An Unwanted Priest
by R L Francis on 21 Mar 2012 4 Comments

Letters can be a great instrument to showcase the socio-political landscape of a society and culture and many have used this as a great tool to express their feelings – both sorrow and happiness. The letters of Dalit priest Father William Premdass Chaudhary reveal a dark world of discrimination and untouchability that is widespread in the grandiose Catholic Church system. Revealing the pain and agony of dalits and tribals after conversion to Christianity, Father Chaudhary’s autobiography, An Unwanted Priest, debunks many myths surrounding the Church. 


Father Premdass Chaudhary attacks on the problem directly, and in his inimitable style, describes life in the Church, presenting insights hitherto unknown to most people. The Father does not mince words, analyzing the problem layer after layer with great precision.


Interrogating the deep rooted feeling of caste discrimination in the four walls of the Church, Father Premadass writes in response to a letter by Vincent M. Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi, “I am a Dalit priest, not a beggar. I am not begging you for the parish. I am not the Manglorian priest so that you will care for me. I don’t require your permission and position (parish) to preach the gospel. Jesus is my master and not you. I am Jesus’ slave and not yours. Even without parish what I have achieved, I am fully satisfied. I am a Dalit priest so it is my duty to safeguard the dignity of Dalit Catholics…” 


He further says, “Why, I (local Dalit priest) am not assigned pastoral ministry consecutively for four years, but you have assigned pastoral ministry to other Priests of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese though no one have gone for long retreat”. You have written in your letter that you cannot assign me a parish because of my shortcomings which are fabricated, as neither of my shortcomings has been proved by you…”


The book reveals the inside world of the Church and the ego clashes of the hierarchy, and raises questions on the style of functioning of the grand institution particularly vis-à-vis Dalit people and priests. The book exposes many things and breaks many myths. The author also raises a big question on the financial mismanagement of certain influential officials in the Church.


Regarding another important and prominent priest, Father Premdass writes, “Please tell Fr. D…… to put on the website of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. He had Income and Expenditure for dubbing the movie into other languages. The same Income and Expenditure must be put on the website. When the movie was produced, the name of the Sadbhavana was added. Why it was so? Chetanalaya was the only producer. I heard that Fr. D…… was telling others that Sadbhavana had contributed the money towards the production of movie…..”


Obviously, there is greater need for proper accounting checks on the income and expenditure of the Church. Similarly, at one place in the book he gives an interesting instance, which actually became basis for the title of the book... “I am an unwanted priest because I am a local dalit priest. One day I was having heated argument with one of the inmate priests at clergy house. As argument went on, the priest called me an unwanted priest.”


The book also compels Hindu society to think about dalit brothers who in order to get social respect and equal treatment opt for Christianity. The dalit converts think they are liberated. But, here too, they don’t get any reprieve. As discrimination in the Church system is very subtle, the situation for a dalit priest like Father Premdass becomes worse and it becomes almost impossible for him to stay in the mainstream of priesthood.


Father William has dared to write something that not many would even dare to say or confess to anyone. He accepts the harsh reality of conversion and the dilemma of a dalit brother. He writes, “Mostly dalit Hindus were and are poor because they were and are exploited by upper caste Hindus and they were and are doing labourer jobs and menial works. After conversion, dalit Catholics were and are exploited by the authorities of Catholic Churches. Hindu Dalit’s condition did not improve but remain the same. They were not allowed to come up by the upper caste people in the society (Hindu). The dalit Catholic’s economic condition also was and is not good and their standard of living was and is very poor even after becoming Catholics in Delhi diocese and in North India….”


The book also points out other types of discrimination, such as dominance of South India in the Church system. South Indians are cared more by Delhi diocese and get plum positions in Catholic institutions, while local people and dalits don’t get their rights and are more or less like slaves for their Catholic masters.


The problem is at several levels. Though the form and strength of the Indian Church derives from a large population of Dalits and Tribals who have reposed their faith in Jesus, the structure of Church has remained elitist and pro-upper caste. This needs to change, and this is precisely why this wave of confrontation has started taking shape. The book mentions the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) that advocates the cause of dalit Christians strongly. Father William Premdass Chaudhary has chosen an ideal platform to answer several questions surrounding him. 


An Unwanted Priest will help religious believers, religious institutions, government, bureaucracy, judiciary, academicians, researchers and media professionals in understanding the various problems of Dalits and Tribals and the darkness behind the white robe. This will help in understanding the politics of Conversion. And, it will certainly educate all that only economic development of Dalits and Tribals, and not mere Conversion, can bring social change in India.


The author is president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement

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