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The rights of the marginalized are the rights of God

I. Stark reality of the Dalits: Life and Struggle

1. The context: Barack Obama in his US Presidential inaugural address said: “a man whose
father less than sixty years ago might not have been served at a local restaurant can now stand
before you to take a most sacred oath”.1 The marginalized has become the mighty in less than six
decades in a secular society. Is the Church less capable of realizing the dream of Yahweh who
thunders: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Creator, but kindness shown to them is an act
of worship” (Prov 14:31) and again “Those who mock the poor insult their Maker; those who are
glad at [their] calamity will not go unpunished” (Prov 17:5). The poor are normally economically
disadvantaged while the Dalits are oppressed and discriminated in all phases of life – Both are
the marginalized in the society. The Pope has declared this year, the year of the Priests. Priests
and Bishops are shepherds of the people but they are also at the same time sheep. They are to
walk along the sheep – Not simply talking in the air but walking the talk in concrete. In the
context of the TNBC and TNPCRI meeting to reflect on the integrated development of the
multiple-marginalized, namely the Dalits, who are economically impoverished, socially
discriminated, politically ignored, religiously ostracized, and deprived of health and education –
Further, they suffer from dehumanization. This meeting is not an exercise in mere discussion but
it should be a time of honest examination of conscience and effective concrete planning with
timeline to realize the goal of empowering the marginalized and monitoring mechanism to
ensure the progress.

We have to not only become aware of the status of the Dalits, especially of the Catholic Dalits, in
India, especially in Tamilnadu but also we have to become convinced of their exclusion and
discrimination with humility and we have to initiate atonement for the past social and religious
sins through positive affirmative action plan to alleviate and eventually eliminate the deprivation,
marginalization and exclusion of the Dalits. If the Church could bring the Dalits from the social
periphery to the centre as Jesus did (Mk 3:1-6) and establish their human dignity and realize
equality as children of the one and the same God through the same baptism and through the same
faith in the only Son of God, our brother, Jesus who became Christ, then the Church could
profess as: one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church.

The Church holds on to the Bible as its backbone and the Bible gives the Church its life and
meaning of existence. The Bible is liberation history of the oppressed: Yahweh taking His stand
with the slaves of Egypt; leading them through red-sea of blood-bath of the oppressed; and
establishing them as a mighty nation. And Jesus of Nazareth took the cause of the marginalized:
He not only preached the good news to the poor (Lk 4:18) which was a bad news to the rich but
identified himself with the social untouchables, namely the Samaritans: While the Jews ignored
and avoided them, Jesus stayed with them (Jn 4:40); and it was the Samaritan woman who was
revealed for the first time that Jesus was the messiah (Jn 4:26). It was the socially deprived,
again the Samaritan, who were shown as a role-model for the society: To be compassionate as
the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:30-37); to be grateful as the healed Samaritan (Lk 17:16). If the
Church is a continuation of the Word of God, the Church can have no other option except the
option that Jesus had in his life – the option for the poor and the marginalized.

The Bible is full of the poor and the marginalized. If all the texts in the Bible that speak of the
marginalized were cut out, very few pages would be left. All the Gospels speak of the poor and
the marginalized. As Tamez would put it: If theologians strained the Bible with a sieve to
remove all historical material and keep only that they held to be „purely‟ spiritual and
theological, the result would be a limited and insipid text, inapplicable to the real struggle of
human life.2 The marginalized is the one who is deprived of the essential goods of life, dignity
and human liberty. Through the whole Bible, it is very clear that God exalts the insignificant and
the least ones. God loves the poor precisely because their misery reveals an absence of justice.
God is their lawyer.3 Let us not mention the poor and the marginalized as an after-thought in our
ministry but let us take it as the prime mission from Christ our High Priest and Leader.
According to Tracy, „the central theological problem of our day is not the problem of the
nonbeliever but the problem of those thought to be nonpersons by the reigning elites‟.4

2. Status of the Dalits: Let the numbers speak to us with regard to the status of the Dalits. 11
million Dalits in Tamilnadu make up 20% of the Tamilnadu population but 50% of them are
below the poverty line. According to Fr Antony Raj (who took a survey of Tamilnadu in 1990s)
the Dalits make up 70% of Tamilnadu Catholic Church5 and the official statistics, that is as per
the TNBC, is 65% of Tamilnadu Catholic Church is of Dalits.6 While the literacy rate in
Tamilnadu is 63% (with men 64% and women 47%), only 39% of Dalit men and 30% of Dalit
women are literates. In Tamilnadu, 70% of the population remains in agriculture: 72% of the
Dalits are land-workers and only 7% of the Dalits own a piece of land. While 90% of the Dalits
have not land to possess, 18% of them are engaged as construction workers. On the whole 90%
of the Dalits are in rural areas and most of them are illiterates.7 School drop-out rate among the
Dalits is 80%. Nearly 90% of all the poor Indians and 95% of all the illiterate Indians are Dalits.8
Although illegal, 40 million people in India, most of them Dalits, are bonded labourers, many
working to pay off debts that were incurred generations ago.9 The Dalits are living in a
subhuman situation. The caste-riddled society is marked by two characteristics: separation and
dependence, or hierarchy and interdependence – with the Dalits always at the receiving end.10

