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Bishops seek fair deal for Indian Dalit Christians

Indian bishops are campaigning to end discrimination against Dalit Christians. It came as violence and rights abuses resonated across Asia.

Published: February 25, 2022 11:02 AM GMT

Updated: February 25, 2022 03:39 PM GMT

Catholic bishops in southern Indian state of Kerala have launched a campaign to mobilize political support to end long-running discrimination against Dalit Christians in the country.

The bishops have handed over memoranda to all federal ministers, parliamentarians and state legislators to seek their support for the cause. They are seeking to end all forms of social discrimination and economic deprivation suffered by Dalit Christians and appealed to all regional bishops to make similar efforts.

The Dalits constitute the lowest stratum of the Hindu caste system. Many Dalits have converted to Buddhism, Sikhism, Christianity and Islam. Christian and Muslim Dalits are excluded from special welfare benefits such as reservations for government jobs, education institutions and elections.

Since the 1950s, Dalit Christians have been fighting this discrimination unsuccessfully. In 2004, Dalit Christians filed a petition with the Supreme Court for their constitutional rights to equality.

Bishops seek fair deal for Indian Dalit Christians

Dalit Christian leaders observe a black day in Nellore, Andhra Pradesh. (Photo supplied)

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In Thailand, attacks by Muslim insurgents are threatening the peace process in restive southern region. In the latest incident, an explosive devise placed at a level crossing in Yala province injured two policemen on Wednesday.

On the same day, a defense volunteer in a village of neighboring Narathiwat province was shot dead as he was riding his motorbike. On January 28, insurgents set off 13 explosive devices in the town of Yala. The next day police killed two suspected insurgents following a 20-hour siege in Narathiwat.

Police investigators inspect the wreckage of car bomb following an explosion outside the Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre in Thailand's restive southern province of Yala on March 17, 2020. (Photo: AFP)

Bombing and gun attacks by insurgents are common in Thailand’s four Muslim-majority provinces bordering Malaysia where separatists have waged an armed struggle for independence from Thai rule.

The escalation of violence has dampened hopes for the success of peace negotiations, which are expected to resume next month in Malaysia. Hardline separatists earlier said they would not accept any political solution other than full independence for Muslim-majority provinces.

Rights groups and Christian activists in Pakistan have reacted angrily to a proposal to replace annual International Women’s Day rallies with a Hijab Day.

In a letter to Prime Minister Imran Khan, the federal minister for religious and minority affairs, Noorul Haq Qadri, asked for a ban on the popular Aurat women’s marches.

Vanguard Books editor Aima Khosa makes her point at the women’s march in Lahore on March 8, 2020. (Photo: Kamran Chaudhry/UCA News)

The minister said the banners, placards and slogans of the march challenge the Islamic social system. He insisted Pakistan women should observe Hijab Day on March 8 to protest Hindu groups opposing hijabs in India.

Women and rights activists termed the proposal ridiculous as Women’s Day marches don’t target any religion but mostly highlight discrimination against women in society and oppression of minority women such as by forced conversion and marriage. Last year Islamic hardliners filed blasphemy cases against women marchers for alleged anti-Islam slogans during rallies. 

Myanmar’s military junta has arrested two Catholic priests who had been assisting people displaced by fighting in conflict-torn Shan state.  Father John Paul Lwel and Father John Bosco from the St. Therese Little Way Missionary Institute were arrested on Monday along with two car drivers and a young student.

Church officials from Pekhon Diocese said the reason for their arrest was unknown, and efforts are underway to get them released. The arrests in the Christian-majority state came as fighting between the military and people’s defense forces intensified in Mobye township in Pekhon Diocese.

Father John Bosco (left) and Father John Paul Lwel from St. Therese Little Way Missionary Institute were arrested by the military junta in Myanmar on Feb. 21. (Photo: Facebook)

Junta forces have deployed airstrikes, armored vehicles and heavy weapons in the area. Thousands of people have been displaced amid the escalation in fighting between the military and rebel forces in Shan state and Kyah state since May 2021.

The military has also targeted Christian clergy and some nine priests were arrested last year on allegations of supporting resistance forces. 

Catholics in northern Vietnam have accused local authorities of disrespecting religion by disrupting a Sunday Mass. Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien of Hanoi was celebrating Mass with nine priests at Vu Ban Church in Hoa Binh province last Sunday when two officials demanded the congregation to disperse.

