Resurrection of Christ is yet to happen in India’s Church

Indian Dalit - untouchable - Christians hold crosses during a protest rally against the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for its recent rejection of the demand for reservation for Dalit Christians and Muslims, in New Delhi on August 1, 2012. Thousands of protestors, church leaders, nuns, bishops and priests of the National United Christian Forum demanded that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government grant equal rights and reservation for the Dalit Christians and Muslims. AFP PHOTO/RAVEENDRAN (Photo by RAVEENDRAN / AFP)

Discrimination of Dalits in the Church is a plain and simple truth, but not accepted forthrightly by Church hierarchy

By Dr M Mary John

April 17, 2023:

The celebration of Easter 2023 with all the rhetoric, rituals, and mechanical yearly replication is just over and now it is time to seriously reflect on the real message of Easter to the Church in India and Christians.

Jesus Christ was tortured and crucified to death because he spoke the truth to the power, spoke against the religious, social and political bigotry against the oppressed and poor people. He also made the ordinary people aware of these.

The India’s Catholic hierarchy remains a typical religious bigots in dealing with the issue of Dalit Christians equality and rights within the Church. This is obvious and evident from their caste- hegemonic resistance to Dalit Christians pleas and demands for justice and equality.

Easter is primarily the occasion to reflect on and to commit, like Jesus Christ, to the liberation and justice of the oppressed and excluded people. But the Church hierarchy and clergy in India do not even refer to the word Dalits or Dalit Christians on the occasion, though they belong to the category of the most oppressed and excluded.

The Indian society, the political and civil leaders, the government and civil society as well as the Judiciary in India are talking on the issue of justice, equality, freedom and development for Dalits and carryout affirmative action for the same. Yet the Church in India is absolutely silent about it. The hierarchy and clergy try to appear or pretend to be innocent of all the injustice and discrimination against Dalits that is prevalent within the Church.

It is nothing but hypocrisy, a conspiracy of silence, a betrayal of these people who should be at the center of Church’s concern and mission. It is counter witness to Christ who stood up for the oppressed and poor people and for which he was tortured and crucified to death.

The way the hierarchy deal with justice and rights to Dalits is nothing different from what the Chief Priests and Pharisees of Jesus time did when he advocated and demanded dignity, equality and rights to the poor and oppressed.

The hierarchy accuse the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement(DCLM) and other movements of the victim Dalit Christians for raising voice against this. They only want to silence the movement, malign it, instead of responding positively. It is nothing short of felony, that too in the name of Christ. Nothing changes them. So hard is their caste mindset.

Discrimination of Dalits in the Church is a plain and simple truth, but not accepted forthrightly by Church hierarchy, superiors and clergy authorities to act upon.

Activists hold placards during a demonstration against the death of a 19-year-old Dalit girl who was allegedly gang raped by four men in Bool Garhi village of Uttar Pradesh state, and to demand accountability for the inaction of police, in Bangalore on Oct. 1, 2020. (Photo by Manjunath Kiran/AFP)

At this juncture, this Easter 2023 season should be an occasion that the Catholic hierarchy decides whether it wants to continue to be hypocritical on the issue or to be open and start doing justice to Dalit Christians by taking practical and speedy steps at all levels, especially by appointing Dalit bishops/archbishops and prelates which is their longstanding demand. Charity must start from home, it is said. Justice in the Catholic Church must start first of all from giving equitable representation to Dalits in its hierarchy and leadership.

But the most unfortunate thing is that, the stand of the India’s Catholic hierarchy and the explanation given by it on this blatantly unjust status quo and maintained by them is simply replicated by the Apostolic Nuncio in India (that is the pope’s envoy). It remains the same as that of Pontius Pilate in the trial of Jesus, letting down Dalit Christians, instead of taking a stand to liberate the Church in India from the grip of casteism, and to save Dalit Christians from the scourge of caste discrimination.

For decades Dalit Christians have been raising the issue pleading reverentially, prayerfully, fraternally and peacefully etc., but these were not at all heeded. This forced them to take up public protests. But nothing of these shakes the conscience of the hierarchy.

When the people plead or peacefully represent, the hierarchy’s response is one of silent rejection, sarcastic indifference and neglect. When the people protest the injustice, articulate and assert their justice and equal right, the hierarchy and clergy accuse the movement, malign it with lies, show antagonism and stiff resistance. When people restrain from public protests and agitation reposing confidence in the hierarchy, it only buries the issue and continues to discriminate peacefully and freely. This is the mean manner of the hierarchy used to deal with the Dalit Christians. This is what we see during the past three decades of efforts by DCLM. It is dishonesty and unchristian on the part of the hierarchy and the clergy to follow all tricks to silence the movement and take advantage of the people’s powerlessness.

But Dalit Christians cannot give up their struggle. What is needed is a renewal in the Catholic Church. Would this Easter 2023 be the KAIROS for the Church in India to do justice to Dalit Christians? It is an essential step in establishing the Kingdom of God in this world, as Christ advocated. This should be the pope’s exhortation to the Catholic Church in India.

There is also the unfortunate situation where Dalits Christians are denied the statutory Scheduled Catstes(SC) status and rights till now since they converted to Christianity, which is actually a religion-based discrimination in the Constitution of India and in the Indian Society. It has now become a national issue and a matter for the Indian Legislature and Judiciary. But it is more regrettable and unfortunate that they are denied equal treatment and rights within the Church itself which is caste-based discrimination.

The Church hierarchy, superiors and authorities know these very well but they are not willing to do anything about these. It is nothing less than their betrayal of this people. This Easter should make them to seriously reflect about this and, like the Risen Lord Jesus Christ, must stand up and act to secure dignity, justice and right the oppressed Dalits and all other oppressed people in India which is a task of establishing the kingdom of God on earth as advocated by Jesus Christ. This would, indeed, signify the resurrection of Christ n the Indian Church.

There is already a Policy of Dalits Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India, declared by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India(CBCI), but not implemented yet. At least now during this Easter Season the hierarchy must take the pledge to implement it at all levels. It should be evident, first of all, in appointing bishops and archbishops from Dalit Catholics in equitable numbers in the vacancies existing now and arising subsequently.

Finally, it should be pointed out that the Apostolic Nuncio in India and the Holy See cannot wash off their hands from this blatant caste discrimination of Dalits within the Catholic Church saying it is a matter for the Indian bishops and hierarchy. The Nuncio and the Holy See cannot turn deaf years and blind eyes to the cry of Dalit Christians for justice and to their anguish, even after knowing the caste dominant hierarchy. During Easter we reflect on the Passion of Christ and recall with contempt the role of Pontius Pilate in the final trial of Jesus Christ who left him in the hands of the unjust Chief Priests and Pharisees.

The Nuncio and the Holy See cannot act as the Pontius Pilate, forsaking the 12 million Dalit Christians, who comprise the big majority of about 65% of the Catholics in India, by simply leaving them in the hands of the formidably caste dominant Catholic hierarchy in India.

Prof. Dr. M. Mary John is president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement.

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of

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