Dalit Christians' Accusations against
Casteist Hierarchical Church Authorities in India

(Note: This article was published by Dr.Mary John, president of DCLM before the arrival of our Holy Father John Paul II to India in November 1999)

The Papal visit to India, being an important event, is awaited eagerly by all the Christians. This is expected to be an event of historical significance both for the Church in India and for the Indian Society. Moreover, it is also the time when the churches in India and the world churches are eagerly looking forward to celebrate the Jubilee 2000 commemorating the birth of Christ. At this juncture, it becomes essential and imperative to put forth certain thoughts and views to the attention of the Pope John Paul II and for the reflection of the Church, bearing in mind the future welfare of the Catholic Church in India.

The crucial and most urgent matter is the problems faced by the Dalit Christians who form a great majority in the Catholic Church in India. In recent times these people have taken up struggles against the casteism within the Church to attain justice and equality. It is becoming widely into a historical struggle among these people. It is very necessary at this moment that the Church listens intensely to get to know and understand carefully the thoughts, the agony and anger revealed by the Dalit Christians who have been adversely deprived and affected for long and are now determined to struggle. Through their activities & steps of struggle,  they register several accusations against the Indian Church authorities. A deep understanding of this is very vital.

Listed below are the thoughts, sentiments and the charges that constantly emerge in the minds of these people, their leaders and social activists and thinkers who sympathize with their just cause. This is placed for the reflection, and thoughts of the Church authorities, the priests, nuns and religious and for their serious concern and sincere action, which is inevitable now. This alone will bring meaning and dignity to the visit of the Pope John Paul II and for the celebration of Jubilee 2000 of the birth of Christ. These points are placed before the people concerned, keeping in view the future growth of the Indian Church and the welfare of the oppressed, marginalised and afflicted people in India:

By failing to take steps to attain the constitutional protection and safeguards to the dalit Christians from the centuries old social atrocity of "untouchability", the Indian Church has proved herself to be a Caste-based Church who began to neglect the welfare of Dalit Christians even 50 years ago.

Even though there are ample reasons to show that Dalit Christians are eligible and deserve the constitutional reservations in education, employment and administrations, the Indian caste-based Church has failed in her duty to use her authority, her institutional, administrative and organizational powers and influence and take steps to reach an accord for it at that time. Thereby she has caused irreparable loss to the social progress and development of Dalit Christians.

The Minority Rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution has been misused by the Church to safeguard only the interest of the upper Caste -Christians, but at the  same time to enslave Dalit Christians and hinder their progress, thereby her administration becoming a structure and instrument of promoting caste oppression and discrimination.

The Indian Catholic Church authorities have refused to lead the administration in the very "noble path of love" preached by Jesus Christ ; but instead have adopted only the mean manners of caste- -rnindedness, hatred and inequalities which were created by the Hindu religion.

Since the powers, authority, official posts, organizations and financial resources are all in the absolute hold of the caste-priests, nuns, bishops and the religious, the Dalit Christians are not able to get an equal share for them in education, employment opportunities, welfare  and development schemes available in the Church. This has hindered the progress of Dalit Christians for long and has forced them to the situation of fighting for their rights. But the Church authorities are least worried about this.

The authorities use the various means of the Church viz. the prayer services, liturgy, sacraments, sermons as well as the religious journals, increasingly against the Dalit Christians. This trend is intensified especially now, when Dalit Christians openly fight for their justice, equality and rights within the Church. Instead of sympathizing with them and using these means in support of their just cause, these are used to indulge in false propaganda against them.

The Church authorities not only refuse to function on the basis of the noble values of equality, peace and brotherhood, etc, but also choke the voice of the Dalit Christians who advocate these ideals and try to foster a Christian life in the Church on the basis of these values. For this they misuse their powers authority, influence, money and also the Government machinery such as the Police Department.

The cruelty of the caste-Christians towards the Dalit Christians is in no less degree than that meted out by the pseudo -nationalists to the Australian missionary who was set ablaze and killed recently. These caste Christians enjoy the support of the upper caste priests, nuns, administrators, superiors, bishops and the leaders of the institutions. It has been the nature of the Indian Church to keep silence whenever the Dalits are butchered, whenever their women are raped and wherever they are affected. The Church never cares to protest them against these atrocities.

The constitutional reservation for Dalit Christians in education and employment opportunities is prevented by the pseudo -nationalists in the post 50 years. In the same way the casteist authorities of the Church deny reservations to Dalit Christians in their various institutions. This atrocity of denial continues even up to this day. Most of the well established and premier institutions of the Church which are run using the minority right of the people refuse to give due opportunities and preferences to Dalit Christians in admission and appointments, which amounts to an act of betrayal. In this matter the caste authorities of the Church act against Dalit Christians very much like the pseudo-nationalists.

