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Caste Culture Vs. Eucharistic Culture The Challenges for the Indian Church from Dalit Perspectives


Maria Arul Raja, SJ

1.0 Church in India

1.1 India Seduced by Casteism

Indian society, for not less than the past three millennia, has been under the demonic grip of the system of social hierarchy of casteism. It is founded upon the iniquitous mind-set of ‘permanent’ purity and pollution legitimized in the name of ‘the divine’ conveniently interpreted by the traditional Brahminic culture of domination. And accordingly, ‘the sacred’ or ‘the impure’ is attributed to one’s birth or origin, and any upward or downward mobility is neither permissible nor possible.[1] Being projected as the harmonious one, this atrocious caste system is further claimed by the minority of the dominant and the privileged as the natural, moral, and even the divine order. This very abominable sin as such is drilled into the collective consciousness of the majority of the people systematically disempowered by this systemic evil. The caste system reducing a large number of people as untouchables (about 250 millions out of 1000 millions) refuses to treat them as co-humans with the so-called caste people. But the same very untouchables are demanded, with meager pittance and scanty respect, to be involved in the productive labour for the welfare of the community at large. The untouchables are needed for the labour, but not as dignified co-humans with others.

The rebellion[2] against caste system is as old as the caste system itself. But the power structures- legislature, judiciary, and executive- right from the ancient era up to the present neo-colonial era of market globalization are deployed as the handmaids serving the needs of the oppressive caste minority. As part of the self-assertion of the victims of untouchability against the derogatory names[3]  imposed by the caste people, they have chosen the self-designation as Dalits[4] to empower themselves by annihilating the caste system.

1.2 Church Seduced by Casteism

                  It is claimed that the Christian presence has been active right from the 1st century A.C.E. in the south-western coastal land of South Asia, currently known as India. But it has to be also noted that such a Christianity purportedly spread among the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala confined the Gospel of Christ only as an in-house affair meant only for a few privileged castes living there. In other words, the light of the Gospel was buried underneath the bushel of the casteism. The Christians seemed to have denied the opportunity for those counted to be of the inferior caste to listen to the voice of the Gospel. But even when the Portuguese missionaries started their work of democratizing the Gospel of Christ in the 16th century A.C.E., their missiological approach seemed to be along the lines of the ‘trickle-down-process’ of first evangelizing the privileged and the powerful and thus then the least and the last of the hierarchized Indian society. Defying all these missiological expectations, the people from among those reduced to be untouchables thronged in large numbers to embrace the Gospel.[5]

‘Casteism is Sin’ and ‘Untouchability is a Crime against Humanity’[6] – Such statements are found in the documents of the CBCI, TNBC, and of the Diocesan Synods. Some welfare measures are announced in the TNBC at the regional levels. Even the Ad Limina visit of the TNBC with the Holy Father in 2003 was the official occasion for the Holy Father to propel the Indian Church to earnestly address the sinful practice of Untouchability and Casteism in the Church.[7] In the Church- both in the Hierarchy and the people of God- especially from among the non-Dalits, only a negligible minority is genuinely expressing solidarity with the struggles of the Dalit Christians in their to claim of constitutional rights from the Government of India on a par with Dalits belonging to other religions. In general, the attitude of the Christians towards the Dalits has been ranging from solidarity,[8] indifference,[9] defiance,[10] and even condemnation.[11]

1.3 Church Still in Struggle

The Church is the extension of the outburst of the abounding grace in and through the Jesus-event. With this self-perception, the Church could take upon herself the burden of the ideology supposedly equipped with royal or divine powers. Or she could squarely encounter the challenges posed by the culture of Eucharist. This could be done by way of introspecting into herself why she struggles a lot in adequately facing the Eucharistic challenges.

One of the challenges is to listen to the reminder of Jesus and the cry of the marginalized that there is no genuine salvation in the culture of self-pontificating purity as claimed by the Pharisaic and Brahminic culture of domination. The Church is herewith called upon to tread upon bare footed to the dust of the down-to-earth history filled with the tears and sweat of the crying Dalits struggling to claim their God-given human dignity in order to realistically encounter the challenges posed by them. If so, the Church has to explore into how she could operate as the grace-filled instrument in the hand of God who intervenes in the socio-cultural and the politico-economic realms of the Dalits in tune with the heart-beat of the Eucharistic Lord.

