Dalit priests protest caste-discrimination in Indian archdiocese

Dalit priests protest caste-discrimination in Indian archdiocese

In this Aug. 15, 2016 file photo, hundreds of members of India's low-caste Dalit community gather for a rally in Una, Gujarat state, India. (Credit: Ajit Solanki/AP.)

Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry and Cuddalore says he will do what is needed to eradicate all forms of caste-based discrimination in the archdiocese.

MUMBAI, India – Archbishop Antony Anandarayar of Pondicherry and Cuddalore says he will do what is needed to eradicate all forms of caste-based discrimination in the archdiocese.

Around 30 Dalit priests staged a sit-in at the archbishop’s house from Nov. 30 – Dec. 4 demanding a dialogue to combat discrimination.

Dalits were formerly known as “Untouchables,” the lowest level on the Hindu caste system. In India, it is common for caste discrimination to exist even in non-Hindu religions, including Christianity.

The Dalit leaders had first written to the archbishop in March urging him to end the casteism and untouchability they said were plaguing in the archdiocese.

Dalit priests asked the archbishop to make transfers and appointments more equally, noting that no Dalit priests served in parishes with a majority of non-Dalit Catholics.

Anandarayar, 75, said on Nov. 24 announced he was going on leave for 2 months due to health reasons, and was appointing the Vicar General, Father A. Arulanandam, as the archdiocesan administrator in his absence.

This move led a group of Dalit priests to write the Vatican representative to the country to question what was happening in the archdiocese.

Since then, the archbishop sent a letter promising changes, leading to the end of the protest at his residence.

Jesuit Father A. X. J. Bosco, a Dalit human rights activist, told Crux what is happening in Pondicherry is “a power struggle between casteist priests and Dalit priests.”

“Those who enjoyed power never like to share their power with the powerless. Pondicherry is a caste-ridden diocese. The archdiocese has 110 parishes and many educational institutions and schools. But in at least 42 important places, the Dalit priests have not been appointed so far,” Bosco said.

The priest noted the Jesuits wanted to start a college in the archdiocese, but were refused permission, which he blamed on anti-Dalit sentiments.

“With such hatred and prejudice for Dalit Christians, they could not imagine a Jesuit College where Dalits would be given preference,” he said.

“The Dalits have to fight against this monster caste inside and outside the Church to reclaim their dignity. We believe in Christ, the liberator, is alive and active today. Crucifixion comes before resurrection,” Bosco added. 

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