The Dalit Christians who are in a big majority in the Church do not get a proportionate share in the powers and authority, in admissions and appointments in the educational institutions. The casteist authorities of our institutions, the priests and nuns holding various positions are not willing to concede this even till today. On the contrary, they give most opportunities to the upper caste Christians who are only a minority and continue to justify the same. This is what we call the caste-culture and caste-tradition of the Indian Church. The Dalit Christians struggle is to condemn vehemently these caste domination, oppression, atrocity and betrayal.

In spite of their struggle during the past 10 years, there is not much change in these state of affairs in the Church and so the struggles are bound to intensify and spread wider. It is the Church authorities who are to be blamed for this situation.

The caste domination in the administration of the church has been the obstacle for the growth and advancement of the Church in India and for the values of Christ to get deeply rooted here. In this respect we may be reminded of the historical truth that even during the time of the European missionaries,  the casteism hampered and prevented the growth and progress of the Church in India.

By their staunch Casteist activities, the ruling class of the Indian Church not only worked against the Dalit Christians but has been also disloyal to God, the teachings of Jesus Christ and to our Holy Father the Pope during the post 50 years. This truth has been however hidden all these years.

The caste-dominant ruling class of the Indian Church and the institutions under their administration will soon celebrate the Jubilee 2000 on a grand scale. But as far as the Dalit Christians are concerned,  it will be a myth and only a meaningless outward show. The true meaning of Jubilee 2000 of the birth of Christ is a celebration of the joy of liberation and dignified life to those who have been oppressed and marginalised in the society. But, when the legitimate rights and the truths about the oppressed Dalit Christians, who are a part of the Church itself, are being denied and buried, what meaning will the Jubilee celebrations by the same Church carry? Can it be anything more than a mere outward show?

The Papal Visit to India and the Crucial Expectations of Dalit Christians :

There is a general opinion that the Popes can not be revolutionary. But this is proved false by the living example of our Pope John Paul II. As soon as he recovered from the murderous attack by a youth with knife, the Pope was magnanimous enough to go to the prison to meet that very youth and forgive him. He is the Pope who took the revolutionary step to acknowledge the wrongs and apologize for the grave mistakes committed by the politically autocratic administration of the Church in Europe in the second millennium.

His services to humanity in upholding peace, brotherhood and human rights, which he does by directly involving and traveling widely even in his very old age, merits to be recorded in golden letters in history. The second visit to India of this revolutionary Pope John Paul II is a matter of joy for the Christians. But it may not be a surprise if it is irritating to the pseudo-nationalists who are against the minorities in India.

The visit of the Pope brings a great and just expectation to the Dalit Christians who have been denied human dignity, human right and brotherhood in the Indian Church. They have an urgent duty to perform at this moment : to bring to the knowledge and attention of the Pope the injustices, denial of rights and atrocities meted out to them by the caste-dominant Church.

The caste-based authorities of the Church always try to prevent such an opportunity to Dalit Christians from representing to the Pope. During his last visit to India, even for expressing such an idea and desire, the Dalit Christians were prevented by them using the Police force. As a consequence of this, the " Dalit Christian Liberation Movement " emerged under which they try to consolidate their force to fight against the injustices done to them and also to take up their just cause with the hierarchical authorities, leaders and organizations of the world Christianity.

So, the Dalit Christians are eager that the supporters of social justice, the Church authorities standing for Christ's values and the people's leaders help in fulfilling their desire to represent to the Pope at least during this second visit. There has to be full effort to solve all their problems. This will also pave the way to relent or prevent this continued struggle.

A just and permanent solution to their problem is possible only if Dalit Christians, Dalit priests and nuns are given equitable share in the powers and positions of the Church and the management of the resources. The Indian Church has failed to bring necessary changes towards this end. So, the Pope's intervention and instructions are necessary and inevitable for all these.

A big question with our people regarding the Jubilee 2000 is "Whose celebration is it going to be in the Indian Church?" It will be the celebration for only the Caste-dominant ruling class. But of course, they will speak loudly about the liberation of the oppressed and poor people. In this situation it is very important and appropriate that the Pope openly advises them and insists that the Indian Church changes her contradictory stand of working against the interests of the Dalits  by marginalising and excluding them.

At several stages, most of the Casteist Church authorities were not trusted friends of Dalit Christians. Not only that, they indeed worked as their dishonest enemies. This truth has to be emphatically made known to the world.

Now the Dalit Christians see no other way than to bring their just demands and struggles to the attention  of the Pope, to change the Caste-culture of the Church and establish a Church with "Renewed life".

If the casteist authorities of the Indian Church prevent the Dalit Christians and try to hide their genuine problems from the Pope and the world Christianity, the future will expose them as a people much worse than the psuedo -nationalists.

At least at this juncture of the Pope's visit and the Jubilee 2000, the Indian Church authorities should begin to change their caste -mentality, callous attitude and inimical activities against Dalit Christians and commit to their cause truthfully in the path of Christ. The question that stands out eminently with the Dalit Christians at this moment is: "will they do this?".