2.0 Church Challenged by Eucharist

Going beyond the cultic obsession, the Church in India could undertake the healthy but painful process of self-introspection on how to accompany the Dalits. This could be done after honorably seeking pardon from them for the Church’s attitudes of indifference, condescension, or contempt even in the act of doing charity to them down the centuries. This would empower her to persuasively create the Eucharistic culture by credibly joining hands with the Dalits and convincingly collaborating with all people of good will irrespective of their creed or caste, and denomination or diversity. When the originary inspiration of the Eucharistic culture permeates into the prevailing ethos of the Church in India, her inadequacies and shortcomings will be replaced by the hope-generating counter-cultural elements. These shortcomings could be short listed as follows:

  • Worship not attuned to the Socio-cultural Soil
  • Worship of Casteism
  • Worship Shying Away from Intervention

2.1 Worship not attuned to the Socio-cultural Soil

The Eucharist constitutes the Church and the Church celebrates it. Though we proclaim that the Eucharist is the origin and summit (roots and fruits) of the Church, one has to ask whether in actual practice, the routinized Eucharistic celebrations perform this legitimate expectation from the divine heartbeat. Do they reflect the actual day to day struggles of the marginalised Dalits? If liturgy has to be the extension of searches and struggles of life of these disowned people and the vice versa, then the cries and claims of the Dalits have to be reflected in them. When the other-worldly discourses dominate the liturgy, it gets alienated from the here-and-now historical commitment to the Dalits.

The culture of accumulation of mammon at any cost is advocated by globalisation of the market economy. The culture of casteism is upheld by the Indian brand of religious fundamentalism.[12] In both instances, the privileged deem it an absolute necessity to exclude the marginalised with a sense of contempt and hatred. It is here that the ‘here-and-now’ historical commitment becomes an indispensable mandate to ‘do this in memory of me’ (Lk 22:19; 1 Cor 11:25) and to “wash one another’s feet’ (Jn 13: 14). This is how the Eucharistic celebration could be spared from being deployed as the escapist dream world obsessed with other-worldly agenda. Rather it becomes an instrument in bringing about relevant intervention with pertinent intensity at an appropriate moment of history of the Dalits in a given conflict situation.

Quite often the Eucharistic celebration is marked with majestic solemnity or aesthetic grandeur evoking a sense of artistic forms of lamenting over the torture that Jesus underwent. Such a narcotic amnesia clouds the historical commitment to ‘this-worldly concerns’. But the main agenda of the Eucharist has to identify the grace-filled energies both at the individual and collective levels by way of locating the roots of individual and collective sins of exclusion and fragmentation of the community. These are to be uprooted. The Eucharist can never be imprisoned within the fossilized linguistic formulae, rituals of the order of magical consciousness, or dramatic expectation for miraculous outbursts. It has to be a struggle for removing the sins of the world both at the individual and collective levels. In other words, in continuity with the movements of transition and transformation which were taking place in and through the body of Christ in his time, the divine intervention has to take place in and through the body of each and every one of us in our time. That exactly is the nature of the genuine Eucharistic celebration.

2.2 Worship of Casteism

While attempting at baptizing the Indian soil in the name of the Good News of Christ, the Church in India in the course of time got ‘baptized’ into the waters of the Wicked News of Casteism. The tragedy is that even in the Eucharistic celebration, this casteist ‘baptism’ gets reflected. The Church in India should be challenged to shy away from the existing patterns of worshipping Casteism.[13] What gets transpired in terms of slavery to Casteism is the inordinate attachment and even unquestionable allegiance to one’s own family, kinship, inner circle, native places which are quite prevalent in the so-called spiritual governance of the Church. While among the laity, each of the castes or sub-castes form its own association or union to promote its interests through lobbying or pressure tactics within the Church, the Clergy and the religious organize themselves in the name of castes and sub-castes in view of claiming the lion’s share in the administration, resources, and vocation promotion in the dioceses as well as religious congregations. This is overtly or covertly visible in the meetings of Diocesan Council or Chapter Meetings of the Congregations. So much so, some of the dioceses and religious congregations are openly claimed to be in the hands of the some of the dominating caste groups.

