Monday, September 15, 2008

An internal battle wages in the Church..Article in HT Mint

An internal battle wages in the Church..Article in HT Mint

Mumbai: When Father William Premdas Chaudhary, the only Dalit priest
in the Delhi archdiocese, began highlighting the plight of his
community three years ago, his parish was taken away from him.
"I became a nuisance to the archbishop by raising issues faced by
lower castes in churches. So they sidelined me," he claims.
They converted to Christianity to escape the caste system of Hinduism,
but even in the church, Dalits (or lower caste) remain at the bottom
of the hierarchy, facing discrimination, unequal access to education,
even the persistence of preface: "Dalit Christians". But hope has
stirred, ironically, out of attacks on their own. In an unprecedented
move last week, the pope of the Roman Catholic Church issued a
statement condemning the Orissa violence that killed dozens in the
wake of the unsolved murder of a vocal anti-missionary Hindu leader.
Since the Vatican has rarely addressed Indian Christians before, Dalit
Christians hope the pope will now look deeper inside the practice of
the religion in India-perhaps condemn caste, enforce equality, make
conversions more honest and renew their flagging faith.

As churchgoers dwindle in Europe-according to pollster Gallup
International, attendance declined from 60-65% in 1980 to 20% in
2000-countries such as India with its enormous potential for
conversion have become more important for the Vatican. But an old
hierarchical civilization such as India poses unique challenges,
explains R.L. Francis, president of the Poor Christian Liberation
Movement. Here, "the higher castes of Christianity, Syrians,
Mangloreans and Goans from south India dominate churches in the
country and treat Dalit converts like second-class citizens," he says.
Some Dalit Christians also say that the violence in Orissa offers
lessons for the church to proceed with caution in its approach to
conversions-and first fix relations among existing followers.
Pro-Hindu organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad say, for
example, that conversion should not be linked to basic needs, such as
access to health care or school.
The meek shall inherit
"We have known injustice for generations. It's wonderful when someone
tells you, 'All human beings are the children of god,'" says Francis,
whose grandfather had converted from Hinduism to Christianity.

In Orissa, new converts quickly realize that religious change does not
mean equality. For instance, among the Panos, who were originally
animists, those who converted came to dominate the social order of the
state. They own businesses, hold positions of power and also dominate
the clergy, while the condition of tribals remains unchanged.
The strange hierarchy enters economics and politics in other ways;
tribal Christians can avail of Scheduled Tribe status, while Dalit
Christians cannot of Scheduled Caste status, although certainly there
have been efforts to expand quotas to them. In the district of Jhansi
in Uttar Pradesh, P.B Lomiyo, editor of the magazine, Christian
Restoration, says Dalits face similar challenges nationwide. Lomiyo
says, "The clergy raise funds for schools for Dalits, but don't give
admission to them. When Dalits demand their rights, they react and
encourage the parish to boycott the Dalits."
One area of great contention has been schools. Father Benjamin
Chinnappa, a priest who works in Chicago, runs a school for Dalit
children near Puducherry with his US salary.
Even though Dalits need the education and upliftment most, he says,
"the school administrators want to keep performance high. They want to
compete with other schools and want people who can pay tuition."
The issue is not entirely new, though. Father Anthony Kurusinkal,
editor of The Examiner archdiocesean newspaper for Mumbai, says he had
studied the issue of Dalit Christians in 1984 at the request of the
Vatican and had made a presentation in the city-state, advocating
greater representation from the Dalit community in church leadership.
"They wanted to know what the situation is," he said. "And they
decided that no appointments to the post of bishop or archbishop will
be made on the basis of caste in India."
But that was 24 years ago.
Since then, inequality has deepened and become entrenched in the
church, says Chinnappa. "The bishops and archbishops will not accept
it. But this discrimination against the Dalits is the bitter reality
of the Christian church in India."
The silent church
So far, the Vatican has not addressed the divide, saying it must be
resolved by Indian church officials. The pope's representative in
India, Archbishop Pedro Lopez Quintana, declined to comment.
However, the website of Catholic Bishops Conference of India discusses
how the government and the Constitution of India have failed Dalits.
But it does not list any programmes or policies specifically for them
run by the church.
And the Vatican's directive that bishops should not be chosen on the
basis of caste has made no impact on the ground, Kurusinkal says.
"There is constant in-fighting going on when a leader is chosen. If it
is an area with high caste majority, they will insist that one among
them becomes the bishop or priest. If it is a lower caste majority,
they want a leader from among them," he said. Francis alleges that
there is no interest in fixing the problem and insists that like all
other Dalit Christians, "I am subtly reminded to remember who I am-an

He says letters sent to the Vatican demanding help have met silence.
"But we will not be silent. The church leaders in India should stop
asking the government to give us the status of the Scheduled Caste.
When we embraced Christianity, we came to the Church for a better
life," he says. "Now they cannot go back on it."
In some cases, the Church's willingness to look the other way has been
in some Indians' favour, on issues such as birth control and abortion,
for example.
Francis says that is because the Vatican has one lone interest in
India: conversion. "They have only set up a business enterprise here,"
he said, "... solely for promoting conversions, none for Dalit
upliftment. We are asking the Vatican to stop all conversion in India
for the next 100 years and spend the money on healing those who have
already come to the faith."

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