India is a country of more than 1.2 billion people, with Christians accounting for only some three percent of the population, including close to 19 million Catholics. Despite its relatively small size, the Indian Church has a disproportionate impact on Indian society through education and social services. With the ascension to power of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, there has been a rising tide of violent attacks on Christians as well as Muslims.
Growing intolerance of religions considered to be foreign imports adds to the wounds of both Christian and Muslims of low caste background – known as dalits – who are denied government benefits awarded to low-caste Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhist to compensate for centuries of discrimination by the dominant Hindu culture.
To address the needs of dalits within the Church – where low-caste faithful have also suffered various forms of discrimination, despite the fact that 12 million of India’s Catholics are dalits – the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India has released a document which proclaims that “if there are any dual practices based on caste discrimination, such practices should be stopped forthwith.” It also says that dalit Christians keep alive the vision of God’s reign for justice and love.
Recently, representatives of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), the international Catholic charity, returned from a fact-finding mission to India, where it met with four of the six bishops of Odisha state. In 2008, Hindu mob violence in the community of Kandhamal in Odisha State killed some 100 Christians. The case is slowly making its way through the court system, as Christian defendants are gradually being exonerated from the charge of having provoked the rampage. On Dec. 13, 2016, Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala, asked for a new investigation of the massacre.
ACN: What are the prospects for Christian and Muslim dalits being granted the same benefits as low-caste members of the Hindu, Buddhist and Sikh communities?
Bishop Aplinar Senapati of Rayagada: Since 1950 we are fighting for the rights and benefits of the dalit Christians but right now I do not see the brighter perspectives. However, our fight continues on the national, CBCI and state level. I hope and pray our government will grand these benefits to the dalit Christians.
This article continues at [Catholic News Agency] The Church in India – a shining light for all to see