Indian Catholic News

Report on dalit discrimination in Sivaganga

The report titled ‘Dalit Christians Crucified’ was compiled by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front.

 
Chennai: 

A public hearing report released on April 9 has listed discriminatory practices against Dalits, ranging from denial of priesthood to preventing equal job opportunities, prevalent in Tamil Nadu’s Sivaganga diocese.

The report titled ‘Dalit Christians Crucified’ was compiled by the Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front.

"It was news for me. I have known Christianity as an institution that doesn’t support discrimination," said D Hariparanthaman, retired Madras high court judge, who was a jurist in the public hearing held in March 2017.

For instance, the report cited the existence of different chapels within the same substation under a parish, each catering to different communities.

One chapel would serve the dominant community (udayars and vellalars), whom the report refers to as "caste Christians", and the other chapel would cater to dalits converted to Christianity (pallars, parayars and kadayars). "From a mere look of a chapel in a village, one would come to the conclusion as to whether it belongs to Caste Christians or dalit Christians," the report said.

"Different chapels exhibit the discrimination at play," Hariparanthaman said.

The issue is not unique to the Sivaganga diocese. But the fact that casteism has pervaded Christianity which doesn’t have such a religious sanction, escapes the understanding of D Ravikumar, general secretary, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi. "More than 50% of Catholic Christians in the country are dalits. It is shocking to see a majority community (dalits) in a minority religion (Christianity) being subjected to discrimination," he said.

But escaping caste in India is impossible, believes V Vasanti Devi. A former vice chancellor of Manonmaniam Sundaranar University, Devi was part of the jury which held the public hearing. "The term caste Christian is alien to Christianity elsewhere in the world. But caste is a primordial gene here," she said.
G Michael Raja, a Dalit, was the first from his pallar community to complete seminary training in April 2012. A victim of deep-rooted casteism in Sivaganga, he is still not ordained. In November 2014, after protests erupted over Raja’s treatment, Archbishop Antony Pappusamy of Madurai wrote a letter to the bishops functioning under him. The letter insisted that Raja seek pardon from the bishop of Sivaganga for the "agitations staged by people against the diocese and its administration" for him to be ordained priest.

Raja said since 2012, no other pallar community member had finished training. "It is systematic elimination” (by the diocese). He cited the case of another pallar who had to drop out of seminary because of caste discrimination.

These situations bring up a larger question concerning religious conversion, said C Lakshmanan, associate professor, Madras Institute of Development Studies. "That conversion is not a solution to escape caste is the bigger picture here," he said.

The fragile nature of the problem also plays into the hands of majoritarian and fundamentalist forces, Ravi Kumar said.

"Majoritarianism wave in the country gets its legitimacy from the discrimination prevailing in minority religion. The diocese must understand the larger danger lurking and resolve the situation," he said.

Hariparanthaman added that the report and its findings would likely be forwarded to the Vatican in order to bring it to the attention of the Catholic head, Pope Francis.

Source: Times of India

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