According to the Census of India, the SC population in 2001 was about 16% of the total
population in the country. The maximum concentration of the SC population is in Uttar Pradesh,
followed by West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Tamilnadu. These five states together
account for nearly 55% of the SC population in India. Nearly 70% of SC households either do
not own land or have very small landholdings of less than 0.4 ha.11

2.1. Untouchability: Though untouchability is a crime punishable as per the Indian Constitutions,
even today it is practiced all over India. The Dalits cannot walk with chappals on through the
streets of dominant castes and there are tea-shops where the Dalits are served tea in aluminum
tumblers (in about 700 villages in Tamilnadu) or coconut shell which they themselves have to
wash after use. Every one hour two Dalits are under attack; every day three Dalit women are
raped; every day two Dalits are killed and every day 2 huts belonging to the Dalits are burnt.12
When it comes to sexual molestation, for some reason, the untouchability is suspended
temporarily! A report released by Amnesty International in 2001 found an "extremely high"
number of sexual assaults on Dalit women, frequently perpetrated by landlords, dominant-caste
villagers, and police officers.13 Incidents of Crime against Scheduled Castes from 1998 to 2001
could be depicted as below:14

Crime Head 1998 1999 2000 2001
Murder 516 506 526 763
Rape 923 1000 1083 1136
Kidnapping & Abduction 253 228 268 400
Arson 346 337 290 354

According to Thorat (the present UGC Chairman), the annual reports of the Commission for SCs
and STs provide data on the registered cases of untouchability. It emerged that average annual
cases registered under the Anti-Untouchability Act (1955 legislation, and later renamed as the
Civil Right Act) numbered 480 during the 1950s, 1,903 during the 1960s, 3,240 during the
1970s, 3,875 during the 1980s and 1,672 during the first half of the 1990s. On an average, about
23,000 cases of human rights violations and atrocities are registered by the SCs with the police
annually. There is still a long way to go before the SCs can imagine of some degrees of
respectability, a dignified life and sustainable livelihood.15 Can the Catholic Church do
something in this line?

2.2. Situation in Catholic Church: Let us look at the holy Catholic Church! Even today in many
places when the Parish Patron/Patroness feast is celebrated the car-procession would not go into
the area of Dalits lest the patron-saint should become polluted. (Commenting on the Vaikkom
temple-entry by the Dalits EVR16 wrote: If the presiding deity gets polluted, then it could not be
God, but a mere stone fit only to wash dirty linen with.17) And the Corpus Christi Procession
would not see the light of the Dalit streets. The Dalits are discriminated even in death. There are,
in most places, separate cemeteries for the caste-dead and the Dalit-dead and even the hearse
used to take the dead bodies to the cemeteries would be different: one for the caste Catholics and
one for the Dalit Catholics. Even death cannot part with untouchability. We have to wait and see
whether there would be a caste-heaven and a Dalit-heaven! Not only the dead-Dalits are skirted
off from others by a wall but the living as well: In Uthapuram, near Madurai, there is a wall
separating the Dalit houses from other houses. One wonders which side of the wall the Catholic
Church and the hierarchy stand. And the Church hierarchy have not taken any efforts to break-
down this social evil since they claim they have only spiritual power. The hierarchy cannot offer
spiritual solution to human rights violations. In other words, the spiritualistic (superficial) model
of the Church has failed. If one is truly spiritual he/she cannot but play the prophetic role in
denouncing whatever is unjust. Jesus was truly a spiritual person completely immersed in the
Abba experience (of the universal father-/motherhood of God and therefore the universal
brother-/sisterhood of the people) since each one was created in the image and likeness of God
(Gen 1:26). In the words of Vatican II:
All men are endowed with a rational soul and are created in God‟s image; they have the
same nature and origin and, being redeemed by Christ, they enjoy the same divine calling
and destiny; there is here a basic equality between all men and it must be given ever
greater recognition (GS 29).
Do we believe this? Have we done anything to realize this equality in Christ? If not, why?

