Church must bring White Paper on its business operations
by R L Francis on 14 Dec 2012 15 Comments

Catholic and Protestant churches across the country celebrated 9 December 2012 as ‘Dalit Liberation Sunday’. The Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and the National Council for Churches in India (NCCI) have suddenly become worried for their dalit brothers. Both these bodies work under the Vatican and the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.


In October this year, the Catholic Church has organized a congregation under Pope Benedict XVI, which advocated faster evangelization considering the changing world scenario. Under this theme, the Indian church wings have thrown up slogans like ‘Break the barriers – Build world of equality’ for dalit brothers.


The truth of course is simply that the church is trying to put old wine in new bottles. The church wants dalit Christians to be included in the list of Scheduled Castes; hence the so-called ‘Dalit Liberation Sunday’. They criticized the Manmohan Singh government for breaking promises supposedly made in this regard.


The slogans are attractive, but the reality is in stark contrast. The reality is that the church has not been able to / has not cared to create an equitable order for nearly 3 crore dalit Christians. Why, then, does it espouse the cause of non-Christian dalits?


The church as an institution must answer the big question – if, after conversion of several hundred years, the situation of dalit Christians remains as good or bad as that of Hindu dalits, then what has the church done for them over this long period? It is well known that as much as 70 percent of the total Christian converts come from the so-called dalit section of society, yet their role in the church establishment is almost non-existent. Discrimination is persistently increasing within the church system. And instead of trying to rectify the malady, the Church is trying to shift the blame on the Hindu system!


Christianity claims that it does not believe in discrimination of any kind. This was the main reason why our dalit ancestors opted for this faith. As recently as 1981, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) passed a resolution stating that there was no place for caste-based discrimination in Christianity. The Vatican severely criticizes caste-based discrimination and untouchability. Still, dalit Christians face discrimination at every step. A handful of clergy control all the resources of the church.


Now, with the demand of including dalit Christians in the category of [Hindu] Scheduled Castes, the church has played a double game. It has successfully diverted the anger of dalit Christians towards the government, and secondly, it has acquired the space to spend its time and money on more conversions, to further strengthen itself at the cost of others.  


The welfare of dalit Christians was never an agenda for the church. The former SCs have just been tools for the expansion of the church empire in India. This can be understood through an example. There are 168 Bishops and only four come from the ranks of the dalits. There are 13,000 diocesan priests, 14000 religious priests, one lakh nuns and 5000 brothers in India. But barely a few hundred belong to the ranks of the dalit community. Recently, the only dalit priest of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Father William Premdas Chaudhry, described the agony of a dalit father in his autobiography, “An Unwanted Priest”.


There is a common perception that the church holds the highest amount of land in the country after the central government, and possesses land in very posh colonies. In India, the church has some constitutional rights. There is an urgent need to impose regulation to control the church and its institutions. The Catholic Church alone owns and runs 480 colleges, 63 medical colleges, 9500 secondary schools, 4000 high schools, 14000 primary schools, 7500 nursery schools, 500 training schools, 900 technical schools, 263 Professional institutions, six engineering colleges and 3000 hostels, 787 hospitals, 2800 dispensaries and health centres. If we add the institutes being run by Protestants, the number reaches 45000 to 50000. 


The thought naturally comes to mind – how many deans, teachers, professors and doctors in this huge church empire hail from the dalit Christian community?  How many dalit Christians have been appointed as director of social institutions run by the church which receives foreign funds to the tune of crores of rupees for the welfare of converted Christians? Before celebrating ‘Dalit Liberation Sunday’ the church should have addressed these questions. The church should tell us how many dalit Christian students are given an education in their convent schools.


The reality is that the church has become a huge and highly successful business enterprise driven purely by the profit motive. If the church has the guts, it should bring a white paper on the issue.


It is a harsh truth that the condition of Hindu dalits has considerably improved in the six decades since independence and Christian dalits have been left behind. Hindu dalits have become so empowered that they have launched their own Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry to foster the spirit of entrepreneurship among dalits. This is a sterling achievement of the Hindu community as a whole.


My question is, WHY has such a model of development for Christian dalits not come from the church despite its fabulous wealth and continuous stream of donations from various quarters? Instead of ridiculing the dalits with their pretended concern, the church should create a system which gives them proper rights and justice in the present system.


The author is president, Poor Christians Liberation Movement

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