January 12, 2000

Dear Rev. Fathers, Rev. Sisters, the Superiors, Provincials and Office bearers,

Our warm greetings for the year of Jubilee 2000. We the delegates from the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM), are happy for the opportunity to meet the CRI National Assembly and share with you briefly the problems, sentiments, the discriminations experienced and more importantly our expectations from the CRI vin future. We are grateful to the CRI, both national and regional, for the concern and commitment shown towards our Dalit Christians problems and for whatever you have planned in your future Agenda for their development.

We need not elaborate on the problems as you will be all quite aware of the caste- oppression and the multiple discrimination suffered by our people both in the society and in the church. Yet, as people who are affected we have to share our agony, anxieties, our thoughts and views. We have to put forth the hard facts and realities about our people and seek for lasting solution.

We have to put an end to casteism in the Church, eradicate all forms of discriminations and ensure equality and equal opportunities to Dalit Christians within the Church structure and our institutions. The whole problem has to be viewed from the fact that the Dalits form a majority among the Catholic community, and they have been denied the constitutional safeguards guaranteed for other Dalits, even though they were also historically oppressed.

The DCLM has been struggling in the past 10 years to conscientise the Church about the hard realities of Dalit Christian within the Church. In the wake of its struggle the TNBC announced the 10 point programme for the upliftment of Dalit Christians. The CBCI has made similar open declarations and recommendations and has given some directions to the authorities and the Christian community. There has been dialogues with the Bishops and some concrete steps have been initiated, even though the progress is slow and much remains to be done. But we have to say with regret that even that much has not been done by the CRIs, both National and Regional, and the individual congregations. The CRIs have been busy with so many things but not with the problems of Dalit Christians, who from a majority in the Church. Why it is so, we do not understand. This should be our prime concern today and henceforth in the future. There are some exceptions but, which in totality is only insignificant compared to the problem. What is needed is an ongoing process of a comprehensive and united attempt to find solution to the continued discriminations and marginalisation of Dalit Christians in the Church and in our institutions.

We have to say emphatically that the caste-domination and discrimination against Dalit Christians within the Church is as serious and appalling as the persecution of the minorities in the country and both need our equal attention and concern for action at this moment.

Our Religious congregations have enormous institutional power, human and material resources. But how far they have been responsible in using these for Dalit Christians who were historically oppressed and are denied the constitutional reservations provided for other Dalits?

In this background we wish to place before the CRI Assembly the following appeals, demands and suggestions for your serious discussion and appropriate and urgent action, which we expect to be spelt out as a main feature of your future Agenda.

We have yet to see the landmark role and involvement of the CRIs for the liberation, development and the ultimate empowerment of Dalit Christians. Though the Church speaks so much about the oppressed and poor people, what our institutions do for them is very little. The attitude and approach of most congregations and their institutions remain one of the out dated philanthropists or benevolent authorities, but not really as the liberator of the oppressed, like Jesus. We appeal that this character is consciously changed.

The situation for Dalit Christian is very unfortunate in most of our educational institutions. Education has to be the key for the development of the Dalits hitherto oppressed. But Dalit Christians still don't get their due share in admissions and appointments according to their population size. This stands as a glaring indication of their marginalisation in the Church. We see that there is no urge or genuine commitment in most of our institutions to change this state of things. We feel that these are allowed to continue rather deliberately. Even ordinary Dalit Christians in the rural area, whose children are the first generation students, understand this and feel deeply about this . Their hopes are being shattered day by day. They can no longer be silent about it.

Even though we have a vast network of institutions, the Dalit Christians who are a big majority in the Church are running from pillar to post in our own institutions. It is a pathetic situation that they only get the fringe benefits. Our institutions have done nothing to the Dalit Christians that is parallel or comparable to that done by the Governments to the other Dalits. Rather they have been neglected. On the contrary in the name of excellence and standard, our institutions give the best services only to the elite communities, which are the ones turning against the minorities and Dalits. We wish to point out that reservation is a vital instrument of distributive justice in our democracy. Since Dalit Christians do not enjoy the reservations like the other Dalits, the only way that they can get some kind of reservation for education and employment is through the minority right enjoyed by our institutions. Let us understand that the Minority Right was not given for our academic excellence or standard but, because we are handicapped and powerless socially, economically and politically as minorities. It is a legal and institutional power to safeguard our interests, that should be used especially for the most vulnerable Dalit Christians. We must get our priorities right. So, a policy of reservation for Dalit Christians within our institutions has to be adopted. It may be called by any name such as the 'option', 'preference' or 'priority'. A few congregations, such as the Jesuits in Tamil Nadu have taken a policy of option for Dalit Christians that has brought some hope to them. Such steps have to be further strengthened and followed by all our congregations and institutions.

