By Robin Gomes
India’s Catholics and Protestants jointly observed Dalit Liberation Sunday on November 11 with liturgy and activities calling for an end to
Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhampur, chairman of the Office for Scheduled Castes/Backward Classes of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), asked people to remember the 100 poor Christians killed in anti-Christian violence in Odisha state’s Kandhamal 10 years ago.
The observation is a “call to the whole Christian community to renew our faith, to awaken our consciousness to be the voice of the voiceless and to stand with vulnerable Dalits in society,” he said in his message.
Since 2007, the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), comprising Protestant and Orthodox Churches, and the CBCI has been jointly observing Dalit Liberation Sunday on the second Sunday of November.
Remembering Kandhamal 2008
The 2018 Dalit Liberation Sunday had as its theme, “As for Me and My Household, We will serve the Lord,” taken from the Book of Joshua. It was also the theme of the
Bishop Nayak and CBCI secretary-general Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas joined several bishops and priests for a liturgy in New Delhi, remembering the Dalit people through its readings, homily and prayers.
Two guest priests from Nyeri Archdiocese in Kenya were among the concelebrants.
Bishop Nayak said the anti-Christian violence in Kandhamal in 2008 was an expression of social intolerance against the empowerment of Dalits.
“They were very poor Dalits and tribals who were simply massacred. We cannot forget their witness of faith,” the bishop said.
Father Devasagayaraj Zackarias, secretary of the bishops’ office for Dalit and tribal people, told ucanews.com that parishes across India adapted the Sunday liturgy with a focus on Dalit rights and the discrimination they face in India.
He said discrimination against Dalit people is an issue for the whole Catholic Church and all churches in India.
Bishop Mascarenhas said the day is “important for us because at least once in a year we think of the Dalits in a more focused way. The one remembrance should last throughout the year.”
Pradip Bansrior, executive secretary of the NCCI office for Dalits and tribal people, told ucanews.com that “the concerns of Dalit people are an issue challenging the core of our faith and Gospel.”
The Sanskrit word Dalit, meaning “broken” or “trampled upon”, is a term used to denote people outside India’s rigid four-tier caste system, who were once considered untouchable. Although untouchability was abolished in 1950, Dalit leaders say social discrimination persists in several forms.
Dalits have been shunned, deprived and exploited socially, economically, politically or otherwise through centuries.
Hundreds of Dalits who joined Christianity to escape grinding poverty, exploitation and humiliation, are estimated to number some 30
The Indian Constitution reserves special privileges and benefits such as quota in government jobs and educational institutions for Dalits, tribal groups and scheduled castes to help their socio-economic uplift.
However, the Presidential Order of August 10, 1950, initially stated that “…no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” Subsequently, the Order was modified twice to include Sikhs (in 1956) and Buddhists (in 1990) after they protested, but Muslims and Christians of low caste origin have been excluded despite protests and petitions.
Discrimination within Church, society
Dalit Liberation Sunday aims to bring people’s attention to discrimination against Christian Dalit people, both within the Church and in society, Bishop Nayak said.
Dalit leaders complain they are not represented in most church decision-making bodies and face discrimination by being allotted separate parishes, feasts and localities, including exclusive spaces for them in churches and even some cemeteries within the Christian community.
NCCI general secretary Rev. Roger Gaikwad said the injustice of the caste system continues. “One keeps hearing stories of Dalits being denied access to well water, entry into temples, quality education and basic healthcare and employment opportunities. Women are being raped and Dalit men murdered.”
National Crime Records Bureau data showed that the number of crimes reported against Dalits rose from 38,670 in 2015 to 40,801 in 2016. (Source: UCANEWS)