongs to the Prime Minister. The two main political coalitions - the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), currently in power with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), headed by the Congress Party - have formalized the choice of their candidates and both present a dalit.
The NDA has chosen Ram Nath Kovind, former Mp and governor of the state of Bihar, while the opposition has chosen a woman, Meira Kumar, former president of the parliament and constitutional lawyer.
With regards to Ram Nath Kovind, observers recall his positions close to Hindu extremists. Fr. Suresh Mathew OFM Cap commented to Fides: "One should not look at the presidential vote as a confrontation between two Dalits or between a man and a woman. It is rather a battle between two divergent and distinct ideologies. Kovind has a 'saffron' agenda (the color of Hindu radical groups), Kumar is a person who defends the ideals and values of our constitution, which is a laical".
"Ram Nath Kovind does not know that the first mosque was born in India when the Prophet was still alive and that Christianity was brought to India by one of Jesus' disciples. The President has the role of guardian of the Constitution. It is a task that requires wisdom, love for the people, regardless of their political affiliation. Whoever wins must be able to protect and have the Constitution as supreme reference, always", adds A.J. Philip, Indian Christian politologist, interviewed by Fides.
"The fact that both candidates are dalits makes us think that the new President will understand more than anyone else the problems still tied to castes in India. There is still violence on Dalits in the country", recalls Catholic journalist John Dayal, committed to minority rights. Dayal remembers some hot spots that still affect the life of the Dalits: lynching and extrajudicial executions that remain unpunished; lack of freedom of faith because if they change Hindu religion, they lose some social benefits. Dayal adds: "We ask candidate Kovin, who remains the favorite: do you think that Indian Muslim citizens and Christians, defined as 'worshipers of foreign religions', will continue to enjoy full citizenship, including the freedom to practice and preach their faith?".
According to several observers, Indian religious minorities prefer Meira Kumar as a woman offers more guarantees of respect and protection of constitutional rights that are sanctioned but too often unfulfilled or not applied. (PN-PA) (Agenzia Fides, 7/7/2017)


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