By DCD Reporter
On January 27, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Archbishop Antony Anandarayar from the pastoral governance of Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese in south India and appointed Bishop Peter Abir Antonysamy of Sultanpet as the Apostolic Administrator of the same Archdiocese.
This announcement of the Vatican disappointed the Dalit Catholics in the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore and in other dioceses of Tamil Nadu too.
The Dalit Christian faithful have been raising the issue of caste discrimination in the Archdiocese and demanded recently in a protest held on December 29, 2020. They demand a Dalit Archbishop for Pondicherry–Cuddalore.
The Dalit priests too sat in a peaceful dialogue to end caste discrimination. While this struggle is going on, the Vatican announcement came as a surprise.
The people expect that the Bishops should be appointed in a proportionate ratio. In Tamil Nadu, there are 18 dioceses and only the diocese of Chingleput has a bishop from the Dalit community.
“It is disheartening to note that after many dialogues and protests, heeding no attention to the voice of the Dalit Christians, the Vatican has appointed an apostolic administrator from other community. It clearly shows that the Church is acting against the Dalit Christians,” says Geetha Sagayarani, a lay leader.
Dalit Catholics in the Archdiocese have been struggling and are not treated equally in education, employment and in other areas where they are deliberately sidelined by the dominant caste Christians and denied of their right to be equal Christians in their diocese.
Many caste clashes reported in the Archdiocese started with the Pariah Revolution way back in 1831. They revolted against the untouchable practices followed in the Pondicherry Cathedral. In 1884, a peaceful dialogue was held to end untouchability at the Synod of Pondicherry. The purpose was to admit the Dalit students to the seminaries and promotion of women’s education.
In Eraiyur, when the mother of Fr. A.C Irudayanathan passed away, her body was denied to be taken through the common street. There were clashes against this untouchable practice. In the same village, the Dalit Christians protested against caste discrimination from March 10, 2008, to March 18, 2008. Police shot dead two people.
In the appointment and transfer of the Dalit priests, there have been always discrimination exercised.
“We have given several memoranda and letters to the Vatican, the Apostolic Nuncio, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and Conference of Religious India. Our struggles bear no fruits so far,” says Binnu, a social activist from Arcadu.
He requests the Dalit bishops should be appointed especially for the Archdiocese of Pondicherry.
“We are hurt and feel disrespected by the recent announcement of the Vatican. We are insulted by the adamant attitude of those who support the dominant caste minded Christians. We urge the Vatican to appoint a Dalit Archbishop and to give due representation to the Dalit priests in the Archdiocese,” he adds.
He further says in the 320 years of the history of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore and there are no archbishops who served from the Dalit community.
“I have my reservation and prejudice in this regard. The Catholic Christian community has been brought up to obey, to pray and to pay to the Church. This is our Catholic fundamental right duty without any right,” Binnu says.
“All our efforts to speak social justice is a mortal sin as per the social dominating hierarchy community of Pondicherry Diocese. When Dalit priests demonstrated and placed their reasonable demands with the Archbishop of Pondicherry quoting how the caste system is being practiced, Dalit priests are widely ignored in the past 320 years in Pondicherry Archdiocese. Nothing happened,” he says.
What has been already decided by the dominating Church authorities have been honestly fulfilled after Dr. Anandarayar in the name of faith and in the name of the Holy Father has been very wisely fulfilled.
“I am vexed and disappointed to learn the fate of Dalit Christians and their plight in the Pondicherry Archdiocese. Nothing to share anything more but to attend daily Mass and receive Holy Communion, pay and pray for only Church Hierarchy ignoring faithful bluntly till we die. This is our fate practically,” bemoans Dr. Arokiasamy, founder of People’s Multipurpose Development Society, an NGO.
Dalit Christians are dissatisfied with the recent appointment of the Apostolic Administrator to the Archdiocese of Pondicherry–Cuddalore.
The Catholic Church should respect the Dalit Christians, expresses Fernandez, a youth from Karaikal. “Jesus’ preaching teaches us to treat everyone equally and in God’s kingdom, there should be no differences of caste, class, rich and poor.”
The 10 and 8 points programs of Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India’s Dalit Empowerment Policy have yielded no fruits to end untouchability and caste practices within the Catholic Church, he adds.
During Holy Week in Rome (March 28, 2013), Pope Francis called on the world’s priests to stay close to the vulnerable, the marginalized and to be “shepherds living with the smell of the sheep.” “This is what I am asking you,” he said with emphasis, looking up from his prepared text, “be shepherds with the smell of sheep.”
“But why only then the voices of the Dalit Christians are not heard and their plight for free from slavery is not understood? Will the Good Shepherd save the Catholic Church in India from caste discrimination and free the Dalit Christians from the clutches of the dominant caste Christians?” asked Fernandez.