Dalits of India call for ‘change of heart’ in Catholic Church’s practice of ‘casteism’

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Rita Joseph, India

A group of Dalit Christians called on Catholic Church leaders in India to bring about a “change of heart” in the Church’s reported practice of “casteism.”

“During the past two years Dalit Christians have raised voice against the monster of casteism,” read an open letter to the Church hierarchy from the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM).

The group cited the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore where only non-Dalit archbishops have been appointed even as Dalits comprise majority of the Catholic faithful.

he letter was released on the eve of the scheduled National Thanksgiving Prayer Service in honor of St Devasahayam, an Indian layman and martyr who was canonized by Pope Francis on May 15.

“The prayer service to Saint Devasahayam should bring a change of heart in the celebrants of the service and the hierarchy at large to do justice to the Dalit Christians without further delay,” read the DCLM letter.

It added that the saint was martyred because he stood up against caste discrimination and oppression.

The letter, which was signed by Prof M Mary John, DCLM president, accused Catholic Church leaders of having “deaf ears, blind eyes, and narrow caste mindset” to the appeals of the Dalits.

“Will any of these bishops and prelates at the helm follow Saint Devasahayam as a model to fight the casteism in the Catholic Church? Will they resolve to stop marginalizing and excluding Dalit Christians from the hierarchy?” read the DCLM letter.

“If this does not happen, then the thanksgiving prayer service would be yet another ceremonial betrayal of Dalit Christians as well as the saint himself,” it added.

Saint Devasahayam was a Hindu who converted to Christianity in the 18th century. A few years after his conversion, he was imprisoned for renouncing his faith.

Devasahayam, an official in the court of the king of the erstwhile Travancore, continued preaching Christianity until he was shot dead on Jan. 14, 1752, in the Aralvaimozhy forest in Tamil Nadu’s Kanyakumari district.

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