Bishops need to stand for Dalit rights, dignity : Scholars

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.

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10 thoughts on “Bishops need to stand for Dalit rights, dignity : Scholars

  1. The topic is really laughing stock…. It is clear picture of how Indian pastoral work is not different from the time of Hypocrites – Jesus indicates.
    “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.
    I believe presidential order of 1950 was more real understanding about CHRISTANITY than the mourning and sleeping bishops of present CBCI
    If the covert Dalits are still poor, the whole responsibility lay on the heads of the religious congregations and bishops…

    CBCI is undergoing constipation of right ideas in proper time… The topic only can distract the public, no substantial out come is to be expected…on these subjects. In Christian circles the topic should have been out of questions

  2. We are one in Jesus Christ. No more dalits, Christianity is our caste, religion and Bai’s of our Faith. Let’s learn to trust Jesus Christ He will provide us everything, all beyond what the Government can give and even in case of protection, Jesus is our shield and protection. Thanks

  3. It’s very nice that we are fighting for our right as dalits, but I think when I belong to Christ and as Christian there is no caste. So there is no question of being dalit. We all are one in Christ. No more high caste, low caste or dalit. I am sorry if I hurt someone but it’s the it should be the reality, as we are Christian at least in Maharashtra.

  4. The time is ripe that the Indian Catholic Church hierarchy has to be enlightened regarding their option for the poor and their preferential option for the liberation of the Dalits. In the past, among the clergy there were many non Dalit priests and Religious spoke for the Dalits and were acclaimed as their prophets! They established and stabilized their power and position in the Church hierarchy playing the “Dalit card”. Today the time has changed. Many Dalit Priests and Religious are coming forward to become the voice of their voiceless people. Unfortunately they are branded as “Divisive force” among the people and in the Church. If caste practice continue to exist in the Church, I am sure that the Catholic Church can not witness “God’s Kingdom” on this earth. Together we strive for freedom, fellowship and justice!

    M.G. Selvin Raj SJ

  5. Jesus’ target people were the poor, the downtrodden, the untouchables, sinners etc. He dined with them and had fellowship with them. In fact, he was fighting for their liberation. He appreciated these people and quoted as models to follow(Samaritans).For this, he never compromised with anybody the rich and the upper class people or the oppressors. This was the stand of our Saviour Jesus. For this, he was plotted and crucified.
    But today, we are in the position to beg the Indian Church to speak for these people , to fight for the rights of these people and two people presented papers to enlighten our Bishops! Jesus, God of Justice, have mercy on us!

  6. In some of the States the Dalits form more than 25 percent. Among such dealits there may be 5percent Christians/ Catholics. There does not appear to have any plan in the diocesan level to uplift them materially and educationally. As a result they are still under the upper caste as mostly daily wage earners. The Church should draw suitable plans to devise ways and means to start projects with a view to raising their status in many respects.. That is not done —may be due to indifference of authorities.
    The Church should fight against the injustice of denial of govt. quotas and concessions to Dalits who happen to be nonHundus. This is very important as we are secular and democratic. Apart from some annual marches ,nothing is being done. Along with the material upliftment, their spiritual growth too should be ensured. That will give them self confidence,awareness of their rights etc.

  7. There are States which have a large percentages of Dalits. A small percentage of these Dalits are Christians / Catholics. I am not aware of any plan for the material upliftment at a diocesan level. It is nessary to draw suitable plan and to devise ways and means to ensure implementation and proper follow up. Also the inhuman and unsecular law regarding denial of govt. facilities and reservations to Dalits who happen to pursue non Hindu religions must be vigorously pursued for abolition. This is all the more required as the law is clear violation of secularism.
    Along with this the spiritual growth of the Dalits in our dioceses must get important consideration. That will give them self confidence and strength to fight against injustice.

  8. As the old time religious Organizations like the Moravians-London Missionary society-Church Missionary Society and Salvation Army came to India to lift the socially outcast Dalits from the gutter of hopelessness, now the Churches of India are not doing any comparable ministry.

    While those Organization started educational and healthcare institution to uplift them, now the Churches are starting educational and health institutions as a business enterprise.

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