Tamil Nadu Dalit Christian Coalition proposes creation of “Indian Dalit Rite”

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By DCD Reporter

Salem, Tamil Nadu: Tamil Nadu Dalit Christian Coalition (TNDCC), a civil society group that champions the causes of Dalits, has pushed for the creation of a new Rite namely “Indian Dalit Rite.”

In the light of continued discrimination against Dalit Christians in the Tamil Nadu Catholic Church, the TNDCC proposed a new Rite namely “Indian Dalit Rite” (in the Catholic Church, under the direct Governance of the Pope and Holy See) on August 4, at YMCA Hall in Salem, said its convener G. Mathew.

More than 100 delegates from Tamil Nadu and neighbouring states participated in the introductory discussion. 

The Rite was declared and opened by Mathew G, Ms. Nalini, E. Vallarasu,  Sr. A. G. Alphonsa and V. Vincent.

Supreme Court Advocate Franklin Caser Thomas explained the need and necessity of the Indian Dalit Rite in today’s context.

Father A.X.J. Bosco, the former Jesuit Provincial of Andhra Pradesh, presented a paper about the possibility of this Rite referring to many indigenous Rites around the world.

According to Mathew, Dalit Christians in India are facing several problems, including the appointment of Dalit priests as Bishops.

“All over India, there are 174 Dioceses and 18 such Dioceses are in Tamil Nadu. Each Diocese is headed by a Bishop and the Bishops of select Archdioceses are called Archbishops. The caste-based discrimination in the appointments of Bishops has become a matter of concern in recent times,” Mathew said in a statement.

In India, there are 180 bishops among them only 10 are from the Dalit community. But 80% of the Catholic population in India are Dalits. Among the 18 Bishops in Tamil Nadu, only 1 is from the Dalit community. In India, there are 31 Archbishops. Among them, only 2 are from the Dalit Community. Among the 4 cardinals from India, none belongs to the Dalit Community. 

In Tamil Nadu, in the past 15 years, 12 Bishops have been appointed and no Dalit priest has been considered for Bishopric. This clearly illustrates the fact that the Church is indeed biased and caste-based. The non-Dalit population of the Catholic Church is around 30% but, the majority of Church administrative positions are occupied by them. The Church that preaches justice and liberation to the downtrodden has been oppressing them for decades.

Several times in the past the Dalits have appraised the pope of this ground reality. Late Pope John Paul II was the first pope to address this issue. In his address to the clergy, he pointed out that the issue of caste-based discrimination in the Church is detrimental to the values of Christ.

The present Pope Francis has called for the immediate removal of all forms of oppression in the Church and invited the faithful to embrace the legacy of the culture that a faithful hails from and imbibe the values of Christ to respect one another.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) declared a Dalit Empowerment policy on December 13, 2016. The 10-point program proposed by the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council in 1990 and the 8-point action plan in 2004 echoed the same thought process.

In the past 30 years, on many occasions, the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and CBCI have acknowledged the fact that the caste-based discrimination in the Church is true and expressed its dismay over the negligence and failure on the part of the Church and even proposed several measures to alleviate this inhuman practice.

“But, keeping all these promises in abeyance, the Church has betrayed the Dalits once again and appointed two Non-Dalit Priests as Bishop of Salem on May 31, 2021, and Trichy on June 29, 2021, which clearly shows that the Tamil Nadu Bishops are not yet ready for introspection, but the Dalit Catholics are determined to put up tough resistance to the negligence of the Church,” said Mathew. 

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