We have to bring to your kind attention that in most of our schools. Dalit Christians are not given science groups as they go only by marks. Dalits in the rural area later on suffer in many ways because of this. There is a lot of complaint about this from the people, as it affects their admissions to professional, technical and higher education.

In most of our premier institutions (Schools and Colleges) the appointment of Dalits is very low, even as low as 6% of the teaching staff and other employees. This is a very sad state of affair and damaging to the community as it means an enormous economic loss to the community for so many decades. The situation is worse in our girls schools and women colleges. We request for a special drive by all our institutions to rectify this situation by appointing Dalit teachers and lecturers in the next 5 to 10 years and see that about 60% of the Staff are Dalit Christians, a fair representation of their population.

Another appeal that we wish to place before the CRIs is that any new institutions and new courses started hereafter are job oriented and skills based, keeping in view of specifically helping the Dalits, instead of going for usual academic courses. Mere academic degrees may not help the very grass roots poor Dalits in the present circumstances.

We request the congregations and their institutions to take more steps to help Dalit Students with substantial financial assistance and fee concessions and see that no Dalit student suffers. Lavish spending on building construction should be reduced and save the money to provide financial assistance to Dalits and other poor. It should be followed as a policy that at least 5% of the funds used for building constructions every year is put in corpus fund for educational scholarships. Only by this we can help many Dalit and poor students to benefit from our institutions. Human development of the oppressed sections must be put on par with the institutional developments. Otherwise these people in rural area can not reach our institutions. Our institutions have to reach out to them.

Above all it is time that we think about the empowerment of Dalit Christian community within the Church. Empowering essentially means power sharing. Equitable sharing with Dalit Christians in the structural and institutions powers of the Church is a crucial issue. The caste-politics and domination should be stopped. Without working at it simultaneously, all other effort for their development will end up superficially. It is a matter of conscience for us here to see how many in this august gathering of superiors, provincials, etc. are Dalits. It is doubtful whether it could be even 5%. It is a serious imbalance and inequality suffered by Dalit Christians for decades, but who are a big majority in the Church. Is it not an indication of the caste-dominated Church? We appeal that immediate steps are taken by all congregations to appoint Dalit superiors and rectify this situation very consciously. Our institutions have to be real instruments of empowering the Dalits to establish their credibility and legitimacy as Christian and minority institutions.

As a practical measure, we appeal for a new impetus through the Hierarchy - Religious inter relationship in solving the long standing as well as the day to day problems of Dalit Christians viz. their education, development, power sharing etc. There has to be joint committees of the National CRI and the CBCI and similar committees at regional levels, specifically for Dalits issues. These committees can also collaborate with the Dalit Christian movements and Forums which is the need of the hour. It will be impossible to solve the problems of Dalit Christians when the Bishops councils, the CRIs, the individual congregations and institutions function as separate kingdoms with their own policies and priorities and pass on the bug to the others. Most times our people do not know whom to approach and were to get the solution. So we need joint-committees.

We have made an appeal to our Holy Father Pope John Paul II, and to the Apostolic Nuncio to India to speak to our Religious world superiors / Generals about our problems and also to arrange for our representation to them. We now request each congregation also to take steps for this. Our open memorandum to the Pope contains a few points regarding the Religious for which we request your kind attention.

The Most important practical thing to do is to monitor, evaluate and constantly upgrade our effort for Dalit Christians. What is really needed is policy changes and commitment in implementing them. To facilitate and monitor the progress of all initiatives, Dalit Commissions should be constituted at the National and Regional CRI levels, in which Dalit Christians leaders, and Dalit priests / nuns are amply represented as members. A Dalit Priest or Nun should be the Secretary for the CRI National Dalit Commission, just as in the case of the CBCI Commission for SC/ST/BC. These National Commissions will have to work very closely to achieve the targets.

We are here to appeal to you to formulate appropriate and adequate Agenda for Dalits development and empowerment for the next 10 years. This has to involve the close and practical collaboration with DCLM and other recognised Forums of Dalit Christians. There are a lot of specifics to be deliberated and worked out which we can do with you in due course. We hope that today will be a beginning for our continued joint effort.

Finally, we would like to see that the CRI does not remain as an end unto itself - an Ivory Tower of the Religious and for the Religions. It is true that most congregations remain as ivory towers in matters relating to Dalit Christians and other Dalits. So much of struggle is going on by the Dalits for human dignity, justice and equality but these don't seem to have touched most congregations. Some piecemeal effort may be taking place here and there, but nothing comparable to the problem. All of us have to work together. We hope that this CRI National Assembly will create an impetus to this at this year of Jubilee 2000 and the beginning of a New millennium.


Chennai, India
12th January, 2000

(Prof. Dr. M. Mary John)
President, DCLM and The Executive Members