Pain being a Dalit priest in Delhi Catholic Archdiocese
by R.L. Francis on 20 Nov 2008 2 Comments

The leaders of the Indian Church are being accused of not giving equal status and opportunity to Dalits in the Catholic Church to this day. The scheduled castes and tribals fought against religion, an unjust society, and unequal economic distribution, and accepted Christianity, only to later realize that in Christianity also there was/is no equal justice and place for them.

Dalit and Tribal Catholics are sad for not having a dignified life in the Catholic Church. Upper caste Catholics are having a full hold and control on the Catholic Church. Almost all priests, bishops and cardinals come from the upper castes and select leaders for different associations from their own castes.

There are very few Dalit priests and nuns in the Catholic church. Converted Dalit Catholics had great hopes from Dalit priests and nuns in all the dioceses, so when Dalit priests and nuns are harassed and persecuted by Bishops and superiors, the converted Dalits become sad and lose hope of gaining equality and justice in the Church. In fact, in order to have full hold on the Catholic Church, upper caste Bishops and priests deny equal place and opportunity to the Dalit priests, nuns and lay persons in the Church.

Fr. William Premdass Chaudhary is the only local Dalit priest in the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. On 30 July 2006, his family members and villagers held a dharna at the Bishop’s house to protest the discrimination against Fr. William Premdass by Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao. His brother Laxmi Chand gave a memorandum to the Archbishop and appealed to him not to mistreat his brother on the basis of region and caste.

Mr. Laxmi Chand reminded the Archbishop about the pain and trouble they had suffered in order to make his brother, Fr. William, a catholic priest for Delhi Diocese. Most of the family members and villagers are Hindu, so they had opposition within the family and in the village. Mr. Laxmi Chand lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. He said that his brother completed 11 years of priestly study in order to become a priest for Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. It was hoped that he would be able to work for deprived people in society.

Mr. Laxmi Chand told Archbishop Vincent Concessao via the memorandum that the family sacrificed Fr. William to work selflessly in the church and spread the message of love of Christ. The family was shocked when it came to know that their brother was being ill-treated on the basis of caste and region, and that the Archbishop was against local Dalit Catholics and encouraged regionalism and casteism in the Archdiocese.

Fr. William Premdass was appointed at Faridabad and Rewari in Haryana, and Defence Colony, Delhi Cantt, Mayur Vihar Ph-III and Pitampura churches in Delhi; but he was not allowed to work freely by the Archbishop who constantly interfered in his work. Mr. Laxmi Chand alleged that the Archbishop was discriminating against local Dalit Catholics and local Dalit priests on the basis of language, region, race, colour and caste. Catholic Archdiocese never consulted local Dalits and priests while taking important decision; the Archbishop has different rules and regulations for North Indian and South Indian priests, which is against the policy of the church and Christianity.         

Fr. William Premdass’ family denied any intent to insult or dishonour Rev. Bishop Vincent Concessao. But as the family had sacrificed a brother in the name of Jesus Christ, they were grieved to find that within the church he was being forced to live a life of insult and humiliation. After loyally serving the church for over 15 years, he was facing injustice and partiality at the hands of the authorities. The family has claimed that the Archbishop is putting conditions of long retreat before assigning the parish to Fr. William, though there are no conditions for other priests who have not gone on long retreat and are holding important positions in Church.

There are 14000 priests in the Catholic Church, but only 600 are Dalits. There are 160 Bishops but only 6 are Dalit. Dalits comprise 70% of the total population of the Catholic Church. But a few upper caste Bishops and priests rule and control the church and use church property for their own ends. Church leaders are increasing their kingdom while converting Hindu Dalits to Christianity; they are creating divisions and tensions in Indian society through their activities in India.

In fact, Indian Churches are being controlled and ruled by the southern, particularly Portuguese, churches. Portuguese missionaries and people could not influence and control Indian politics, but they had full control over the Catholic Church. Vasco D’Gama was sent to India by the Pope to control the Indian Catholic Church. Before the Portuguese missionaries arrived in India, they were already old Catholics and Syrian Catholics in India, especially in South India.

Portuguese missionaries made them their slaves by force while the British were ruling and controlling India. The upper caste Catholics of Kerala and Tamil Nadu obeyed and worked along with Portuguese missionaries. Even though the British left India, the Pope had influence and control over the Catholic Church.

Independent India gave the people freedom on religion. Foreign missionaries had left enough wealth, movable and immovable property in the Catholic Church, and this wealth now fell under the control of upper caste bishops, priests and leaders. In order to increase the population of the church, the upper caste bishops, priests and missionaries started to convert Hindu Dalits and poor people to Christianity. They received foreign aid to increase church population, and this in turn increased the church votebank. This gave the upper caste bishops, priests and church leaders the protection of Indian politicians. As they received help and protection from politicians, Indian missionaries took advantage in converting Hindu Dalits to Christianity.

Recently many persons died in Kandhmal district in Orissa. Many churches, institutions and houses were burnt and there was a heavy loss of wealth and life. These were Schedule Caste people, belonging to Pana caste, who are converts. Church leaders are fighting and demanding the State Government give people of Pana Caste the status of Schedule Tribe so that they may not loose quota after conversion.

This is the real hurdle for conversion before the church leaders. For many decades church leaders were/are trying to remove this root hurdle for converting Hindu Dalits by forcing the Government to give them the status of Schedule Tribe. This struggle has built up tensions in the region.

Actually church leaders are not interested in the development of converted Catholics; they only want to increase numbers. They are eyeing 16 crore Hindus. The church leaders are playing a double game. If people of Pana caste are given Schedule Tribe status, they will retain quota/reservation after accepting Christianity and the Church need not to give them anything, and conversions may continue. Church leaders are running a conversion shop.

The Indian Catholic Church must follow the rules and regulations (Canon Law) of the Catholic Church. The Vatican appoints the Indian Bishops. Usually Catholic Bishops give less importance to the local community and that’s why their interference in the work of local priest brings suffering to local priests.

In the year 2000, Fr. Anthony Fernandez SJ, was harassed, persecuted and asked to leave the society because he raised his voice against conversions and refused to change the religion of the local community; he also challenged various rights of Bishops. Fr. Henry of Jhansi Diocese was insulted and persecuted because he took the side of local poor Christians.

Today many priests are facing punishment and posting in neglected places for being Dalits and speaking up for their own people. “Poor Christian Liberation Movement” (PCLM) is a leading organisation working for Dalit Christians and demanding equality and respect for Dalit priests and nuns. In the words of Jesus Christ, we should be like salt. If the salt has no taste, it will have no use and will be thrown outside like dust and trampled upon.      

The author is president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement

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