Being thrown down to the lowest rungs of the social ladder of the Caste hierarchy in the Indian context, the Dalits are the broken people asserting themselves with the agenda of demolishing the same very caste system in order to create the space for becoming the co-humans in equal footing with others. This inclusive ideology of Dalits seeking to walk with others indeed is the liberative factor which the Dalits bring to every public realm of life including the Church.

Especially when the question of appointment or election for leadership arises for the offices of the Bishop, Treasurer, Council Member, Senator, Principal, Headmistress, Provincial, General, one cannot escape witnessing the clandestine and surreptitious rat-race of the power mongers from among the Clergy and the Religious. To a great extent, it is a virtual caste war. But when the question of the Dalit leadership appears to prospectively emerge, then one could invariably observe all the caste groups in total alliance under the single anti-Dalit banner of defeating the Dalits by all means in the name of the welfare the people of God. Another way of hiding the Church’s discrimination against the Dalits in the Church is to keep such stories under the carpet in the name of prudence and discretion. Dalit self-assertion against the practices of untouchability and casteism is sought to be dampened with the ready-made explanation that the centuries-old practice of casteism die hard and hence the Dalits are supposed to practise the virtue of enduring patience with the spirit of love towards caste terrorists within the Church. The status quoism operative in favour of the Dalit-haters within the Church is sought to be protracted with the deviant labeling against the Dalits as if they are the unreliable, disloyal, ungrateful, indisciplined, rebellious, unruly, disobedient, or indecent creatures of the Church. If by chance one or two Dalits are promoted to the responsibilities of leadership, then they are haunted by anonymous letters with obscene allegations to demoralize them from rendering their responsibilities.

2.3 Worship Shying Away from Intervention

When tsunami wreaked havoc in the Indian coasts in 2005, even before the entry of the Government agencies, the Indian Church rose to the occasion by way of reaching out to the affected victims, thanks to the prevailing Eucharistic culture of building the broken. The relief measures on the basis of charity and the reconstructive programmes on the basis of development were the commendable attempts to build the Reign of God from the debris of the tsunami. But when the question arose on enabling the affected people to empower themselves to face the power-hungry agencies- both from the Government and the non-Government sectors- the Church could not accompany the victims to negotiate with the powers that be. In other words, the Church has neither the political will not skill to be with people whom it seeks to serve especially when they are in dire need of politically empowering themselves. Shying away from the political dimensions seems to be the customary subculture operative in the ethos of the Church. Its presumption is that the process of salvation and sanctification is incompatible with the process of political intervention by the Christians as the civil society.

The faith praxis of experiencing salvation and sanctification is apparently confined to the campus of the Church building, sacristy, rituals, novenas, car processions, shrines, or religious pilgrimages. By and large, the attitude of compromise with the powers that be seems to be operative in the governance of the Church, except perhaps when the Minority Rights guaranteed by the Indian Constitution are seen to be violated or the Church personnel are directly subject to humiliating violence leading to rape and murder. This ‘intra-ecclesial’ outlook does not lead the Church to raise her voice on behalf of victims from various walks of life whose Human Rights of aggressively violated. The same attitude does not help the Church to look forward to the spontaneous and issue-based collaboration with the partners irrespective of their religious affiliation, belief system, or ideological perspective. Unless the appropriate intervention in the civil space is made at the appropriate moment of history, one cannot claim that the salvific process is complete. Mere self-laudatory appraisal of our services rendered to the nation with no sharp commitment to the vast number of the marginalized Dalits will lead the Church to the corner of mediocrity.

3.0 Counter-cultural Elements of Eucharist

Here comes the challenge from the Eucharistic Lord whose spirituality of struggle leads the Church from the existing stagnancy towards the following dimensions:

  • Eucharist with Historical Commitment
  • Eucharist Breaking the Caste System
  • Eucharist Intervening on Behalf of the Victims of History

3.1 Eucharist with Historical Commitment

The Eucharist has an in-built sense of urgency while encountering the pain and the agony of the people whose destiny was not in their own control (ochlos). This sense of urgency defies the past-centred Pharisaic- Brahminic ritualism, and the future-obsessed daydreaming spiritualism.

