New Delhi (UCAN): A church official in India said the burning to death of two dalit children was the latest in a series of atrocities against the former lower-caste group.
The church "sternly condemns the sad incident," Father Z. Devasagayaraj, secretary of the Indian bishops' Office for Dalit Development, said in an Oct. 23 statement.
"It is an inhuman act of which our nation should be ashamed. There have been repeated atrocities against the dalits in different parts of India," the priest said.
A 2-year-old boy and his 9-month-old sister were set on fire early Oct. 21, in Faridabad town, some 35 kilometers outside Delhi. The children's mother remains in critical condition with burns over 70 percent of her body; the father escaped with minor injuries.
In a statement, the Indian bishops' conference called on the state and federal governments "to provide adequate security and protection” for the dalits and to protect their "basic human rights."
Father Devasagayaraj said the attack stems from India's traditional caste system, where dalits were seen as "lower humans," with a prevailing attitude that they can be "attacked, raped and killed."
"It is taken for granted that dalits can be attacked with impunity. For centuries, they lived a life of subjugation and servitude. The systems dominated by higher castes still don't take violence against them seriously," Father Devasagayaraj said.
The country has outlawed untouchability and "introduced laws to protect their rights and ensure their social welfare but a mind-set seeing these people as lower humans continues," he said.
He said his office works with other civil society groups for a "change in the social attitude" and to help the government implement the laws and social service programs.
The victims' father, identified only as Jitender, told media from his hospital bed that they were sleeping when gas was poured through the window.
"I smelled the petrol and tried to wake up my wife but by then the fire had started." With bandaged hands, he wept saying he could not save his children.
Police have detained three suspects. Police suspect the murder was revenge for an old land-related dispute, Indian media reported.