Tamil Nadu Church accused by ‘Dalit Christians’ of discrimination, including untouchability

As per a report released on Monday by Tamil Nadu Untouchability Eradication Front (TNUEF), ‘Dalit Christians’ are prone widespread discrimination within the Church. These findings were based on a public hearing for the alleged atrocities like untouchability committed against the ‘Dalit Christians’ in Sivaganga district’s Catholic Diocese.

Reports have claimed that this discrimination includes denying the ‘Dalit Christians’ priesthood status, lack of parish administrative opportunities for the ‘Dalit Christians’ and building separate caste based chapels. The discrimination supposedly includes creating fewer parishes for more ‘Dalit Christians’ and more parishes for fewer Caste Christians. Further, it has been alleged that the festival car of the chapels doesn’t enter the areas where these ‘Dalit Christians’ reside.

Another report claimed that various villages contained two separate chapels, cemeteries and festivals in the Sivagangai district supposedly for segregating the ‘Dalit Christians’. It also claimed that the schools, colleges and hospitals run by the Church are located in the area inhabited by Caste Christians.

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As per Samuel Raj, the General Secretary of TNUEF, the Sivaganga diocese had reached the zenith of practising untouchability in the Roman Catholic Church. In all about 25% of the diocese members are Dalits, out of which not one individual has been ordained as a priest since its conception 30 years back. Raj also alleged that some Dalits have been evicted from the seminary following years of training.

The report, which claims to have exposed the discrimination by the Church, was based on a public hearing of an eight-member committee consisting of a retired Madras High Court judge and a university Vice-Chancellor. This hearing was conducted on 16th March 2017, following the refusal to ordain a certain Michael Raj as the priest. In total, about 700 people were interviewed in course of the hearing.

He incidentally was rusticated from Trichy’s St Paul’s theological seminary for an indiscretion but was later cleared of the charges. Despite him eventually completing the 13-year course, he wasn’t made a priest which prompted protests by ‘Dalit Christians’.

In its report, TNUEF recommended that discrimination and untouchability should be abolished and special attention needs to be given to the promotion and care of the Dalit community. It also asked that the concerns of the ‘Dalit Christians’ should be attended to.

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