Jesus’ motherly compassion commanded the disciples to feed the large multitude of hungry stomachs ‘there and then’, even when they were least prepared to do so in the late hours that too in the lonely wilderness (Mk 6:35-37; Mt 14:13-15; Jn 6:5-6). The imminence of salvation to the household of the deplored house was ‘today’ (Lk 19:9). Mere exterior recital of the formal sloganeering of prayers (Mt 7:21-23) or ceremonial offers of sacrifices (Mk 12:33) without promoting the culture of concrete sharing-cum-solidarity will never impress the Lord of history. Resisting Mary’s sentimental attachment to his venerable feet with the devotional bhajan ‘Rabbouni’, the Risen Lord hastened to literally drive her away to communicate to his brothers his next project of departure to ‘my Father and your Father’ (Jn 20:16-17). All those who encountered the Eucharistic Lord have been catapulted to the historical involvement with a sense of reaching out to the needy with a sense of urgency. The remembrance of the Lord in breaking his bread and drinking his cup (1 Cor 11:23-25) is unambiguously to break the blockades of the divisions between the humiliated lots and the humiliating elite; between the hungry stomach and the well-fed bellies (1 Cor 11:17-34). The memory of Jesus’ body broken and the blood spilled over is not to get cosily bogged down to the reminiscences of the episodes related to his ruthless slaughter on the cross in the 1st century ACE. It has to propel the Jesus-centred community into the present day struggles of the disempowered like the Dalits imposed with the conflicts created by the power-drunk communities like caste-ridden society. Experience of hair-raising excitement cannot be the end to be achieved by the Eucharistic celebrations in the name of promoting spiritual life. Abilities to resiliently encounter the conflict-ridden situations have to be the outcome of the memory of the Slain yet Uprising Lamb of God, in order to empower the silenced and to annihilate the infections and possessions like the practices of casteism and untouchability, ever sickening the society.

3.2 Eucharist Breaking the Caste System

The marginalized in the socio-cultural, and politico-economic realms have been conveniently dubbed as sinners (moral realm) before God by the Pharisaic-Brahminic cultures. But the Eucharistic culture embraced such deplored lots as ‘my sheep’ (Jn 10:1-15), ‘blessed are you who are poor (in spirit)’ (Lk 6:20; Mt 5:3), and ‘little ones’ (Mk 9:36-37).

The Samaritan women and men, relegated as the shamefully untouchable creatures by the self-styled puritans, are looked upon by the Eucharistic ethos, in the public realm, as the respectable dialogical partners (Jn 4:1-42). The utmost humanitarian sensitivity of the ‘untouchable’ Samaritan to reach out to the faceless and nameless victim of the roadside is emphasized in contrast with the self-designated ‘purity’ of the Jewish priest and Levite (Lk 10:25-37). It has the courage to publicly acknowledge their human maturity of gratefully acknowledging the gift of healing received from the divine (Lk 17:11- 19). And further Jesus’ disciples are educated with a rebuke by the same ethos that the Samaritans, even though not readily welcoming the people of Jewish origins into their villages, do never deserve the ‘fire from heaven’ (Lk 9: 51-55). Even from the persistent pursuit of the gentile Cannanite woman, the Eucharistic culture did not hesitate to readily learn the solemn lesson of great faith (Mt 15:21-28; Mk 7:24-30). It further stoops down to cleanse the dirty feet of the servants (Jn 13:1-11), knowing fully well that the ‘servants are not greater than the master’ (Jn 15:20). There is a deliberate attempt on the part of the Eucharist to shy away from the culture of hegemonic ‘purity’ and to live out a life of genuine solidarity with the so-called ‘polluted’. It refuses to name the banquet of the well-fed bellies as the ‘Lord’s Supper’, when it manifests the zero tolerance towards the delayed arrival of the famished stomachs (1 Cor 11:17-34). It challenges every one ‘in humility regard others as better than yourselves’ (Phil 2:3) for creating a harmonious community in Christ (Phil 2:1) with spontaneous sense of sharing with and caring for one another (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37). These Eucharistic orientations are the antidotes to the existing demonic systems of casteism and untouchability. These propel every one to identify the divine elements operative in the most deplored Dalits in the Indian Church. In the light of the enlivening faith recognized by Jesus from the woman suffering from the evil of social death (“Daughter, your faith has made you well”-Mk 5:34), the Indian Church has to learn from the faith of the Dalits, the mobile gospels, subjected to the evil of untouchability. The resurrection of the deadened creatures of the Indian caste-ridden society has to be the outcome of the Eucharistic intervention.

