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Indian bishops to end Dalit discrimination

A groundbreaking policy will tackle problem of untouchability in the church
Indian bishops to end Dalit discrimination

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, left, has released a policy document in New Delhi to fight caste-based discrimination in the church. Sitting with him is Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas. (Photo by Bijay Kumar Minj)

Published: December 19, 2016 06:06 AM GMT
Updated: December 19, 2016 06:07 AM GMT

The Catholic bishops in India say they have taken a monumental step against Dalit discrimination in the church by ordering dioceses across India to prepare "their long and short term plans" to fully include the former "untouchables."

Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Indian bishops' conference, released the Policy of Dalit Empowerment in the Catholic Church in India in New Delhi on Dec. 13 calling it a historic step to end the discrimination of Dalit people.

"It is a sin to practice untouchability in the church and society," he said. The policy book also details the theological and biblical value of inclusive Christian communities.

Churches should end all forms of untouchability, discrimination and exclusion of Dalit people at every level of church life, the document said, and made recommendations on how to do so.

All parishes in every diocese should start programs to educate Dalit people, promote vocations to the priesthood and religious life, include them in administration and decision-making bodies and address their liturgical needs.

Dalit women and children should be given their due space in the church and there should be programs to develop Dalit young people, train men and women for political action and encourage them into employment and entrepreneurship.

Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, secretary of the Indian bishops' office for Dalits and indigenous people said that, although several earlier documents and statements recommended actions to fight discrimination, "this is more comprehensive in seeking ground-level action."

He said his office expects to collect action plans from each diocese and establish a team for the "implementation and monitoring" of the plans.

India has some 27 million Christians and at least half of them come from Dalit or tribal origins. They have suffered centuries of social exclusion and discrimination from upper-caste people who considered themselves superior. The upper-castes thought that merely touching a Dalit person, always engaged in menial and despised jobs, would pollute them.

Although abolished by law, untouchability in various forms continues and Dalits are not allowed to share water sources, public places and worship spaces. Some parishes have reportedly demarcated space for Dalit people in churches and cemeteries.

Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary-general of the Indian bishops' conference, said that the church now has a "zero tolerance policy" towards discrimination.

He said a detailed survey would be conducted to understand the prevailing practises of untouchability in the church and how to fight it at parish, diocesan, regional and national levels.

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