ASSURANCES OF THE CHURCH
Archbishop George Zur, the apostolic Pro-nuncio to India spoke to the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in December 1991, declaring ....:
"Though Catholics of the lower castes and tribes form sixty percent of church membership, they have no place in decision- making. Scheduled caste converts are treated as low caste not only by high caste Hindus but by high caste Christians too. In rural areas they cannot own or rent houses, however well-placed they may be. Separate places are marked for them in the parish churches and burial grounds. Inter- caste marriages are frowned upon and caste tags are still appended to the Christian names of high caste people. Casteism is rampant among the clergy and the religious. Though Dalit Christians make up 65 percent of the ten million Christians in the south, less than 4 percent of the parishes are entrusted to Dalit Priests. There are no Dalits among thirteen Catholic bishops of Tamilnadu or among the Vicars-General and Rectors of seminaries and Directors of Social Assistance Centres." (Editorial: The Examiner (The Catholic News Review), 143/3, 18 January 1992. The situation as of January 1999 is slightly more favourable.
The Pro-Nuncio's statement was confirmed by Archbishop Alphonse Mathias, the President of the CBCI, who added that the injustice inflicted on Dalit Christians by the Government and by the Church must be redressed.
Speaking for the Church of South India, Rt. Rev. Dr. M. Azariah, has declared:-
"The Scheduled Caste (Dalit) Christians are thus discriminated against and oppressed by fellow Christians within the various churches for no fault of their own but the accident of birth, even when they are second, third or fourth generation Christians. The high caste Christians who are the minority in the church carry their caste prejudices even after generations, unaffected by Christian belief and practice."
These statements from Catholic and Protestant sources make clear the fact of injustice inflicted by Christian upon Christian, a fact that must not be sugar-coated or half-hidden when church authorities condemn injustice in princple.
One welcomes the unflinching solidarity of the National Co-ordination Committee for Dalit Christians who face hard fact in their report dated 17 July 1997. Thatchoor , we are told, is an old village near Madras, with 500 families, both caste Christians and Dalit Christians. For 200 years the dominant caste Christians have been denying equal rights and participation to the Dalits. For May of 1995 the Dalits had asked for joint celebration of the feast of Our Lady, but the caste people , with police protection, kept the celebration for themselves alone.The local ordinary, Archbishop Aruldoss James, appointed a new pastor, Father K.M.Joseph, who was known to support Dalit participation in the parish. Father Joseph needed the good offices of the local peace committee to enter the parish, and, on Sunday 18 May 1997, at the flag-hoisting ceremony for the feast of the parish patron, he was assaulted by caste Christians, certain Reddiars. The archbishop closed the parish church. The caste people filed a case in court, claiming that the church was their property and demanding to have a Telegu priest as their pastor. The Archbishop has stood firm in his public declarations, insisting that justice and equality shall be maintained for the Dalits. The church is still closed and the conflict continues.
20th May 1998 , Rt.Rev.Bishop, A. M. Chinnappa, Chairman of the Commission for Scheduled Castes... of the CBCI sent this strong statement to all members of the hierarchy, entitled " A CALL FOR EQUA11TY AND BROTHERHOOD IN THE CHURCH " .
"As Chairman of CBCI Commission for SC/ST/BC, after having held some informal consultations at various levels, I would like to propose the following action-plan to eradicate discrimination and promote a genuinely spirit-filled Christian Community.
This is a re-formulation of the proposals already accepted by CBCI. I have proposed this as a reminder for immediate action. The commission will remain in touch, to learn about the progress."