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India's new nuncio urged to appoint Dalit prelates

Catholics in Tamil Nadu state say they are prepared to take legal action over caste discrimination

India's new nuncio urged to appoint Dalit prelates

Dalit Christians protest in Pondicherry and Cuddalore Archdiocese on Feb. 13 against the discrimination faced by Dalit people. (Photo supplied)

Dalit Catholics in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu have urged India’s new papal nuncio to appoint Dalit prelates to fill vacancies in the state.

“The demand for Dalit-origin bishops in the state has intensified after the recent appointment of a non-Dalit bishop in Salem by the Vatican,” M. Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM), told UCA News.

Acting on behalf of several Dalit Christian organizations, John has written to nuncio Archbishop Leopoldo Girelli urging him to consider appointing a Dalit archbishop in Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese and Dalit bishops in the dioceses of Kuzhithurai, Sivagangai, Tiruchirappalli and Vellore.

The letter was copied to the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples, Congregation for Bishops, Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council Office bearers and the diplomatic missions in India of countries concerned about human rights violations.

John’s June 11 letter called for a review of the traditional process of appointing bishops, archbishops and cardinals in India to make it inclusive and truly representative of Dalit Catholics.

“We appeal to appoint a Dalit archbishop and Dalit bishops immediately in the existing vacancies to restore confidence in Dalit Catholics to prevent their imminent uprising in Tamil Nadu as well as in other states of India,” his letter said.

We have also been constantly making representation to the Vatican including the pope

“We expected the new nuncio to understand the situation carefully with concern and take early steps to appoint a Dalit archbishop in Pondicherry-Cuddalore and Dalit bishops in the vacant dioceses, which have been pending for months and years.

“But to the great disappointment and shock of Dalit Catholics, you announced the appointment of a non-Dalit bishop in Salem Diocese within two days of taking office in India.”

The DCLM has been raising this issue for the past three decades with numerous letters and appeals to the Indian Catholic hierarchy and nuncios.

“We have also been constantly making representation to the Vatican including the pope. We took to public protests to show our agony and anger, hoping to raise the consciousness of the Catholic Church over the caste injustice,” the letter added.

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“We took up more concerted public protests and street rallies because we realized that our silence, pious hope and prayerful appeals for decades and centuries have only defeated or buried our justice.”

The letter warned that Dalits are prepared to take legal action because India’s constitution abolished untouchability and caste discrimination against Dalits.

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

The word Dalit means "trampled upon" in Sanskrit and refers to all groups once considered untouchable and outside the four-tier Hindu caste system. Government data shows 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to this socially deprived group. Some 60 percent of India's 25 million Christians are of Dalit or tribal origin.

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