MUMBAI, India – Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), evoked the Black Lives Movement, he has called for equal rights for India’s marginalized Dalit community.
“Today there is a great consciousness because of what happened in America of the importance of equality for the weaker people. No distinction on account of race or color. That begins in the Gospel. It would be absurd to think that the Catholic religion is an obstacle in any way. It is the source of all this thinking. We are all children of the same Father,” Gracias said at Mass on Monday.
“In our own country: The question of Dalits. The Church is shouting from the rooftops that we can’t discriminate against them and is fighting against the caste system. God has treated everybody as equal,” the cardinal continued.
Dalits are at the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system and were once known as “untouchables.” Dalits make up a larger proportion of Christians than in the general population, and suffer “double discrimination” on account of both their caste and their religion.
In India, Christians are approximately 2.3 percent of the population, and 60 percent of Christians are Dalits.
Although Dalits are given preferential treatment under Indian law – similar to affirmative action policies in the United States – this does not apply to Christians and Muslims.
On August 10, 1950, the first president of India, Rajendra Prasad, signed a presidential order stating that anyone belonging to “a religion different from the Hindu religion shall be deemed to be a member of a Scheduled Caste.” (Scheduled Caste is another term for Dalits.) Sikhs (1956) and Buddhists (1990) have since been allowed to also benefit from laws applying to Dalits.
For this reason, the Catholic Church has designated August 10 to be observed as a “Black day,” and called for meetings, rallies, candle-light vigils, and other forms of demonstrations to be organized to show support and solidarity to those Christians and Muslims belonging to scheduled castes who are suffering the injustice of having their legal rights denied.
First observed in 2009, Black Day is organized by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the National Council of Churches in India and the National Council of Dalit Christians.
Gracias noted that for the Church, great things can grow from small beginnings.
“In the Gospel Jesus speaks of the small seed. In the Jewish idiom, whenever they wanted to speak of something small, they took the example of the mustard seed. So, Jesus took the language of the Jewish people and told them that this small seed becomes so big that the bird can come and rest there,” Gracias said.
“This small seed, the kingdom of heaven will spread all over. He tells them, don’t get discouraged and really that is what happened. Twelve people were chosen and today Christians have the biggest religious following in the world. It all began from that small group of twelve and the seed spread,” the cardinal continued. “The numbers are not the most important – it is the heart. The values which Jesus gave, if you look at history and the transformation that the Gospel has made, cannot be counted.”
In addition to discrimination against Dalits in India, Gracias also drew attention to women’s rights.
“Today, the Church has been speaking over and over again in the world and in India that they have to be given equal rights, they have to be respected, they have to be nurtured, they have to be given equal education,” he said.
“This is the Gospel. Jesus began it. In the society at that time there was the hesitation with women, but Jesus began making the breakthrough. He had the women accompanying him. We saw that in the Gospel where women accompanied him as he was preaching. Human rights; rights of the family – in the Gospel. Rights of children – in the Gospel,” the cardinal emphasized.