By Matters India Reporter
Bengaluru, Feb 11, 2019: The South Asian Dalit Christian Conference is to be held at NBCLC, Bangaluru, South India, Feb. 13 – 14.
The topic chosen is “Dalits Witnessing Faith at the Cross Roads in South Asia and Christian Response.”
Participants include Dalit Religious, priests, bishops, leaders and activists across South Asian countries.
Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, Vatican, will be the chief guest of the conference, said Father Devasagayaraj M Zakarias, national secretary of the Office for Scheduled Caste/Backward Class under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the event organizer.
Other speakers who will address the gathering on the Dalit scenario and offer theological reflection are Jesuits Dr. Selva and Dr. Maria Arul Raja. Both of them are leading scholars on Dalits.
This will be followed by the sharing of the faith experience of Dalits in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Singapore and Bangladesh, including Kandhamal anti-Christian persecutions 2008 survivors of Odisha, Eastern India.
Among others, Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of CBCI, Bishop Neethinathan Anthonisamy of Chingleput Diocese (Tamil Nadu), Fr. Paul Moonjely, Executive Secretary, Caritas India, Dr. Paul Divakar, National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, and others will speak at the conference.
At the end of the meeting, participants will come up with a Christian response to Dalit situation in South Asia.
The term “Dalit” refers to the “untouchables” under India’s ancient caste system, meaning people considered unclean and therefore traditionally ostracized. Although caste distinctions were officially abolished by the Indian constitution in 1949, they remain strong in popular culture and the Dalits have traditionally been among India’s most impoverished communities.
Dalits are most socially, politically and economically disadvantaged groups, as well as government jobs and places in educational institutions.
A disproportionate share of India’s Christian population is found among the Dalits as well as the “tribals,” meaning members of the country’s indigenous persons traditionally considered outside the caste system and victims of discrimination arguably even more intense than the Dalits.
Dalits wish to rectify historical wrongs perpetrated by each country’s harsh and toxic Hindu caste hierarchy. They have been clamoring for affirmative action and government provision to help empower and uplift the socially deprived.
Dalit issue is often said to be controversial. Identity and caste-based groups demand for formal jobs and quality education which remain chronically scarce in South Asia with affirmative action in mind.