CBCl General Body Meeting at Tiruchirapally

January 4 - 14, 1982

Caste Problem in the Church

The problem of caste both within the Church and also in society at large was a matter of urgent consideration for the Bishops. In order to consider the problem as fully as possible, a Workshop Session was held. The Workshop Sessions were followed by a discussion in the General Assembly. The House was unanimous that a Statement should be issued confronting the situation boldly. The drafting committee was made up of members of the Dalit Welfare Committee, together with Bishops Patrick D'Souza, Alan de Lastic and Thomas Fernando. When the first draft was brought to the floor, it evoked a spate of suggestions, modifications, additions, etc. Finally, the House approved of the Statement.

Statement on Caste

In recent months, there has been an increase in awareness of the problem of caste in the country, resulting from the spate of much-published reconversions. and the atrocities such as in Deoli, Sadhupur and other places. The Catholic Bishop's Conference of India, at its general meeting in Tiruchirapalli in January 1982, considered the question of caste and its baneful effects both on society at large as also within the Church.

On the threshold of Independence, the people of India promulgated their charter of human rights, enshrined in the Constitution of India, courageously pledging themselves to work for Liberty, Fraternity, Equality and Justice for all, without discrimination of caste or creed. In full harmony with this national objective, the Church has been grappling with the problem of caste, paying special attention to the backward classes and striving to ameliorate their tragic condition and restore their human dignity. The Resolutions of the All-India Seminar and periodical statements of the CBCI have consistently deplored the evils of caste. The National Consultation of Christian leaders, organised in Bangalore in June 1978 by the CBCI, the Catholic Union of India (now called All India Catholic Union) and the National Christian Council of India, focused attention in a special way on the plight of Christians of scheduled caste origin.

Notwithstanding all these efforts, much yet remains to be done within the Church and outside particularly in the eradication of what is known as the "caste mentality" which often finds expression in actions that are manifestly unchristian and even affects, in some areas the sphere of religious practices. The tensions arising from the caste mentality are not confined to the oppression of the lower castes by those of the higher castes but are also found within the castes themselves.

We state categorically that caste, with its consequent effects of discrimination and "caste mentality", has no place in Christianity. It is, in fact, a denial of Christianity because it is inhuman. It violates the God-given dignity and equality of the human person. God created man in his own image and likeness. He accepts and loves every human being without distinction. He so loved the world that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, who became fully man and died to save all men. "In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God there is neither Jew or Greek neither slave nor free For you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3, 26- 28). Thus, human dignity and respect are due to every person and any denial of this is a sin against God and man. It is an outright denial of the Fatherhood of God which, in practice, renders meaningless the brotherhood of man.

Catholics, in particular, are called to reflect on whether they can meaningfully participate in the Eucharist without repudiating and seriously striving to root out caste prejudices and similar traditions and sentiments both within the Church and outside. It is intolerable that caste should be a determining factor in membership of pastoral or parish councils and other Church associations; and even worse, in ecclesiastical appointments and posts of responsibility in religious Congregations.

The National Consultation referred to above has made some concrete suggestions relating particularly to those belonging to the backward classes, v.g., removal of all forms of segregation, greater fraternizing on a social level and so on. Special provision, perhaps on a priority and guaranteed basis, should also be made for them in the matter of admissions to educational institutions, where particular attention should be paid to them, through remedial and coaching classes, if necessary.

Caritas India, which has already opted in favour of projects to assist the backward classes, is urged to step up its programmes in this line so as to remedy the helplessness resulting from economic, social and other causes. In all cases, our efforts must be directed towards removing the sense of inferiority under which they have been labouring for centuries and towards strengthening their feeling of being free citizens of India.

In particular we call upon pastors and religious superiors to provide positive encouragement towards the promotion of vocations from the backward classes to the priesthood and the religious life.

We appreciate the efforts of Government for the emancipation of scheduled castes. We share the concern of national leaders for the protection of the SC converts to Christianity and backward classes from the type of atrocities recently perpetrated upon them in various places. However, we strongly urge the central and state governments to put an end to the continued discrimination against Christians of Scheduled caste origin in the matter of reservations, scholarships and job opportunities.

We observe with satisfaction the recent developments among our Hindu brethren to work more fully towards the integration into society of members of the scheduled castes. It is a religious preoccupation we all share and gives us a fruitful field for inter-religious collaboration. In fact, the Church joins hands with all men and women of goodwill in the country who are committee to this same task and whose number is growing. In particular, our clergy and religious, as also diocesan service societies, should endeavor to provide the necessary assistance so that weaker sections of the people may be able to avail themselves of the many benefits provided by law for their upliftment.

The issue of caste and its consequent evil effects is not a peripheral one for the Church or, indeed, for society at large. Delay in facing it - or sometimes even a refusal to do so - is more than a question of human rights. It is betrayal of the Christian vocation. We can no longer watch complacently while millions of our brothers and sisters are denied the rights that flow from their dignity as human beings and children of God.