DALIT CHRISTIAN LIBERATION
MOVEMENT (DCLM) Reg.no. 127/91
AN OPEN MEMORANDUM
TO THE HOLY FATHER POPE JOHN PAUL II DURING HIS VISIT TO INDIA
IN NOVEMBER, 1999 AND ON THE EVE OF THE JUBILEE 2000 OF THE BIRTH
TAMIL NADU - PONDICHERRY (INDIA)
Dr. M. Mary John,M.S.C.,M.Phil., Ph.D., M.A.(Socio)M.Sc.(Mgt.
President of DCLM, Tel: 044-3711138
Dalit C. Arokiadoss, M.A.B.Ed
General Secretary, Tel: 04115-52313
A Follow up to our letter to the Holy
Father dated 7th October, 1999 seeking for an appointment for our
Our Most Beloved Holy Father,
Warm and reverential greetings from the Dalit Christian Liberation
Movement (DCLM), India. We are very happy to greet you and welcome
to our motherland. We consider it a historical moment to the church
in India and to the people at large.
While we, the Dalit Christians
join the whole Christian Community in India to welcome you and receive
your blessings and Pontifical message, we have also an important duty
and a special task of presenting this memorandum for your attention
and action with utmost urgency.
This is something, which
we should have done much earlier, even during your last visit to India
in 1986. We indeed attempted to meet you and make representation,
but we were prevented by our Church authorities here. This time also
we have requested for an appointment to present this memorandum.
Casteism is the Indian species
of Apartheid and we, Dalits, known as the Blacks of India, are still
facing atrocities and oppression of all kinds, still seeking fundamental
freedom and basic needs. Our situation within the Church is not different,
and in fact still worse in some respects.
We Dalit Christians form
a big majority in the Catholic Church in India but we are suppressed.
There has been loss of our civil rights and violation of our human
rights and dignity within the Church. After a long silence and patience
for decades, we cannot but expose the failure of the Indian Church
to do justice to us and seek other remedies and measures. We want
you, our Holy Father to intervene to root-out casteism in the church
and the long standing injustices, discriminations and marginalisation
suffered by us within the church.
It is a historical problem
and needs a historical moment and effort to solve it. So, more than
for others, we, Dalit Christians expect your present visit to be a
historical moment for us, especially at this juncture of the Jubilee
2000 of the Birth of Christ. As for us, we are still in the making
of history for our freedom, for our dignity, equality and development.
We have reached the point
of taking up struggles for this. It should be realised that the cause
of Dalits within the Indian Church is as important and serious as
the cause of the minorities in India. This perception is important.
So, it is time that our voice reaches you.
Our demands are eminently
in keeping with the spirit and values of Christ's message and the
recent social teachings of the Church and the human rights perception.
Our problem cannot be solved by mere theological reflections and choicest
verbal gestures. Various policies, administrative and structural changes
have to be implemented to radically and rapidly change the structured
inequalities. All these have to be seen in concrete action. Your Holiness
intervention is crucial and necessary for this. With these in view
and keeping in mind the magnitude and urgency of the problem, we submit
to you the following proposals suggestions and requests.
1. We seek your Pontifical
declaration against the casteism in the Church and the consequent
discriminations and deprivations of Dalit Christians. All forms
of untouchability. have to be condemned publicly and declared as
2. Holy Father may kindly
instruct the Indian Church authorities (Bishops, Clergy and the
Religious) to immediately ban all forms of divisions and separations
or exclusion viz. in the church, in the funeral paths and graveyards,
in the Church festivals, etc. The Priests and Bishops should be
barred from celebrating or giving sacraments where castes Christians
practice such things.
3. We, Dalit Christians
are severely marginalised in the vocations of Priests and Nuns and
in the appointments for any higher authority or positions. Even
though Dalit Christians are about 75% in the Catholic Church in
the state of Tamil Nadu, South India, only about 6% among the priests
and nuns are Dalits. Similar situation exists in the whole of India.
This must be taken up seriously, as it is against the natural and
distributive justice and democratic values. Some special drive and
mission could be initiated by you in Vatican and by the Major Superiors
of the Religious Congregations to ordain more Dalit Priests and
Nuns. The Dalit Christian people and their .movement will extend
all cooperation for this.
4. Similarly there are
not even about 8 Dalit Bishops among the nearly 150 Catholic Bishops
in India. This is again a serious exclusion of the Dalit Christians
from the mainstream of the Church even though they form a big majority
in the Catholics population. It is a clear proof that the caste-domination
is operating at all levels of making the choice, recommendations
and decisions for the appointment of Bishops. This needs to be corrected
and justice must be done to Dalit Christians at the earliest. There
should be at least 75 Dalit Catholic Bishops in India and at least
10 in Tamil Nadu. We request you Holy Father to take immediate steps
to correct this serious imbalance. This needs your particular attention
and a special drive.
At present there are three
vacancies for Bishops in Tamil Nadu. These vacancies could be filled
by appointing Dalit Priests, as a special gesture of your present
visit to India. Similarly, there should be equitable representation
for Dalit Priests in the posts of auxiliary Bishops. Since Dalit
Priests in some States may be very few, the appointment of Dalit
Bishop could be done at the Inter-State level also.
5. Again, we have not
had a Cardinal from among Dalit Christians so far. This is again
a very serious exclusion suffered by Dalits even though they form
a big majority in the Church. This also has to be given a special
consideration during your present visit. We wish to point out that
Dalit Christians can never be empowered or get their due rights
without these power sharing to them at all levels. Moreover, we
should not allow the ridiculous situation to continue where the
Dalits are called to be Christians in majority, but they are only
rarely called to be priests, nuns, Bishops or cardinals. This is
fundamentally defeating the cause of the Dalits within and outside
6. Casteism in the Church
not only causes the loss of our civil or social rights and violates
our human dignity and basic natural equality but it also has very
adversely affected our educational and economic progress for generations.
