Odisha bishops, church leaders to discuss on Dalits

By Matters India Reporter

Bhubaneswar: As members of the Dalit caste were protesting the Supreme Court order that prevented the immediate arrest of those being violent towards them across India on April 2, the Bishops of Odisha and other church leaders have planned to deliberate on the Dalits of Odisha on April 4.

The Indian church published the ‘Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India Dalit Policy,’ on 13 December 2016, as an ethical imperative and the Gospel-mandate for the Catholic Church in India for the empowerment of the Dalits.

As a follow up action, the Odisha Regional Commission for Clergy, Religious and Seminarians held a seminar in Khristo Jyoti Mahavidyaloyo (KJM), the Regional Theologate at Sambalpur, from 27-29 November 2017, in collaboration with Odisha Forum for Social Action and the KJM staff, with the theme: ‘Dalit Empowerment – An Ethical Imperative for a Just Odisha.’

The objective of the seminar was to study and reflect on the CBCI Dalit Policy in the context of the Christian Dalits in Odisha and to evolve strategies and action plan. There were 119 participants including bishops, heads of various religious congregations, priests, nuns, seminarians, and chairman and secretary of Scheduled Caste /Backward Caste Commission of CBCI and of Odisha Catholic Bishops’ Council, NDCW and Indian Social Institute Bangalore.

The participants, after serious discussions and deliberation, suggested some strategies and concrete action plans that are to be implemented at various levels. However, any effective response to the injustices against Dalits, being perpetrated for centuries, needs institutional efforts of dioceses and congregations, besides the individual change of heart and mind.
Therefore, a three member team consisting of Sr. Gemma Barla, FC, provincial of the Daughters of the Cross and Odisha Regional CRI President of Women Congregations, Bishop Niranjan Sualsingh, Chairman of the of Odisha Regional Commission for Clergy, Religious and Seminarians, and Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak, Chairman of Odisha Regional Commission for SCs (Dalits) /OBC, was formed to coordinate a meeting of all Bishops of Odisha and the provincial superiors of all congregations, both men and women, working in Odisha, so that the strategies and action plan are owned by the Dioceses and Congregations, and implement them concretely and consciously in all their institutions/organizations in Odisha.

Accordingly, a meeting of all Bishops of Odisha and the provincial superiors of all Congregations, working in Odisha has been called on 4 April at Xavier Institute of Bhubaneswar, said Father Ajay Kumar Singh, a member of the event organizer.

Some 50 participants are expected to attend it.

India’s lower-caste Dalit community or Dalits are at the bottom of India’s ancient caste hierarchy and form about a quarter of the population.

Hindus, who account for more than 85 percent of India’s population of 1.3 billion, were traditionally grouped into thousands of castes, whose membership was determined by birth.

There are some 200 million Dalits in India, making up about 60 percent of the 2.3 percent of the population who identify as Christians. Under the caste system, their lives are marked by extreme poverty, unworthiness, shame and humiliation, impotence and social exclusion. Most are landless peasants.

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