3.3 Eucharist Intervening on Behalf of the Victims of History

The Church in India is a minority community in the vast array of people of India with pluralistic demography (multi-lingual, ethnic, religious, and cultural). That is why the Indian Constitution has ensured the Rights for the Minority to the organizations of the Church. With this provision, the Church has undertaken many of the social interventions much more at the intra-ecclesial levels, especially when the Rights of Minority are perceived to be violated. Much is desired at the level of appropriate intervention of the Church as a civil society into those historical moments in which the lives of the vast populace (extra-ecclesial) of the society at large in affected, positively or negatively. The Eucharist forces the Church to tread upon the civil society barefooted to encounter the issues related to the people at large day in and day out. The effective denial of the Human Rights, the Rights of Reservations of job or educational opportunities for some of the traditionally exploited segments of the society, Rights of equal human dignity, Rights of women and children, Rights of at least primary and secondary education, Rights of health care, Rights of employment, Rights for owning up the land, Rights to Information, Rights related to the ecological concerns are some of the areas where the Church could join hands with the people of good will (civil society) seeking to protect and promote the lives of the victims of history.

Quite often, the idioms like reconciliation, forgiveness, obedience, peace, law and order are deployed by the ruling elite as the ideological tools conveniently expressed through the traditional spiritual idioms for the purpose of dampening the legitimate assertive spirit of the victimized people while being in conflict with the same repressive powers. But the Eucharistic spirit tries to understand the why and how the marginalized people seek to create or resolve conflict from their own perspectives. The reconciliation expected by the deer caught up in the mouth of the tiger is not as same as the reconciliation imposed by the tiger reducing its victim as the dinner for its voracious hunger. The law and order, or the peace and harmony as expected by the marginalized Dalits are not the same as promoted by the caste-minded power-mongers. It is from the perspectives of the marginalized, the Eucharistic culture seeks to make appropriate interventions in the conflict-ridden and caste-infested Indian society.

Jesus’ intervention with every victim of the possession is on behalf of those afflicted by demons and not the other way round. In the context of the simmering wrath of the Jews, mild or wild, heaped upon the deplored Samaritans, his intervention is on behalf of the latter and never in the form of the catharsis of the Jewish rage of hatred. And further the matrix of the socio-cultural intervention of Jesus is never ever on behalf of the power brokers like Herod the fox, the Torah-obsessed custodians of culture, the real estate owners, the self-pontificating intelligentia, and the business-minded clergy of the Temple. It is from the wounded location of the ochlos- the unorganized and faceless masses of people whose relentless labour is awarded with only ignominy and anonymity with no bargaining powers in all the walks of life- that the Eucharistic Lord undertakes his interventions in every conflict-situation. Against this backdrop, this pro-ochlos individual is sought to be annihilated for the survival of the organized infra-structure of the powers in alliance with Mammon, colonial hegemony, and the murderous traditions of heartless judiciary, crowds of stooges, torturing military, and the sadistic intelligentia. This exactly is the heavy price to be paid by ‘the logos’ for having taken the risk of pitching its tent as ‘the sarx’ striking roots with ‘the most vulnerable’ disparagingly counted as ‘the most polluted’ (Jn 1:14). It took courage to create new bond of union with strangers and aliens by asking “Who are my mother and my brother?” (Mk 3:33) and by saying “Woman, here is your son…Here is your mother” (Jn 19:26-27). These networks of organic relationship transcend every form of biological, cultural, geographical, national, ethnic, and caste bond of union.

