CBCI  Meeting at Varanasi

March 21-28, 1998

Message for Liberation and Development of Dalit Christians

The Role of the Church In India Today

I . We, the Bishops of the Catholic Church in India assembled for our General Body Meeting at Varanasi, considered as the holy city by millions of our fellow citizens, reflected on the role of the Church in India as she stands at the threshold of the third millennium. True to her mission as continuation of Christ in the vast sub-continent, the Church realizes that "the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well". (G.S.1). The Bishops, who are the ministers of Christ and servant leaders of His Church, became keenly aware of the fact that, in following their Master and Lord, they must cherish deep solidarity with their brothers and sisters in India. As bearers of the message of salvation for all the peoples of this land, united in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, they press towards the coming of a new society, transformed by a civilization of love. Their reflections made them release that the Spirit is calling the Christian community in India to a New Way of Being Church. The elements that constitute this new ecclesial image can be spelled out along the following lines.

The Caste Problem

The Church in India particularly in recent years, has been actively involved in denouncing caste system and discrimination against the Dalits. Further, it has taken positive measures for their development. However, we have to admit that the situation still remain a serious concern. The prevalence of the caste system, not only in society but also in some parts of the Church in India even at the close of the 20th century, is a matter of shame and disgrace to all of us. It is a cause of sorrow and expression of our inability to live our Christian faith adequately. It is not only a denial of human dignity and equality but also against the fundamental teaching of Christ who was a friend of the outcasts of His time, and freely mixed with them. He came to tell human kind that we are brothers and sisters having God as our common Father. The core of the Gospel consist in this perfect reconciliation and fellowship. The early Christians manifested their faith in Christ by' being a community of love without discrimination of any member based on race, language or economic or social status. If our Christian communities are divided and discriminated on the basis of caste we cannot affirm in truthfulness that the Gospel has touched our life, and that we are the disciples of Christ even if we celebrate our worship devoutly and proclaim our faith correctly. What India needs is precisely this witness of Christian love. Our evangelising mission loses its efficacy if our Christian communities forget this image which is specific to Christianity, for Jesus said "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John13, 35). Hence, discrimination against anybody on the basis of caste is a sin against God and humanity. This needs to be proclaimed from the house tops so that the caste system will be removed from the Christian community totally as part of our preparation for Yesu Krist Jayanti 2000.

Action Program

After listening to what the spirit was telling them the bishops recommended the following measures to be implemented in all dioceses:

5.1 First of all there needs to be a faith-based vision that enables us to see Jesus in the poor, the Dalits and Tribals so that there is a change in our attitude towards them. This must become evident to them in our policies and practices and day-to-day interactions.
5.2 Non-formal education to consciences, train, organise and empower the poor, the Dalits and the tribals must be given top priority in our social apostolate.
5.3 We should make every effort to liberate the poor from the clutches of dishonest practices by upholding the values of honesty and dignity in public life. We should refuse to collaborate in any way with those who indulge in corrupt practices of bribery, discriminatory favoritism etc.
5.4 The church must take a clear stand against caste discrimination and declare it a sin. This must be taught in Catechism and homilies and any form of discrimination must be completely stopped, whatever it exists, be N among the priests, in religious communities, in practices of selection of candidates for priesthood and religious life and in the sphere of administration. We propose this as a goal to be set in motion powerfully and immediately so that we can present to the Lord and proclaim to the world that we are fully reconciled and transformed Christian community at the down of the third millennium.
5.5 Our liturgy should challenge us to build relationships as members of one family, foster fellowship and solidarity leading to active concern and equality. There should be no sign of any discrimination in places of worship, cemeteries etc. Our liturgy should also challenge us to face the realities of the world with a sense of mission. The World that we celebrate should become [He-giving event for the world. Our celebrations of popular devotions such as novenas and prayer sessions should have a mission thrust.
5.6 Our institutional services must cater increasingly to the poor and there must be reservations both in admission and in employment for the Dalits and tribals.
5.7 Following the example of the first Christians who shared generously with the poor, we should make personal and institutional sacriftes, whatever they may cost us, for the poor, the Dalits and the tribals of today. Only then will we become truly the Church of the poor. This is the New Way of Being Church that we want to usher in as we enter the third millennium.

10- Point Programme For the Integrated Development of Dalit Christians

1. In places of worship and burial grounds Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin (CSCO) should be treated on a footing or equality and there should be no discrimination.

Opportunities should be created in the dioceses to enable CSCO to join seminaries, convents and religious congregations in numbers.

3. In order to create leadership in their ranks, CSCO should be encouraged to become members of Parish Councils, Parish Finance Committees, Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Multi-Purpose Social Service Societies and other Church related organizations, and entrusted with responsible positions.
4. In matters of admission to Catholic Teacher Training and Industrial Schools, preference should be given to the students belonging to the CSCO.

Special coaching classes should be conducted to improve the educational standards of the students who are weak in their studies to enable them to improve their performance.

6. Preference should be given CSCO in matters of appointment in the educational institutions, Social Service Societies and other Church sponsored organisations and projects.

In the Diocesan Social Service Societies, developmental projects should be exclusively designed to promote the economic development of the CSCO and members of these should be chosen to involve actively in the execution of such projects and in the training programmes connected therewith.

8. To encourage high education, particularly technical and professional education among CSCO, the Diocesan and Religious Congregations should jointly create a Scholarship Fund as a source of encouragement to deserving students.

A SC/ST/BC Commission should be created in each diocese immediately to monitor the programmes meant for these people.


In the CSCO struggle to obtain their rights and privileges from the Central and State governments the Church in India should actively support their programme in this regard.

Response of the Church in India

Concerted efforts made by the Church in India to uplift the oppressed Dalit Christians Community at various levels have given us a ray of hope. Regional and Bishop's Conferences have declared the dignity and equality of Dalit Christians, have repeatedly condemned the practice of untouchablity and discrimination as sin and have appealed to the Christian community to live in equality and brotherhood. The implementation of 10 points programme for empowerment, and formation of leadership at different levels includes intensive coaching for employment, training eligible candidates for Indian Administrative Services to commit themselves to the development of the oppressed and to a relentless struggle to demand equal rights to Dalit Christians from the Government. Many students who have been trained by the commission for SC/ST/BC have been secured administrative and managerial jobs in the states.