Address casteism at thanksgiving for Devasahayam: Dalit group

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By Jose Kavi

New Delhi, June 23, 2022: The Catholic Church in India should seriously address the existence of casteism within its fold as it organizes a national thanksgiving prayer for Saint Devasahayam, says the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement.

The Church in India will on June 24 hold the prayer service from the tomb of the newly canonized India’s first lay person at St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral of Kottar, Tamil Nadu.

An open letter from the Dalit movement agrees to celebrate Devasahayam’s canonization is quite fitting, but what is “more important and necessary is to invoke the true spirit of his martyrdom.”

The June 23 letter signed by M. Mary John, the movement’s president, urges the Church not to treat the thanksgiving “only as a spiritual exercise or religious ritual” but as an occasion to introspect about the continuing oppression and discrimination of its Dalit members.

“This occasion should be a call to the Catholic Church to stop this. This is also important in the context of the call by Pope Francis for Synodality in the Church,” it adds.

John says the saint was martyred because he converted to Christianity defying the then prevailing oppressive and discriminating caste system. Saint Devasahayam became “a true witness” to Christ’s values and mission.

“He stood up firmly against the caste hegemony of the ruling class of the then kingdom of Travancore in South India,” the letter explains.

The movement says Devasahayam was martyred for the same cause that the movement now demands.

The global Christian community, it says, is ignorant about continuation of the caste oppression and discrimination even three centuries after Devasahayam’s times and that its “worst victim” is the Dalit Christians.

“But even after so many years, casteism, caste oppression and discrimination continues in the Catholic Church itself, which need to be challenged on this occasion,” the letter asserts.

The letter further says the movement has raised this issue “vociferously in recent times. But this truth will be suppressed and hidden by the glitters of the celebration, liturgical services and rituals scheduled to be led by the top members of India’s Catholic hierarchy.”

It wants the hierarchy in India to use the thanksgiving occasion to own up the existence of casteism in the Church and resolve to take steps to eradicate it.

“What is appalling is that, a lot has changed in the Indian society and polity after the adoption of the Constitution of independent India which has abolished untouchability and caste discrimination, but the status quo of caste domination continues in the Catholic Church,” the movement bemoans.

It regrets that the top Catholic leaders who would lead the prayer service at the saint’s tomb are the same people who “have turned deaf ears, blind eyes and their narrow caste mindset to all the appeals, and representations during the past three decades.”

“During the past two years Dalit Christians have raised voice against the monster of casteism in the archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore where only non-Dalit archbishops have been appointed so far even though Dalits comprise the big majority of the Catholic faithful,” the letter says.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India declared a policy for the empowerment of Dalits in the Catholic Church in 2016, but not implemented so far. “Will the hierarchy invoke St. Devasahayam’s intercession to set this right?” asks the movement.

The ecumenical group points out that Apostolic Nuncio to India Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli will attend the prayer service.

“This solemn celebration will be used by the India’s Catholic hierarchy yet again as an occasion to eyewash the apostolic nuncio as if there is no problem of caste division or caste discrimination, no protests by Dalit Christians, and everything thing is peaceful in Tamil Nadu Catholic Church,” it says.

It warns that the Church will black out the issue of Dalit Christians and their protest for justice. “But the nuncio should know that the struggle of Dalit Christians will continue till justice is done and the martyrdom of St. Devasahayam only vindicates their struggle,” it asserts.

It further wonders if the thanks giving prayer service would “bring a change of heart in the hierarchy to do justice to the Dalit Christians without further delay. “Will it inspire them to shed off their formidable caste mindset?” it asks.

The movement wants the bishops in the country and Tamil Nadu in particular to initiate a time-bound special drive to appoint Dalit bishops, archbishops and prelates to bring about their fair representation in the Catholic hierarchy.

The apostolic nuncio should appropriately intervene to make them accountable to it, the movement asserts.

Courtesy: Matters India

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