2.3. Cry of the Dalits: Even those who are engaged in public-sanitary works are ignored socially
as well as religiously. Significant number of Arunthathiyar community has been engaged in
scavenging wherever open defecation is prevailing. Currently, some of them have to clear night

soil as well.18 And those who are engaged in manual scavenging have not been taking into
consideration for liberation or upward mobility in the society. Let us ask ourselves: What has the
Church done about this issue? Just take the case of those engaged in the transformation of animal
hides. So far they are dealing with dead animals and the hides they are disgusting and polluting
for most people but when it turns out to be clean leather goods, such as chappals and shoes, the
goods become a social status liked/used by all.19 Chokha Mela, a Dalit bhakta from Maharastra
asked God (already in 14th Century):
If you had to give me this birth,
Why give me birth at all?
You cast me away to be born; you were cruel,
Where were you at the time of my birth?
And the Dalit poet Kisan Phagu Bansode of Maharastra raises his poignant voice in prayer:
God! Make me a beast or a bird
But not a Mahar at all. 20
The hierarchical Church has never bothered to study the status of the Dalits from her internal
perspectives, because the leaders of the Church have been mostly from the dominant castes.
Their struggles against economic exploitation have not yet been researched.21 It is high time to
realize that Church draws its meaning of existence only when it is engaged in the service of
human dignity and equality – Otherwise all cannot sit from east and west equal with Jesus in his
final banquet (Mt 8:11). If that happens that would be the failure of the Reign of God brought in
by Jesus. EVR resigned from the Congress in the 1930s since high caste people did not want to
be seated with the Dalits during meals time in a school run by the high caste.22

2.4. Reality today: Just an honest examination of conscience would put us in perspective. When
did we start taking the Dalits in the diocesan seminaries and religious noviciates? Even when a
few were taken why most of them have been shown the door (the reason seemed to be: vocation
has to come from „good families‟ implying Dalit families are not good families)? Among the
Priests and the Religious in Tamilnadu just about 6% are Dalits (And out of 155 Bishops in India
only about 5% are Dalits).23 How many Dalits, both in the Dioceses and in Religious
Congregations are in decision-making administrative positions (such as Rectors, Treasurers,
Directors of Social Action, Novice-Masters/Mistresses etc)? What is the percentage of
teaching/non-teaching staff in our Catholics Schools? How many Dalits are in the Parish
Council? Would it be true if it is stated that at least 95% of our educational institutions do not
qualify to be the „minority institutions‟ because we do not have minimum 50% of the minorities
in our educational institutions? Would anyone contest the statement, with proof, that 50% of our
Catholics do not study in our Catholic Institutions (because they cannot afford to pay the fees)?
A cursory look at the Catholic institutions (1999) in Tamilnadu and the presence of Dalit
Christian students in them would be very revealing:24

Primary/Middle High Schools Colleges Technical
Schools Institutes
Institutions 801 370 22 116
Dalit Christian
Students (%) 31.2 15.5 10.5 -

II. Real Liberation: Emancipation and Empowerment – Biblical and Theological

3. Need for Paradigm Shift: The option for the marginalized needs multi-faceted reflection. It is
based on the Exodus narrative of liberation leading to the table-fellowship of Jesus and hence it
needs a. evangelical simplicity; b. existential solidarity; c. transformational analysis; d.
institutional challenge; and e. eschatological expectation.25

Evangelical simplicity is an invitation that one must become poor – not only in the sense of
absolute misery but more a detachment from wealth and privileges of power and position. This
gives one the disposition to seek a living koinonia in the faith with people who are poor and
oppressed. It requires a quantum leap into the cry of the poor in order to speak and work for the
poor, and thus identifying oneself with the poor and feeling with the poor. Taking the stand with
the poor and speaking for the poor requires first of all to speak with the poor as the marginalized
are the primary recipients of the gospel [„Good tidings‟ first to the Shepherd (Lk 2:10); „good
news to the poor‟ (Lk 4:18)] as Jesus has already given the Reign of God to the poor (Mt 5:3).
To speak with the marginalized is to create the milieu under which they can speak for
themselves. Thus there is need for transformation. The traditional Christian doctrines such as
solidarity in sin and in redemption should lead the way to transformation of the marginalized,
through empowering them. Theological reflections should become concrete in sociological
action programme since, with regard to option for the marginalized, the operation and the
operator are theological whereas the operatum is sociological. Hence any attempt to theologize
about the given social reality, including the perspective of the poor and the disadvantaged,
requires socio-analytical hermeneutic mediation. Any change, to be effective and lasting, should
be institutionalized and in the case of solidarity with the marginalized would cause institutional
challenge since the power pyramid and the interests of genuine emancipation of the marginalized
are diametrically opposed. But in the final analysis we need to see that de facto, Catholicism
began with the poor and the marginalized and will in any event once again become the religion
of the poor and the marginalized – And this process is getting accelerated by the decline in
religious practice due to materialism, consumerism, and privatization of religion.26 But to be
authentic to the call of Christ, we would be judged by the same poor who were the first recipients
of the good news and who are the neglected at present. It is the hungry, the thirsty, the naked,
and the exploited in the prison who will judge us (Mt 25:42). God judges us, according to
Mathew, by the way we treat the poor and the marginalized.27

