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The Dalit Christian – Caste, Creed or Need

GoaChronicle.com dwells into the prayers, conundrums and rights of the Dalits who have converted to Christianity in the government and in the Church…

It is a peculiar predicament that the Dalits who have converted to Christianity face in India – they neither benefit for being Dalits from the government and they neither benefit from being Christian in the Christian community. This is the plea and feeling of most Dalits who have renounced Hinduism and opted for the Christian religion.

For the Dalit Christians through the Dalit Christian movement, the first aim is to obtain from the Indian Government those basic rights that they believe are owed to them under the Constitution of India. It is according to Dalit Christians an important step in gaining that economic freedom vital for progress in society and within the Church system.

The Government of India had referred the matter of the Dalit Christians to the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities, also called as Ranganath Mishra Commission.
This was constituted in 2004 and the Commission submitted its report to the Government on 21 May 2007. The report was submitted to the Parliament in December 2009.

The commission stated that non-inclusion of SC Christians and SC Muslims in the Scheduled Caste list is a discrimination based on religion and goes against articles 14, 15 and 25 of the Constitution of India. It was pointed out that religion must be de-linked from caste based reservation.

Till now, twelve State Governments and Union Territories have recommended to the Union of India for granting SC status to Dalit Christians.

Most of the Political Parties- CPI, CPI (M) , BSP, SP, RJD, JD(U), JD(S), DMK, AIADMK, Telugu Desam party, MDMK, PMK, Trinamool Congress, NCP and Shronmani Akali Dal – have supported the demand. BJP and Shiv Sena have not supported this demand. Congress too had not voiced its support but had agreed in principle.

In February 2015, India’s Apex Court, citing the law had held in a case that a Dalit Christian or Muslim converting to Hinduism will be entitled to reservation benefits as long as it can be proved that his forefathers belonged to a caste categorised as benefits as long as it can be proved that his forefathers belonged to a caste categorised as a scheduled caste.

In August 2017, the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice J S Khehar and D Y Chandrachud had issued a notice to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment on a petition filed by All India Catholic Union and leading Christian political and anti-BJP activist John Dayal challenging the validity of para 3 of Constitution.

As per para 3 of Constitution (scheduled castes) order 1950 which the petition has challenged, “No person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, the Sikh or the Buddhist religion shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste”.

The government of India has to still to file its reply on the SC notice.

On August 10th this month a huge Christian rally is planned in Telegana.

Bishop of Warangal Diocese, Udumula Bala has appealed to Dalit Christians to turn up in large numbers for a protest demonstration on August 10 at Amebdkar Junction, Hanamkonda, to demand reservation for converted Dalits.

Bishop Bala and president of Tri-cities Christian Fellowship D Isaac said social or financial status of Dalits converting into Christianity has not changed over the years and so, their rights should not be disturbed.

Last year too Christians in South India took out a massive rally. The rally was organised by the Council of Dalit Christians (CDC). At the rally Dalit Christians raised the demand of 5 per cent reservation for Dalit Christians in Union government recruitments and 4 per cent reservation in the State. It also demanded 10 per cent reservation for students of the community in higher education.

But is it only the government law that has stifled the growth of a Dalit Christian. Or has the Catholic Church in its adaptation of the Hindu caste-system mitigated caste bias on the Christian converts in the Dalit community. Dalits who have converted to Christianity account for over 65 per cent of the total Christian population in India.

Here is report of the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF): The report was prepared based on a public hearing by an eight-member committee on the alleged atrocities, including untouchability, committed against Dalit Christians in Sivaganga diocese.

The public hearing held on March 16, 2018. The hearing had three sessions, each focussing on a specific topic such as denial of priesthood to Dalit Christians, discrimination against Dalit Christians in the church and practised by the diocesan administration.

The report was then released by retired Madras High Court judge Justice D. Hariparanthaman and former Vice-Chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University V.Vasanthi Devi, who were part of the team that conducted the public hearing. The report alleged that the practice of caste can be found in the formation of parishes, denial of the share for the Dalit Christians in the administration of the parish, construction of separate chapels in the same village for Dalits and other caste Christians, discrimination in the facilities provided based on caste considerations, denial of employment opportunities and priesthood for Pallar Dalit Christians.