There is violation of
the distributive justice to them in our Minority Institutions themselves.
In our leading and well-established institutions, Dalit Christians
are severely marginalised both in admissions and appointments. In
most of these institutions, their representation is only less than
10%. There is lack of policies in these institutions to see that
the historically oppressed Dalit Christians get their due share
in proportion to their bigger population. By and large the caste
authorities of the church disown the Dalit Christians when it comes
to sharing such privileges, benefits and facilities. This caste-culture
of the Church has very adversely affected the Dalit Christian community
in the past more than 50 years. Even knowing that the Dalit Christians
have been denied the constitutional safeguards just because they
are Christians, they have wantonly neglected their cause. Thus we
are doubly discriminated. Because of this, a great majority of Dalit
Christians are illiterate and are living below poverty line. This
state of affairs in our institutions has to be brought to the attention
of the Major Superiors and Generals of all our Religious Congregations
so that they give directions to their local superiors and authorities
to make policies of preference and reservation to Dalit Christians
to enable the community to get their due share in admissions and
appointments. We request you, Holy Father to appeal and ask the
Major Superiors and Superior Generals to take up this issue immediately
and directly intervene. Their action plan and close monitoring for
at least 3 years can help to set right the situation.
7. The local Church authorities,
institutions and organisations have built up and accumulated financial
and material resources and continue to get financial aid from Catholic
donors and agencies all over the world, primarily with the appeal
to help the underprivileged and the untouchable Dalits and poor
people. But these have not really reached them, not their due share
and not even a minimum share. There is no transparency and accountability
to these people, their leaders or their committees. This has been
going on for decades. A firm appeal is necessary by your Holiness
to see that this does not continue. They have to see that things
are monitored with the help of Dalit leaders and their committees.
The cumulative effect
of all these has caused enormous damage to our progress and has
ended us in a tragic situation. The Church has done precious little
8. These need to be debated
at length and many steps need to be initiated. So a necessary and
important step which we strongly suggest and request is that a separate
'Cell or Secretariat for Dalit Christians Affairs' is started in
Vatican in which some 3 Dalit Christian leaders and 2 Dalit Priests
are represented and it functions for at least 3 years. This will
amply facilitate a process, which could bring impact at the local
levels, official levels and the international levels of the Church
and the Christian Community. This can be an advocacy body to promote
understanding, policy changes and action plans at different levels.
This has to be recognized by all the Church bodies, World Congregations
and Christian Organizations.
These are minimum steps that
are required to bring about meaningful and tangible changes in support
of the cause of Dalit Christians. Any further delay will only 'go
to strengthen their struggle. The Dalit Christians are waiting for
long for peaceful solution from the Church authorities here. But lack
of sincerity and sensitivity towards the core problems cannot lead
to a peaceful solution. Peaceful solution consists of a sincere, honest
and speedy attempts to restore justice and equality to the oppressed
and the suffering people. That has to come from the authorities, the
powerful and the dominant. We cannot depend only on the authorities
of the Indian Church, speaking from our experience so far. Only assurances
are given by them but not much in terms of action. What is done for
us is too late and yet too little. So we seek the urgent co-operation
and intervention of your secretariat officials, various Pontifical
Councils /Congregations and Commissions, the Major Superior generals
of our religious congregations to solve our problems.
We have to take this step
as we do not know what has been communicated to you officially so
far by the authorities here on the caste-problem within the Church.
The Dalit Christian problem is usually distorted, diverted, sidelined
or shadowed from you, the Vatican officials and the Major superiors/Generals
of our Religious congregations. So, it is high time that we have a
direct access and dialogue with all these authorities to find solutions
to our problems, finally and justly.
Finally, we also request
you to use your good office and diplomatic relations and influence
to impress upon the Indian government to extend the constitutional
reservations and safeguards provided for the other Dalits to Dalit
We ardently request you our
Holy Father to raise our issues and give instructions and directions
at various levels when you meet the CBCI, the CRI, other Catholic
authorities and delegations of the Church during your visit. This
will cleanse the conscience of the Indian Church and help to become
truly a Church of the oppressed -and the poor.
Looking forward to these
historical moments in your present visit to India.
Dr.Mary John, Suprabath
22, Perumal Koil West Mada Street, Saidapet, Chennai, 600 015,
( For the Delegates of Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM)
1. The Cardinal Secretary
of State of Vatican, Italy
2. The Apostolic Nuncio to India, New Delhi
3. The various Councils/Congregation/Commissions of Cardinals and
Bishops in Vatican.
4. Cardinals Lourdhusamy D. Simon, Vatican, Italy.
5. Most Rev.Dr. Alan D Lastic, President, CBCI & Arch Bishop
6. Most Rev. Dr. A.M. Chinnappa, Chairman, CBCI Commission for SC/ST/BC,
7. Most Rev. Dr. Arul Das James, President TNBC, and Archbishop of
Madras, Mylapore, Chermai.
8. Rev. Fr. S. Lourdhusamy, Executive Secretary, CBCI Commision for
SCT/ST/BC, New Delhi.
9. Rev. Fr. A. Philomin Raj, Secretary, TNBC Commission for SC/ST/BC,
Trichy, Tamil Nadu.
10. All the Bishops in India
11. The Superiors/Generals/Provincials etc. of Religious Congregations.
11. The Heads of CRI in India.
12. Other Officials and Officials bodies of Catholic Church, Priest
and Nuns, etc.