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Indian Dalits urge Vatican tribunal to end discrimination

Marginalized community highlights lack of representation in the Church due to casteism

Indian Dalits urge Vatican tribunal to end discrimination

Dalit Christians sent documents highlighting their plight to the Vatican on July 10. (Photo supplied)

Dalit Christian organizations in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have urged a Vatican tribunal to end casteism and discrimination against Dalits in the Catholic Church.

The group sent documents on July 10 highlighting the plight of Dalit Christians in India, especially in Tamil Nadu.

“Our group filed a petition in Madras High Court on June 25 about discrimination against Dalit Christians in the Church as well as in society and we also want the Vatican tribunal to know about our plight,” S. Vincent, Tamil Nadu state vice-president of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), told UCA News.

“It is our humble request that the Vatican tribunal look at our plight and get justice for us. We have already demanded scheduled caste status and the case is pending at the Supreme Court. We also acknowledge that Dalit Christians face discrimination within the Church.” 

He said Dalit Christians and Muslims started seeking the status of scheduled castes after a 1950 presidential order removed the privileges given to scheduled caste converts who were not Hindus.

But even though the privileges were restored to Sikhs (1956) and to Buddhists (1990), Christians and Muslims, who have been pressing successive governments for several decades, have not seen their privileges restored.

Even though we are the majority in the Church, Dalit participation at leadership level in the diocesan administration and at the higher levels is almost nil

Dalits, or untouchables, are the lowest caste within Hindu society. Huge numbers converted to Christianity and Islam over the decades, though in reality the religions offer limited protection from societal prejudice.

“Dalit Christians are already very saddened by the recent appointment of two bishops in the state who are of not of Dalit origin, hence with this letter we want our demands to be addressed,” said NCDC state secretary E. Yesudoss.

“Even though we are the majority in the Church, Dalit participation at leadership level in the diocesan administration and at the higher levels is almost nil.” 

NCDC state coordinator M. Johnson Durai said that “our appeal to the Vatican tribunal is to announce or order the Indian Church to prevent caste-based, prejudice-oriented bishopric candidates’ selection by neglecting thousands of qualified Dalit Catholic clerics’ names to be identified, selected and sent to the apostolic nunciature headquartered in New Delhi.” 

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He said many hundreds of educationally, morally and spiritually excellent Dalit Catholic candidates were neglected in the selection process to become bishops in Tamil Nadu.

He urged the Holy See to check the names of candidates recommended to the Holy See by the Tamil Nadu bishops to fill four vacancies in the state.

Durai also asked the Vatican tribunal to look at the issues of Dalit youth being refused altar divine prayer service and the choirs of some Catholic churches refusing to admit Dalits.

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