By Matters India Reporter
Chennai: A group of progressive Catholic priests and nuns has chalked out an 18-program to end oppression and marginalization of the poor, especially the Dalit.
The Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace, called FORUM, that met at Chennai February 17-19 has urged Catholic priests and nuns to follow Christ’s example and rebel against unjust social structures and work toward an egalitarian society.
The forum ended the meet with a statement on sensitization of caste discrimination and building inclusive communities based on the Constitution of India.
Chennai: We, 68 members of the Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace (FORUM), belonging to 34 Religious Congregations from 14 states of India and a few of our associates, gathered at Dhyana Ashram, Chennai from February 17 to 19, 2017, to reflect together on the theme: ‘Sensitization of Caste Discrimination and Building Inclusive Communities Based on the Constitution of India’.
Every sixth Indian is a Dalit. Caste hierarchy is destructive, discriminative and oppressive over the Dalits and all the more on Dalit women. We have understood that after 70 years of independence, the caste conflict–ridden situation of our country has worsened and the cruelty of untouchability and the dehumanizing atrocities against Dalits are on the rise.
We sought to identify some aspects of the dynamic process of experiencing a sense of liberation of the Dalit-self and the Dalit-community amidst their struggles. We listened to eminent Dalit speakers on topics such as ‘Ways and means for Dalit Empowerment in the present socio-economic political scenario’, ‘Tackling Dalit Discrimination within the Indian Church’ and ‘Caste Discrimination from a Woman’s Perspective”.
We listened to the personal experience of different resource persons and panelists, especially Dalit women, who struggled hard against the immorality of casteism. As Religious with a prophetic mission, we cannot be neutral, but we need to take sides as the God of the Bible and Jesus, who always took the side of the marginalized.
We realize that to be a Dalit is not to be broken. The call of a Dalit is neither life-defeating, nor life-negating but life-promoting and life-affirming. In the grueling and compelling situation of discriminations and atrocities, the response of a Dalit is to rebel for liberation, and to create an inclusive society.
The vocation of every Religious is also to rebel as the prophets of the Bible and the modern day prophets did. Jesus’ discourses especially the Sermon on the Mount were declarations of his rebellion against oppression and marginalization of the poor. His life consisted of acts of rebellion. He proved that to rebel is to make a self-giving and life-giving act which results in liberation.
Having discussed and deliberated on these issues, we commit ourselves to the following:
1. We shall stand in solidarity with the Dalits in essentially claiming for their rights, in helping them to affirm, assert and proudly accept that they are Dalits.
2. We realize that primarily as members of the Church, we need to put our home in order, by becoming aware of the injustice we do to the Dalits and find ways to eradicate those injustices.
3. We shall educate ourselves in the Constitutional and legal rights and spread the egalitarian spirit of the Indian Constitution across all peoples of India.
4. We shall organize workshops and seminars on Introduction to the Indian Constitution which shall include primarily, modules on the Preamble and Fundamental Rights and Duties enshrined in the Constitution. We shall take concerted efforts to disseminate Constitutional values in the schools.
5. We shall have networking with other orgainsations to build platforms to discuss and to promote constitutional values.
6. We shall promote and persuade authorities of educational institutions to give admission to Dalits in equitable proportion without any discrimination and accompany them.
7. We shall promote inter-caste and inter-rite marriages in our dioceses.
8. We shall empower the Dalits to refuse to accept caste based occupations.
9. We shall give away caste-surnames and shall encourage others to do the same so as to build an inclusive Indian nation.
10. We shall do an indepth study of ‘The Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India – Ethical Imperative to build Inclusive Communities’ published by CBCI. We recommend that similar study be done by various Church organizations at all levels and the policy be implemented in its true spirit.
11. With sufficient preparation of the entire Christian community during the season of Lent, we shall honor the Risen Lord by communitarian-social actualization of the baptismal promise so that we become a genuine and authentic Christian community of equals without any kind of barriers or discriminatory practices.
12. We shall make concerted efforts to recruit vocations to Religious life and priesthood from the Dalit Catholic communities.
13. We shall generate awareness among all sections of the Christian community and disseminate truthful information in view of educating both the leadership and the community on Dalit issues. For this we shall form a committee of theologians to work out a syllabus about caste in the Church and the urgency to eliminate its practice in any form in any sector. Every seminary and formation house in India should have this project.
14. We shall persuade concerned authorities to introduce and continue courses on Dalit Theology and Spirituality in seminaries and Religious formation houses.
15. We recommend our parish and pastoral councils to give adequate representation to Dalits in proportion to their number in order to give them decision-making power so that we shall have Dalit empowered Church.
16. We shall request national, regional and local CRI units to organize seminars and workshops on building inclusive communities in view of preventing caste-discrimination.
17. We shall request the diocesan and Religious organizations to allot financial and human resources for educating the Dalits for higher studies and prepare them for UPSC and PSC (IAS, IPS, IFS etc.) examinations and to build inclusive communities for the empowerment of the marginalized groups.
18. Ownership of land is an important factor for the dignity and self-esteem of the Dalits. For this we shall launch campaign and advocacy programs in order to pressurize the government for distribution of land to the Dalit households.
Following Babasaheb Dr.Ambedkar, we stand in solidarity with the Dalits to educate, organize and agitate in collaboration with all organizations and movements committed to the empowerment of the marginalized groups.
For Forum of Religious for Justice and Peace
Jacob Peenikaparambil CMI, National Convener
Manju Kulapuram SCSC, National Executive Secretary