Justice Balakrishnan’s appointment means that more than 300 million men, women and children of India now have the opportunity for someone to speak on their behalf in the highest court of the land.
The appointment of a Dalit to serve as Chief Justice of India’s Supreme Court means the country’s “Untouchables” may have an advocate in one of the country’s most powerful governing bodies, according to Gospel for Asia Founder and President K.P. Yohannan.

Konakuppakattil Gopinathan Balakrishnan begins his term on the bench January 14 and will serve through May 2010, when he is scheduled to retire. He is the first Dalit to serve on the country’s Supreme Court.

“This is one of the most significant things to happen in the history of the nation of India,” said Dr. Yohannan. “I surely believe God is behind this.

“I am hopeful that Justice Balakrishnan will bring a sense of equality to the court, and I pray for the day when Dalits are truly allowed the same basic human freedoms those born into higher castes take for granted. Justice Balakrishnan has a unique opportunity to move the national consciousness forward in regard to Dalit equality.”

Balakrishnan’s appointment comes on the heels of two disturbing reports of Dalit abuse in the north Indian state of Bihar. The fingers of a 10-year-old Dalit girl were chopped off after an upper-caste landowner accused her of theft. The girl was collecting wild greens for her family to eat and unwittingly wandered into the man’s field and picked a few spinach leaves.

In another case, a village chief accused a Dalit woman of stealing bananas, a crime which she denies. As punishment, her accusers shaved her head and paraded her partially naked through the village.

Balakrishnan, who has a breadth of legal and civil service, was appointed to the judiciary in 1973 as part of the Indian government’s affirmative action program. According to Indian law, a certain portion of government jobs and admission to the country’s colleges are set aside for Dalits. The law is not popular and is routinely disregarded by the higher castes, who, while in the minority, hold the majority of political power in the nation. Most Dalits are still relegated to degrading manual labor jobs, such as cleaning up human waste. There are an estimated 300 million Dalits in India alone.

The Indian media reports that Balakrishnan sees the importance of standing up for the common man and allowing the voices of the poor to be heard in the court.

The newest Supreme Court justice was born in 1945 in Kerala. Since he was from a Dalit family, the young boy was not welcome at public schools, so he changed his name to Kunhachan Marcos so people would think he was a Christian. He received his education at a church-run school in Kerala. Balakrishnan also graduated from Maharaja Law College and went on to practice both civil and criminal law.

Balakrishnan was first appointed to serve in the local judicial system in his home state. By 1986 he was a judge on Kerala’s highest court and later served as chief justice of the state court in Gujarat. Balakrishnan was promoted from the state courts to the Indian Supreme Court in 2000. Since he joined the high court, he has openly criticized his peers for what he views as ethical breeches of conduct.

“Justice Balakrishnan’s appointment shows the greatness of India, a nation with incredible diversity of culture and social structure,” commented Dr. Yohannan. “We have had a Dalit president, and now we have a Dalit chief justice.”

Balakrishnan is from the same hometown as the late K.R. Narayanan, who served as the country’s first Dalit president from 1997-2002.

“I ask Christians around the world to pray for the more than 1 billion people of India, whom God dearly loves. Our desire is that they experience the love of Christ,” Dr. Yohannan said.