MUMBAI, India — A leading Indian Cardinal says the Catholic Church in country now accepts that Dalit Christians face more discrimination given their status of “untouchability.”

Cardinal Oswald Gracias, the Archbishop of Bombay (now called Mumbai), made his comments in discussions about their plight and possible solutions during the annual gathering of the National Council of Dalit Christians (NCDC), which took place in Mumbai from March 18-19, 2017.

Those who converted to Christianity from the formerly “untouchable” Hindu caste groups known as Dalits continue to suffer socioeconomic discrimination as Dalits and Christians. They have a minority status with their religious belief, as well as their overall status in the ancient Indian caste system where they are considered almost beneath notice.

The NCDC meeting released a document asking for a detailed report and plans from 171 dioceses about how to end caste-based discriminations against Dalit Christians.

The policy documents stated that although there have been positive changes – especially with more participation from the younger generation – greater awareness and sensitivity is required to address the issues of discrimination and “untouchability.”

Gracias called on Dalit vocations to transform the church and society. He would like to see them in the highest levels of the Catholic Church itself as a way to demonstrate the Church’s commitment to equality.

Now the Indian hierarchy largely consists of men from higher castes. Therefore, the discrimination that exists in greater Indian society is continued into the Catholic world.

Gracias also assured the support of the CBCI in resolving the issue of the status of Dalit Christians under Indian law, and demanding the recognition of their religious freedom by granting Scheduled Caste (SC) status to them.

According to Indian law, members of “Scheduled Castes” receive preferential access to schools and public jobs, similar to affirmative action. However, the status cannot be applied to those who have become Christian.

Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, the secretary of the Indian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, said that Gracias realizes “that it is unfair that the government discriminates against Dalits based on religion,” referring to the 1950 presidential order allowing some types of discrimination against them which Dalit Christians have been struggling to strike down ever since.

“The Church is 110% with the Dalit Christians,” Gracias said, “God created us equal and separation came from man because of his selfishness, and he even justified this injustice twisting the Christian teaching.”  

Gracias continued by saying, “God gives grace upon all people whether Dalits or non-Dalits. God sends rain on Dalits and non-Dalits as well. God does not discriminate.”

Handing over the recently released Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Dalit policy to the Dalit Christian leaders, Gracias said that the biggest anti-poverty program should be education.

Raj said the assurances of the cardinal are genuine, and the people know it.

“His Eminence Cardinal Gracias has been consistently supporting the cause of the Dalit Christians even from the time as the Archbishop of Agra, as well as the Secretary General of CBCI,” Raj said. “He knows the issue of the Dalit Christians through and through.”