By Matters India Reporter
Bengaluru: Two scholars and activists urged Indian Bishops to stand for and with Dalit rights and dignity.
Jesuit Father Maria Arul Raja and Sr. Urmila of the Missionary Sisters of the Heart of Mary congregation (ICM) addressed on ‘Whatever you did to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’ (Matt. 25:40), ‘The Catholic Church in India for the upliftment of the Dalits’ on February 3.
Both of them were speaking on-going 33rd general body meeting of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) that began at St John’s Medical College in Bengaluru on February 2 and scheduled to end on February 9.
Based on the principle of ‘option for the poor’ of the Social Catholic Teachings and Biblical roots, the Indian church has a responsibility to work for the emancipation and empowerment of Dalits in India, said Sister Urmila.
She has been working with the marginalized and Dalits since 1988 in Bihar, Tamil Nadu, and other parts of India.
The plight of Dalits in India is becoming bad to worse as they are exploited, marginalized and dehumanized. Dalits’ cause should be a top priority in Church’s agenda, Sr. Urmila stressed.
In his talk, Father Raja reiterated that what Dalits need is social inclusion with dignity and rights affirming their rights in society and church.
The Dalits issue has come a long way, but more to the done in this issue. Church in India should work relentlessly for the cause of Dalits, said Father Raj, a theology professor, and scholar.
Dalit means “trampled upon” or “broken open” in Sanskrit and denotes people formerly known as untouchables in India’s multitiered caste system. At least half of India’s estimated 25 million Christians are of Dalit origin.
The government introduced free education and a quota in government jobs for Hindu Dalits in 1956 to improve their social status. While the same statutory rights were later extended to Buddhist and Sikh Dalits, the demand for equal rights for Christian Dalits has been rejected by successive governments in India.
Dalits are often the target of disempowerment, oppression, and persecution.
A 1950 presidential order denied government benefits, such as quotas in government jobs and educational institutions, meant for the advancement of Dalits, on the grounds that religions such as Christianity and Islam do not recognize the caste system.
When asked bishops discussing on Dalit issue at CBCI meeting, John Dayal, general secretary of the All India Christian Council and a member of the Indian government’s National Integration Council, told Matters India, Indian bishops need to “crusade for the annihilation of caste and constitutional change and Brahmanic religions approach caste in South Asia.”
They (bishops) claim to be church leaders, they would make sure there is “no caste in Christianity as in the West and South East. Bishops must march with the masses in the struggle for equality as a human being in a line with the mission statement or their commitment to Dalit issue,” said Dayal, a senior journalist, and social activist.
In his reaction, Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, director of Udayani, the Jesuit social arm in West Bengal, said, “The CBCI has a Dalit policy. There should be an effort to make this policy implemented in every diocese in India. Many bishops do not seem to understand and accept the Dalit issue as important because most of the bishops are not from Dalit families. That shows the predominance of non-Dalits and Dalit oppressions in the church too.”
“There are capable Dalits but not given opportunities and the non-Dalits have a majority in church leadership. There have been centuries of oppression of Dalits in India. With a hope, many Dalits converted to Catholicism, sadly they have become a tag also fooled here, he added.
“The church today should see and accept when needed promote Dalit empowerment at every level. Dalit Christens need to be included in the Scheduled Caste (SC) list and reservation should be given to them at par with other SC communities, but we need to start this in the church now in every field,” the priest observed.