Pondicherry archbishop’s appointment: Dalits hoist black flag

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By Matters India Reporter

Pondicherry, March 21, 2022: Dalit Catholics in Tamil Nadu have protested the appointment of a non-Dalit as the archbishop of an archbishop in the southern Indian state.

The Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, which leads the protest, on March 20 hoisted a black flag in the Church of Our Lady of Fatima in Vrithachalam parish of Pondicherry-Cuddalore archdiocese.

A day earlier, the Vatican announced the transfer of Bishop Francis Kalist of Meerut to Pondicherry-Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu as its archbishop, ignoring Dalit Catholic groups’ demand for a prelate from their community.

Although the Archbishop-elect is Tamil, he is a non-Dalit who has been serving a northern Indian diocese for decades.

The Dalit groups also posted a hashtag on Twitter, “FRANCIS KALIST GO BACK.”

What has upset the Dalits is that Bishop Kalist has ignored their plea to him to not accept the new post.

A rumor spread in Tamil Nadu weeks earlier indicated Bishop Kalist coming to Pondicherry. S Anandaraj, the movement’s communication secretary, on March 1 wrote to Bishop Kalist warning him that the Dalit Christians would not allow him to take charge if he agreed to the Vatican proposal. “We shall continue to fight,” he wrote.

The lay leader’s letter to Bishop Kalist termed his transfer to Pondicherry as unjust and against the Canon Law and the Indian Constitution since it deliberately ignores and discriminates the Dalit Christians.

Anandaraj also said the Dalits felt cheated that a non-Dalit is coming to an archdiocese where 74 percent Catholics are from their community. Pondicherry never had a Dalit archbishop in the past 388 years.

The Dalit movement has raised the demand for prelate from their community from 2018.

On February 2 this year, a group of priests and representatives of lay movements met the apostolic nuncio and submitted a memorandum when he visited Vellore, another Dalit-dominated diocese in Tamil Nadu.

Despite such requests and demands the Vatican has appointed non- Dalits as prelates for Salem and Trichy diocese and Pondicherry-Cuddalore archdiocese, the movement regrets.

Anandaraj on March 20 also wrote to Archbishop George Antonysamy of Madras-Mylapore, the president of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council.

Given below is the English translation of the Tamil letter.

Greetings to Archbishop George,

As the President of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council (TNBC), you have shown your caste affinity and discriminated the Dalits. That shows in the appointment of Bishop Lawrence Pius as the vice president of TNBC.

There is no Dalit bishop or Dalit archbishop appointed in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry- Cuddalore in the last 388 years where the Dalit Christian population is 74 percent.

There have been various protests, demonstrations, rallies and correspondence over the last three years demanding the appointment of a Dalit Archbishop for the Archdiocese. Our effort in meeting all the bishops of Tamil Nadu in person became fruitless.

As usual your dominant caste attitude of deceiving people made you successful.

We have met you many times on behalf of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement and talked for many hours to understand the feelings of 74 percent of the Dalit Christian people. We have given many letters. And Dalit Christian priests met you and express their feelings….You have slandered the feelings and of the 4 lakh Dalit Christians of this diocese…

You have deceived us by saying that the newly appointed Apostolic Nuncio is your friend and he will listen if you say so and our request will surely be fulfilled….

Your words and deeds are full of lies. The words that come out of your mouth are like those that come from the sewers .You have proven again and again that you are a caste leader who is not qualified to be an archbishop in Christianity.

We cannot accept an archbishop from a Nadar community, who comes by your influence. We want a Dalit Archbishop to be appointed respecting our feelings. Otherwise we will continue to run the Non-Cooperation Movement. We will not allow casteism to reign here. We will not let your caste discrimination to work.

We warn you that we will soon be besieging your Madras-Mylapore Archbishop’s residence as well.

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