The officials shouted loudly and ordered all people to “break up.” They threatened to make reports and take appropriate measures. Local Catholics described their actions as illegal and unacceptable attempts to insult religion.

Two officials use the microphone to order people at Vu Ban Church to disperse on Feb. 20. (Photo courtesy of tonggiaophanhanoi.org)

Vu Ban Parish, about 120 kilometers from Hanoi, is an old Catholic settlement, but it has only 450 members. The church was forced to cease all religious activities when the area came under the control of communists in 1954.

In recent years, some priests have built facilities and started to offer pastoral care to local people. Communist Vietnam is an officially atheist state where religious freedom is permitted with certain limitations. 

Catholic priests, nuns and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka have filed a petition with the Supreme Court for abolition of the country’s draconian anti-terror law. They say the Prevention of Terrorism Act or PTA has terrorized many people for years and has been exploited to muzzle dissent and government critics including rights campaigners.

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Catholic right activist Ruki Fernando said he has faced harassment after being charged under the PTA, with restrictions on freedom of expression, a travel ban and confiscation of his equipment over the past five years.

Sri Lankan Catholic priests walk past a damaged shop after a mob attack in Minuwangoda on May 15, 2019. Mosques and Muslim-owned shops and businesses were targeted in a violent backlash after the Easter Sunday terror attacks. (Photo: AFP)

The PTA was introduced in 1979, four years before the start of the Sri Lankan civil war. It allows arrests without a warrant for unspecified, unlawful activities and detention of up to 18 months without a court appearance.

Dozens of people including rights activists, Catholic priests, journalists, lawyers and opposition politicians have been arrested under the law and faced harassment. 

Catholic leaders in Indonesia have called on the central government to listen to the aspirations of local people in Papua before making plans to divide the Christian-majority region. The Ministry of Home Affairs has prepared a proposal to have six provinces in place of the current two — Papua and West Papua.

The plan has drawn protests from Papuans who suspect it may further tighten government control over the territory and marginalize indigenous people. Father Yohanes Jeharut, an official of the bishops' conference, said the conference has not officially stated its position on this proposal as it respects the autonomy of bishops in the Papua region.

Refugees who fled their homes to escape violent confrontations between indigenous groups shelter at the Evangelical Church of Indonesia Evanhastia in Dekai, Papua, on Oct. 6, 2021. (Photo: Florianus Geong)

Many Papuans still lament they were not properly consulted before Indonesia annexed the region through what they call a sham referendum at the end of Dutch colonial rule in the 1960s.

Since then, the region has been plagued by a pro-independence armed insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and displaced tens of thousands. 

Catholic groups in South Korea are trying to prevent the lonely deaths of elderly people. St. Vincent de Paul Society have joined with churches in 11 Catholic dioceses for a campaign called the Lone Death Prevention Movement over the past five years.

Each month volunteers visit and offer help to lonely people in a country where lonely deaths are increasing. The Ministry of Health and Welfare reported that South Korea recorded 3,159 lonely deaths in 2021.

A member of St. Vincent de Paul Society prays with an elderly woman in South Korea. (Photo: Catholic Times of Korea)

The figure was more than three times higher than the 1,025 lone deaths in 2012. There have been reports in the media about lonely elderly people dying at home and their bodies being left unattended for a long time.

The government passed the Lone Death Prevention and Management Act in April 2021 to provide necessary care to lonely elderly people and offer them proper burials after death. 

Catholics in various dioceses of communist China are reading the Bible and contemplating more on the life of Jesus as they make efforts to deepen their faith. The Archdiocese of Beijing has announced 2022 as the Year of the Son of God.

Parishes and other church groups have been arranging year-long Bible-related programs involving reading, study sessions and quiz competitions. In the Diocese of Jian in Jiangxi province, parish priests distributed Bibles to Catholics during a Mass.

A parish priest in Jiangxi province of China hands over a Bible to a parishioner. (Photo: Fides.org)  

The diocese celebrates 2022 as the Year of the Word of God. The Diocese of Shantou in Guangdong province is marking the 164th anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady of Lourdes in France.

Catholics are encouraged to recite a rosary every day with different intentions such as peace in the world, the end of the pandemic, unity of the Church, growth of vocations and consolidation of the life of faith.

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