Eraiyur Dalits observe Dalit Liberation Sunday first time in history

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By DCD Reporter

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India along with the National Council of Churches of India observed the Dalit Liberation Sunday in the second week of November since 2007.

Eraiyur is one of the oldest and biggest villages in Pondicherry diocese.

“Though our parish was established 151 years ago, this is the first time in history, the Dalit Christians observed the Dalit Liberation Sunday, November 14, says Edwin Charles, coordinator of Eraiyur Dalit Christian Teachers Federation.

The Dalit Christians are discriminated against for so many years. There is a dual cemetery system, two hearse carts, and the Dalits are not appointed in the schools as teachers.

It was on February 15, 1999, when Fr. A.C. Irudhayanathan’s mother Jayaseeli passed away, he wanted his mother’s body to be brought through the main street but it was denied by the dominant caste group of the village.

Then Archbishop Michael Augustine of Pondicherry–Cuddalore tried his best to bring the body through the main street, but he and the Dalit priests were attacked. So the Mass was celebrated at the cemetery of the Dalits.

In 1991, when Fr. Devasagaya Raj M Zackarias was the assistant parish priest, he took the effort to celebrate Mass in the Dalit cemetery on the feast of All Souls, but the dominant caste parish priest and the people were against it.

This is the same village where the caste riot took place in 2008. The Dalit Christians demanded a common cemetery, a common street, and the appointment of teachers in the diocesan educational institutions. This protest lasted from March 7 to 9, 2008.  The people went on fasting at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour, the Church of the Dalit Christians.

On March 9, 2008, the Dalit Christians were attacked and the dominant caste group burnt their houses. Till then the Dalits were not given to take part in any of the liturgies.

Dr. G. Mathew filed a case in the Madras High Court after the death of his mother during the riot. The court gave the verdict to allow the car procession in the Dalit areas. But the Archdiocese did not take any action against caste discrimination.

In the same year, Late Archbishop Antony Anandarayar gave a common hearse cart to the village but the dominant caste people did not use it, instead, they use a separate one.

After having a long history of struggle against caste discrimination, there are changes have been taken place. Nowadays, Dalit Christians are given a chance to participate in a liturgy like reading the Word of God and the Prayers of Faithful during the Mass.

“We are happy to welcome the change in our village. It is a success for us to observe the Dalit Liberation Sunday for the first time,” said Joseph Edward, a resident of Eraiyur who works as a Tamil Teacher in Delhi.

The parish priest Father Albert presided over the Mass and preached the homily.

“We appreciate and thank our parish priest. It is our request on this special day to take the necessary steps to eradicate the caste discrimination which is prevalent till today in our village. We pray that the Dalit Christians of the village desire to see the changes and to live in harmony with the opposite group,” adds Edward.

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