By Santosh Digal
New Delhi, Dec. 15, 2018: Two years ago, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) released a Dalit policy to build a truly inclusive community as an ethical imperative in the country. The new policy of inclusion, support and development of Dalits (former untouchables), the poorest and marginalized sectors of Indian society, completed two years on December 13.
On the occasion of its second anniversary, Santosh Digal of Matters India talked to Father Devasagayaraj M Zackarias, secretary to CBCI Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes, to find out the impact of CBCI Dalit Policy so far. Excerpts:
Matters India: How has the Indian Church implemented the CBCI Dalit Policy?
Father Devasagayaraj M Zackarias: First of all, the CBCI Office for SC/BC is thankful to the Catholic Church for coming out with a Dalit Empowerment Policy to eradicate all forms of untouchability within the Catholic Church and to empower the Dalit Catholics, making use of the resources and institutions of the Church.
After the promulgation of the Dalit Empowerment Policy (DEP) on December 13, 2016, we planned action plans in two stages namely, the dissemination stage and the implementation stage.
In the dissemination stage, we had workshops at the national and regional levels so that people are aware of the policy. The policy document was translated in to major languages of the country such as Hindi, Malayalam. Marathi, Tamil and Telugu.
In some dioceses, the priests and lay people were given orientation about the DEP. In some dioceses, priests were given orientation about the policy. The Conference of Religious in India had special session on it. The Odisha region has already started the process of evolving a policy for its region based on the CBCI DEP. We are happy that many young people are discussing about the DEP in the social media.
What is the ground reality in dioceses with regard to CBCI Dalit Policy?
We are still waiting for the regions and the dioceses to come out with their own action plans based on CBCI DEP.
Not just the dioceses, we also expect the religious congregations and their institutions to come out with their action plans. But unfortunately a very few dioceses or religious congregations have done this.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council has come out with the action plan of building 100 houses for the Dalits in their region which is one of the actions plans proposed in the policy. We plan a base line survey at the beginning of 2019 to understand what has been done in various dioceses and religious congregations with regard to the policy.
What more could be done for the full implementation of the policy in 174 dioceses in India?
Each diocese and religious congregation is supposed to analyze the situation of their own. Based on the CBCI DEP, they have to discuss with the stakeholders and come out with guidelines which should bind all the educational and other institutions in the diocese.
What are the obstacles or hurdles you face in implementing the CBCI Dalit Policy?
Well, all dioceses and regions with sizeable Dalits do not understand or accept the reality that Dalits do face difficulties.
Many do not speak about the issue because of the wrong perception that it will create other issues. Many are in the denial mode saying that there is no problem for Dalit Christians.
The concept of inclusion is not with many of the people. Many Christians do not understand the ground reality of society where the ancient caste system still exists. They have the wrong opinion that once people become Christians they do not face the caste discrimination. But many studies by the government agencies have proved that conversion does not bring about social or economic change among the people.
The general public and even Christians treat those Dalits as untouchables even today. Some of the dioceses especially in North India have not appointed diocesan SC/BC commission secretaries though there is sizable number of Dalits in the dioceses.
Infra-structure and financial support for the regional and diocesan SC/BC commission is a major challenge for our activities to continue in the regions and dioceses.
And how do you wish to address those difficulties?
We continue to appeal to the bishops and the heads of the religious congregations to show special interest on Dalits.
The regional and diocesan SC/BC commission secretaries will continue to engage with the religious leaders in authority for the successful implementation of the CBCI DEP.
The baseline survey which we are initiating from the CBCI Office for SC/BC will also help the leaders to understand the ground reality of the Dalit Christians and thus will give them the motivation to implement the Policy in the dioceses and Religious congregations.