Dalit Dalits who become Christians have been denied the opportunity to take part in the reservation system which helps to attend college or obtain certain government jobs.

The Supreme Court of India is scheduled to conduct a hearing today (July 19) on a case that would remove a legal loophole that limits the civil rights of India's Dalit ("Untouchable") Christians and Muslims.

The case, which was filed in 2004 by India's Center for Public Interest Litigation, challenges the practice of excluding Christians and Muslims from the reservation system for college enrollment and government jobs. The reservation system sets aside a certain number of college enrollment slots and government jobs for the country's 300 million Dalits and 400 million others who are classified as "Other Backward Castes."

The delay in reaching a verdict in the case has led to the suspension of a government program which reserves spots for low-caste students in the country's medical, engineering and professional schools. The two judges who made the decision to suspend that program in March said it could not be implemented until the full court could agree on its legality, in light of the case involving the reservation system. The judges also questioned the government's decision to base the number of reserved slots on the 1931 Indian Census—the last one that included caste as a category.

Gospel for Asia leader Simon John in New Delhi, India, says this latest action could cause a setback to the entire case.

"Many feel the ruling, though based on a seemingly justified proposition that no current data exists, will hinder the inclusion of Other Backward Castes," Simon John said.

“The agency filing the lawsuit argues that the caste system has been part of life in India for more than 3,000 years and that its practices are deeply ingrained in the country's social traditions.”

The disparities date back 57 years to when the Indian government created the reservation programs. At that time, the government declared the reservations applied only to Hindu Dalits, since the caste system was related to the Hindu religion. Christians and Muslims do not receive the special provisions and are therefore excluded from many opportunities to climb out of poverty. Dalits who become Christians lose their rights under the reservation system.

The agency filing the lawsuit argues that the caste system has been part of life in India for more than 3,000 years and that its practices are deeply ingrained in the country's social traditions. Even though the caste system has been outlawed for 50 years, it still maintains a stronghold in the country where the majority of the people traditionally practice the Hindu religion.

Amendments to the law in 1956 and 1990 extended reservation benefits to Sikhs and Buddhists, respectively.

Dalit Dalit children are unable to enroll in college if they become Christians. The law only allows Dalit students who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist to enroll in the spots set aside for them.

In response to the recent legal challenge, the court ordered a study of the socio-economic and educational condition of people from low-caste and Dalit backgrounds who had left Hinduism. The National Commission on Minority Religion and Linguistics took two years to complete the study. In May the committee submitted its report, which concluded that Dalits of all faiths should receive reservation benefits.

While today's hearing is important, Simon John does not foresee that the case will be completely resolved anytime soon.

"The Supreme Court case will possibly take at least two to three years before a final decision is reached, and that would prevent those classified as 'Other Backward Castes' from enjoying the reservation benefits immediately," he said.

Gospel for Asia President K.P. Yohannan agrees.

"We are praying for a major breakthrough that will improve the life of every Dalit, and trusting God for the result," K.P. said. "There are possibly millions of Dalits who would gladly become Christians but fear the loss of equal opportunity if they publicly do so," K.P added. "We are praying that the court will bring justice to these oppressed people, and give them the right to freely follow Christ without persecution. Imagine the joy in heaven when this happens! Let us all pray for a positive outcome."

The two leaders also ask for prayer for the court as it works through this case and especially for today's hearing. Additionally, prayer is requested for the organizations that are attempting to educate Dalits about this case and the possible effects it could have on them.

A government-appointed committee weighed in on this case in May.

Where did the caste system originate?