By Robancy A Helen
New Delhi, June 5, 2019: A handbook released recently aims to help future Catholic priests and religious build inclusive communities in India.
The “Policy of the Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India” recommends that seminarians and religious formation houses must provide courses and programs for sensitization of evils of caste.
“They must be trained to give relevant homilies and sermons, and conduct meaningful liturgy for the liberation of all Christians from the caste system,” said Father Z. Devasagayaraj, who was until recently the national secretary for Office for Dalits and Backward Classes under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India.
According to him, the book is in line with the call of Pope Francis who wants formation to priesthood and religious life to include spiritual, intellectual and pastoral training. The Pope always insists that seminarians and those under training for religious life should not only learn from their family and community, but also about the community they plan to serve.
The CBCI Dalit Policy recommends that even the Dalit students do not really understand the reality of their community because they are either from towns, or have not experienced caste discrimination. “That is why it is necessary that all undergoing seminary training should know about the Dalit realities,” Father Devasagayaraj added.
The CBCI policy “clearly spells out that at every stage of the formation of the clergy and religious, appropriate courses on Dalit and tribal identity, history, culture, and theology are to be included as part of their curriculum.”
The 208- page hand book contains Dalit Empowerment in the formation of the clergy and religious in India, socio-economic condition of Dalits and other important topics to help formators sensitize the evils of caste discrimination and change of mindset of their students, Father Z. Devasagayaraj said.
The hand book contains guidelines for the professors and teachers to help them develop the themes, he added.
The book was written by theologians, Dalit priests and social activists after various consultations and meetings at regional and national levels.
Auxiliary Bishop Theodore of Ranchi released the book on June 4 and the first copy to Father P.R. John, principal of Jesuit-run Vidya Jyoti College of Theology, Delhi.
Franklin Caesar Thomas, a Supreme Court lawyer, who attended the function said the book would help the Church eradicate untouchability and help civil society implement Article 17 of the Indian Constitution that abolishes the practice of untouchability.
Practice of untouchability is an offence and anyone doing so is punishable by law, Indian Law, International Law and Canon Law, Thomas added.
Religious studies is meant to educate the young people the basic tenets of Christian faith that God is for all irrespective of their creed, color, ideology, caste and gender, he added.
Father Cosmon Arockiaraj, one of the editors of the book, said religious studies are not only an academic exercise or intellectual solipsism but a way of intervening in the world. It is an ethical commitment to bring about change, he added.
Dalits, who are at the bottom of the rigid Hindu caste hierarchy, are disadvantaged sections of society, vulnerable people, and socially vulnerable groups. Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, have suffered public shaming for generations at the hands of upper-caste Hindus. They continue to face widespread atrocities and discrimination across the country and any attempts at upward social mobility are violently put down.
Untouchability persists in India despite a six-decade ban on it under the Untouchability (Offences) Act, 1955.
The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities Act) – a law meant to protect historically oppressed communities, is not often enforced in spirit and letter.