4.0 Beyond the Boundaries

If the claim of the Church that she is the extension of the very broken body and the spilled over blood of the same Eucharistic Lord, then she can never shy away from her mission of ever becoming a community-building communities with inclusive orientations challenging every brand of human-made barriers of fragmentation. Entering into every lanes and by-lanes of the conflict-ridden society, she will identify the broken people and join hands with people of good will to empower the marginalized including the Dalits.

Empowered by the Eucharistic culture, the Church cannot have the luxury of ghettoizing herself into an intra-ecclesial organization with her own little world of cultic idioms and functions. The actual worship of the demonic caste system will be replaced by the worship of the egalitarian Lord of History. The prevailing culture of touch-me-not-ism will be replaced by her energetic and innovative interventions in the civil space enabling the marginalized to lead and create history. In the following manner the Church can very well Eucharistise the broken world of Dalits as well as the broken world of the anti-Dalit humans:

Never worship any thing or any one who should not be worshipped. Never shy away from democratizing the hope-generating and life-promoting prophetic stories, even if the stiff-necked stick on to the culture of domination leading to death, at their own risk.  Continue to do the works in continuity with the affirming accompaniment of the Lamb of God, as the beginning and the end of history where God is also working with right intervention with right intensity in the right time. Cherish the sense of belonging to God as an eagerly awaiting spouse with an open mind and open heart welcoming every initiative for making the universe fertile with life-giving water. Celebrate life in enlivening others by immersing yourself in the culture of life, as the hope-engendering agents of God and never as the minions of the devilish Empires of dehumanization.[14]

All those who have been counted as untouchable and polluted by the mind-sets of the power centres are the privileged medium of divine revelation. It is through these despised lots the inclusive culture of embracing every human as the co-human is manifestly expressed by the divine. If the Indian church is awakened to this, then she could proceed with the rare courage and confidence of exorcising the Indian soil from the scourge of casteism. Excluding the realization of the emancipation of the Dalits and the Tribals, India can never become the people of God.

[1] One can change one’s nationality, one can change his/her religion, and one can climb the ladder of economic affluence but one cannot change one’s caste. Consequently the lowest in the social ladder socially discriminated, religiously neglected, politically ignored, and economically pauperized.

[2] Right from the inception of the practices of casteism and untouchability, the victims have been revolting against them. The following list has to be seen as the multiple forms of protest against the hegemony of those practicing casteism and untouchability down the centuries in the Indian soil: Buddhism and Jainism (B.C.E.), Bhakti Movements and Protest Movements (Siddhars, Sufism, itinerant mendicants) from the subaltern cultural soil (A.C.E.), the Mass Conversion Movements towards Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism, and the Counter-Cultural Movements initiated by Mahatma Phule, Iyotheethaasa Pandithar, Ambedkar, Periyar, Vaikundasamy, Ayyankali, Narayanaguru (18-20 centuries A.C.E.).

[3] The names like atishudras, chandalas, bhangis, chamars, churhars, malas, madhikas, mushikars, pulayas, parayas, pallas, chakkiliyas are attributed to Dalits in various regions. The Gandhian title for them Harijans is dismissed by them for its condescending attitude. The legal and the bureaucratic title Scheduled Castes does not connote the humiliation they are subjected to.

[4] Dalits is the umbrella concept seeking to unify the untouchables across the country. The term ‘Dalit’ comes from the Sanskrit root ‘Dal’ with the meaning effects of ‘being torn asunder, torn apart, crushed to pieces, smashed into nothing, liquidated into non-entity’. The connotation of the passive voice underscores the significance of the Dalit necessity of locating and naming the agency of the perpetrators of such violence while working out their own emancipation.

[5] In the context of recent incidents of violence and vandalism against Christians and their Churches in Orissa and elsewhere, an eminent veteran Indian journalist Kushwant Singh indicates that the ‘largest number of converts come from communities discriminated against’. He cites the examples of Dr Ambedkar ‘who led his Mahar community to embrace Buddhism because they were discriminated against by dominant caste Hindus’ and ‘Indian Muslims whose ancestors being lower caste embraced Islam which gave them equal status’. This is true also with regard to Catholic Church. Cf. Kushwant Singh, Hindustan Times, October 03, 2008.

