It is nearly impossible for a Dalit (“Untouchable”) to find a decent job. Many resort to digging through trash to find food or something they can resell.

The civil rights of Christians and Muslims among India’s 300 million Dalits (“Untouchables”) remain uncertain after the country’s Supreme Court again delayed taking action in an ongoing case. In mid-January, the court’s judges voted to wait another six weeks before making a ruling. This window of time will provide opportunity for a government organization to give the court data outlining how to include Christian and Muslim Dalits in an important affirmative action plan.

The current affirmative action legislation, outlined in India’s Constitution, reserves a percentage of government jobs and college entry positions for Dalits. The reservations were implemented in 1950 when the caste system was officially outlawed in India. Dalits who practice the Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Buddhist religions qualify for the reservations. Christian and Muslim Dalits do not qualify and are stripped of their rights under the reservation system once they receive Christ or choose to follow Islam.

Many in India support this loophole in the law, arguing that the caste system was a Hindu creation and so only those who follow that faith, or related faiths, should receive benefits. In reality, the social structure created by the caste system permeates the country’s secular society as well.

There are an estimated 300 million Dalits in India. When they become Christians, they lose some of their civil rights.

India’s Center for Public Interest Litigation filed a suit in 2005 challenging the law. The case has taken a number of twists and turns as it has wound its way through the courts. There have been numerous delays in the case as the court waits for reports and rulings from various committees and commissions. The most recent recommendation in the case came December 18, when a court-appointed commission and a government committee both recommended that Dalit Christians and Muslims should remain eligible for the reservations.

Read about two previous delays in this case.

Learn about the background on the Dalits and the reservation system.

Where did the caste system originate?