The case of Brother Michael Raja was referred to in the report. Raja reportedly is the only person among the Pallar Dalit Christians, who had completed his 13 long years of Theological Course and passed the final examination, but was sent out “on an erroneous decision” of the Rector of the seminary which was approved by the Bishop of Sivaganga Diocese.

The report also stated that the Dalit Christians were subjected to various types of caste discrimination and untouchability. It highlighted that the diocese administration acts in a discriminatory manner in forming the new parishes by confining more Dalit Christians in less parishes and making more parishes for caste Christians with less members.

The Catholic Church in 2016 had released its document – Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church. Here are some excerpts:

The painful realities of Dalit Christians are organically linked to the realities of Dalits, adivasis, minorities, women, children, and other marginalized and excluded communities.
However, the experience of untouchability is unique to Dalits, resulting in deprivation, discrimination and exclusion at all levels, from womb to tomb.

Every 18 minutes a crime is committed against a Dalit. Every day, 3 Dalit women are raped, 2 Dalits are murdered, 11 are beaten, and 2 Dalit houses are burnt.

Official police statistics in 2012 observes that in the previous five years, every week 13 Dalits are murdered, 6 are kidnapped or abducted, and 5 Dalit houses or possessions are burnt.

37 per cent of Dalits live below the poverty line. 54 per cent of their children are malnourished, 21 per cent are undernourished, and 21 per cent are severely underweight. 83 per 1000 children born in Dalit community die before the first birthday; 12 per cent die before their fifth birthday. 45 per cent of Dalits are illiterate; literacy rates for Dalit women are as low as 37.8 per cent in rural India. Dalit women are burdened with double discrimination (gender and caste). Only 27 per cent of Dalit women give institutional deliveries.

About one-third of Dalit households lack basic facilities. Public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes in 33 per cent of villages. Dalits are prevented from entering the police station in 27.6 per cent of villages. Dalit children have to sit separately while eating in 37.8 per cent of government schools. Dalits do not get mail delivered to their homes in 23.5 per cent of villages. Dalits are denied access to water sources in 48.4 per cent of villages.

The conviction rate under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act is 15.71 per cent and pendency is as high as 85.37 per cent.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India recommended the following to be implemented by the Regional Bishops’ Councils, Dioceses and Religious Orders;

A. That every Diocese submits its short-term and long-term plans of action within one year of the promulgation of this policy to the Regional Bishops’ Council so that we as a Church move forward collectively and systematically in realizing the Gospel values.

B. That Practices of Untouchability, Discrimination and Exclusion is forthwith abolished.

C. That special attention is given at all levels for the promotion and care of Vocations to priesthood and religious life from the Dalit community.

D. That there is Participative and Inclusive Administration and Transparency in Governance.

E. That Liturgical and Para-liturgical Concerns of the Dalits be attended to.

F. That special interest is taken in the Formation of Clergy and Religious.

G. That Dalit Women and Children are accorded their due space.

H. That programs for Youth Development among Dalits be initiated.

I. That Dalit Leaders is empowered to Strengthen People’s Movements.

J. That Social Consciousness is created and Social Relations are strengthened.

K. That Educational Empowerment of the Dalits becomes a priority.

L. That Dalits are encouraged in Employment and Entrepreneurship.

M. That Grievance Redressal and Peace-building mechanisms are established.

Here is the 44-page document of Catholic Church ‘Dalit Empowerment Policy’

Dalit Empowerment Church

A caste system is a reality in the country and it has been adopted by the Catholic Church since its presence in India.

The sad reality though is the fact thousands of Dalits who have over the years either opted into Christianity by coerce, force or choice and have been born into the Christian religion because of decisions of their parents or grand parents have to fight to gain recognition and equal status in a highly caste-based Church hierarchy and also fight for their equal SC rights with the Centre who on account of Constitutional Law their conversion deprives of their rights of being Dalits.

Savio Rodrigues

Savio Rodrigues Founder & Editor-in-Chief GoaChronicle.com

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