[6] “The Church in India, particularly in recent years, has been actively involved in denouncing caste system and discrimination against the Dalits.  Further, it has taken positive measures for their development.  However, we have to admit that the situation still remains a serious concern. The prevalence of the Caste syatem, not only in society but also in some parts of the Church in India even at the close of the 20th century, is a matter of shame and disgrace to all of us.  It is a cause of sorrow and expression of our inability to live our Christian faith adequately.  It is not only a denial of human dignity and equality, but also against the fundamental teaching of Christ who was a friend of the outcastes of His time, and freely mixed with them….” Statement of the CBCI General Body Meeting at Varanasi(March, 21-28, 1998).

[7] “At all times, you must continue to make certain that special attention is given to those belonging to the lowest castes, especially the Dalits. They should never be segregated from other members of society. A semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a counter sign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality and a serious hindrance to the church’s mission of evangelization. Therefore, customs or traditions that perpetuate or reinforce caste division should be sensitively reformed so that they may become an expression of the solidarity of the whole Christian Community.” Address of Pope John Paul II to the Bishops of Tamil Nadu on November 17, 2003 during their ad limina visit.

[8] Way back in 2002 during the UN Conference on Discrimination based on one’s Origin and Xenophobia held in South Africa, the Dalit representations were supported by CBCI and Vatican quarters.

[9] “The abolition of the caste among Christians and the integration of Scheduled Caste  origin in the mainstream as equals will be for us a top priority. The continuation of untouchability and discrimination based on caste is diametrically opposed to the Gospel message of love and brotherhood and sisterhood of humankind…. We will become builders of peace by raising our voice against all forms of injustice and discrimination. As in the Church so also in the country as a whole we will stand for the rights of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes.” Report of the General Body Meeting of the CBCI, Kottayam, 1988, 171-172. Though it was stated as early as 1988, concerted attempts in alleviating the discrimination against the Dalits in the Church are much desirable.

[10] “Out of a total number of 3,53,683 students in the Church-run colleges, the number of SC students is 27, 603 (7.8%)”. S. Lourdusamy, Towards Empowerment of Dalit Christians: Equal Rights to all Dalit Christians, (Delhi: Centre for Dalit/ subaltern Studies, 2005), 27.  “[T]he upper caste Christians, pastors, priests, religious in charge of these institutions contend themselves with tokenism when it comes to Dalits.” Felix Wilfred, Dalit Empowerment, (Bangalore: NBCLC, 2007), 152.

[11] The defiant attitude of the caste-obsessed Christians of Eraiyur parish of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry against the Dalits is the tip of the iceberg. Cf. AJX Bosco, A. Joseph Xavier & Cosmon Arockiaraj, “Eraiyur Still Under Caste Shadow”, Indian Currents, (October, 13-19, 2008), 34-37. Also cf. and

browsed on March 31, 2009.

[12] The allegation used by the religious fundamentalists in India to justify their attacks is that ‘Christians force conversion of Hindus’ but according to the Indian Episcopal Conference it is “merely a strategy developed by vested interests in order to prevent Christian services of health, education, poverty alleviation and development on behalf of deprived communities.” Cf. browsed on September 30, 2008. That once the discriminated communities are empowered they would become the leaders in the society is not acceptable to the caste people. The same attitude is unfortunately found within the Church as well.

[13] The discrimination against the Dalits practiced in the Indian Church could be enumerated as follows: “segregation in the churches during worship, separate burial places, refusal of membership, in various Church-bodies which are controlled by the upper caste Christians, lack of involvement on the part of the upper castes in the struggle for the cause of Dalits, subtle forms of exclusion of Dalit vocation to priesthood, religious life, and so on. Analysis of of these different factors will expose the actual situation suffered by the Dalits within the Christian Churches.” Felix Wilfred, Dalit Empowerment, (Bangalore: NBCLC, 2007), 152.

[14] Cf. A. Maria Arul Raja, The Revelation to John- Dalit Commentary Series- Volume 10, (Delhi: Centre for Dalit and Subaltern Studies, 2009), 124.