The castes are part of the tradition of Hinduism, the dominant religion in India. So those who do not belong to this religion do not fall under the caste system.The story is a condensed version of a remarkable one that appeared in September in the Wall Street Journal (which was reproduced in full on this blog.)
But this applies only on the level of principle. The weight of tradition is such that even within India's Christian and Muslim communities, division into castes is still in effect to some extent. Christianity has been present in India since apostolic times – the apostle Thomas is venerated there as their first evangelizer – but it was not until the end of the twentieth century that the first Dalit bishops were ordained. The Indian Churches of the most ancient lineage – the Syriac rite Churches on the southwest coast – are almost exclusively made up of Brahmins and members of the other higher castes.
To reduce caste discrimination, since the 1950's some jobs and places in the universities have been reserved by law for the Dalits. Among federal workers, the quota reserved for them is 15 percent.
But if Dalits convert to Christianity or Islam – and therefore, in principle, pass outside of the caste system – they also lose the protection of the jobs reserved for them by law, and find themselves more discriminated against than before.
The result is that a significant number of the Dalits who embrace Christianity or Islam hide their new religious identity. It is typical to see more women and children than men at Catholic Masses or Protestant services. The men continue to appear in public as Hindus, so as not to lose their jobs.
It is calculated that out of the 24 million Christians in India, Catholics and non-Catholics, the Dalits are about 10 million. But to these should be added the secret converts, who are also estimated to be in the millions.
Meanwhile, at a lecture promoting his new book, the Vicar of the Diocese of Rome, Cardinal Ruini, had this to say about evangelization (my translation):
In your book you write that one should not be afraid to witness to one's own faith even to those who follow another, often in a very convicted manner. Even to Muslims?
Of course, one should not be afraid to witness to one's Christian faith, but obviously with respect for the conscience of each person, for the faith proposes itself, and does not impose itself on anyone. However, we should not be afraid, we should not pull back in giving testimony. How, otherwise, would the first Christians have been made, who initiated the evangelization of the ancient world? To respond to your question, yes, one should witness to one's Christian faith even to Muslims, just as they retain the right to share their creed with us. There is an obligation to welcome immigrants, even under a properly religious profile [note: I think, he means there is a religious dimension as well to the duty to welcome immigrants.], in full respect of the liberty and conscience of everyone, but also with courage, and fidelity to the command received from the Lord."