Catholic village in Tamil Nadu reports caste discrimination, files case in High Court

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By DCD Desk

Ayyampatti is a Catholic village in the diocese of Tiruchirappalli in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Christian Dalits of the village filed a case in the High Court of Madras—Madurai branch, claiming that they had been discriminated against in participating in the church festival.

The problem came to the limelight in July 2022, when the parish feast of St. Mary Magdalene was organized. The church was established in 1934. Dalit Christians approached the parish priest, Father Charles K., and asked him to get the tax for feast from them and to celebrate the feast. The priest agreed to do so.

Upon hearing this, the dominant caste Christians threatened the parish priest not to get the tax for feast from the Dalit Christians. But the parish priest resisted, then sent him away and locked the doors.

They celebrated the feast without receiving tax for feast from Dalit Christians. This means the car procession will not go to the streets of the Dalit Christians. The dominant caste Christians, with the help of the bishop of Tiruchirappalli, invited another priest.

The caste Christians locked the parish priest’s residence, took away the keys, and did not allow the Dalit Christians to use the community hall to celebrate marriages and other celebrations. Dalit Christians went and informed the bishop and the diocesan authorities, but no action was taken.

On February 20, 2023, we sent letters to the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and the state and central governments, including the district collector of Tiruchirappalli, briefing him about the caste discrimination in Ayyampatti village, says V. Arockia Doss, a member of Dalit families.

The district collector visited the village and ordered the villagers to form the parish council, which included all the communities in the parish. As a result, the information was put up on the news bulletin board.

In March 2023, Father Anthuvan, the Vicar General, and the new parish priest of the village elected 40 people as the parish council, and a 12-member team was elected as the village feast committee, as indicated in the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.

The parish decided to celebrate the feast on July 22, 2023. So, the Dalit Christian representatives printed the notice, collected the tax for the feast, submitted it to the parish priest, and received the receipt.

Some intruders spread false information against Dalit Christians and were called by the nearest police officials of Thuvakudi station and the Thiruverumbur sub-collector for a peace talk on July 20, 2023. It was decided to celebrate the feast traditionally, indirectly promoting caste discrimination.

When the Dalit Christians raised their objections to this decision, the Thiruverumbur Revenue Divisional Officer threatened Joseph Raj Arockiasamy, saying that a case would be filed against him.

A three-member team of the Ayyampatti Dalit Christians, namely Joseph Raj Arockiasamy, Arockia Doss Maria Antony, and Arockia Doss Veilankanni, sent a petition to the district collector of Tiruchirappalli to cancel the recommendations of the meeting conducted by the Thiruverumbur Revenue divisional officer.

Arockia Doss Maria Antony filed a case (WMP (MD)/15659/2023) on August 1, 2023, in the Madras High Court, Madurai Bench. Advocates Karthick P., Franklin Caesar Thomas, and Sethu Mahendran appeared for the case on August 8, 2023.

“I was baptized in the Catholic Church, and I am a practicing Catholic and attend the service at St. Mary Magdalene Church. Though Christianity preaches brotherhood and equality, there is wide discrimination among the caste Christians, as there is a separate mass and burial ground. The oppressed people are not allowed to participate in church affairs, including conducting Christian festivals, flag hoisting rituals, and not carrying religious statues in the streets of the oppressed communities,” says Arockia Doss Maria Antony, the petitioner.

The respondents are the district collector of Tiruchirappalli, the Revenue Divisional Officer, the Tahsildar, Bishop Savarimuthu Arokiaraj of Tiruchirappalli, and the new parish priest of Ayyampatti.

The case came up for hearing on August 1 & 10, 2023 respectively. The court has asked the Thasildar to study the caste discrimination practiced in Ayyampatti village.

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