3.1. Meaning of Good News: In proclaiming the „good news‟ to the poor (Lk 4:18), Jesus did not
merely minister to them: he cast his lot with them. Jesus‟ good news was „from below‟ and not
„from above‟. His „liberating the oppressed‟ (Lk 4:19) implies liberation from injustice and
oppression which are the primary causes of poverty leading to marginalization.28 Jesus came not
just to preach about liberation; he came to liberate the oppressed. He wants the Church to
continue his work today.

3.2. Sin and Redemption to Liberation and Freedom: Christian faith needs a paradigm shift,
namely from the concept of „sin and redemption‟ to the concept of „liberation, freedom, and
equality‟ from oppression. Since the existence of the poor and marginalized is the outcome of
exploitation and discrimination, pro-active efforts are needed for their liberation through

affirmative action. In other words, option for the poor/marginalized is option against oppression
since the poor/marginalized are the victims of oppression.29 This process of critical refinement is
the main internal corrective of the Bible understanding. As Tamez would put it: „The incarnation
of Jesus was historically revealed by a life-praxis that favoured the oppressed and the crushed,
just as his resurrection is constitutively the eschatological vindication of the sufferings of the
unremembered and the forsaken. The crucified represents the disfigured face of all human beings
whose rights have been neglected. It is precisely the Crucified One who has been raised, and in
that resurrection neither his oppression nor forsakenness are nullified, but rather, their
eschatological and even divine significance are revealed‟.30 The eschatological or second coming
of Jesus is in the form of the empowered marginalized.

The paradigm shift is precisely this: The road of salvation, namely Incarnation, Cross, and
Resurrection should be understood as road of struggle (caused by suppression and
marginalization) and triumph (of liberation). For Christians there is no choice between the love
emphasized by John‟s Gospel and the justice emphasis of Luke and Mark. It is not enough to
speak of „special love‟ for the poor and the marginalized. The only meaningful special love
worth mentioning or acceptable here is a demand for justice on behalf of the marginalized.31 As
Pope says in his encyclical „Caritas in veritate‟: “I cannot „give‟ what is mine to the other,
without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first
of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an
alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity”.32

4. Attitudinal Change leading to Table-Fellowship: It can be said that Jesus was crucified
because of how he ate.33 He enjoyed the company of the poor and the marginalized and the
sinners: He was accused of eating and drinking with the publicans and the sinners (Lk 5:30, Mk
2:16) and his invitation is precisely to share one‟s provisions with others here on earth as the
generous little boy who was instrumental in feeding the five-thousand hungry followers of Jesus
in the desert (Jn 6:9) and then to „eat and drink at my table in my kingdom‟ (Lk 22:29). Table-
fellowship not only recognizes the existence of the other but also accepts the other as the equal.

Jesus invites his followers in steps to i. Social table; ii. Family/Companion table; iii. Eucharistic
table; and iv. Intellectual/Empowering table. The ultimate goal is that human beings have been
created in the image and likeness of God (Gen 1:27; Gen 5:1) but due to structural sin of
exploitation and discrimination and marginalization the humankind became fragmented as the
oppressor and the oppressed. Then God came to redeem and eventually has invited all to come
together where there will be no distinction based on caste nor creed nor nationality nor gender –
The broken humankind is to be made whole in and through the table-fellowship. Table-
fellowship here on earth is essential and a pre-condition for the table-fellowship in heaven.

4.1. Eucharist as Fellowship: This unification of the fragmented mankind is by taking affirmative
action which will uplift the downtrodden and put down the mighty (Lk 1:52). Jesus has no
distinction between the Pharisees and the Samaritans and later Paul preaches: there is no
difference between the Jew and the Greek - the believer and the pagan (Rom 10:12). This social
consciousness gets internalized by companion-tableship. Friends of the Lord become friends in
the Lord through this table-fellowship. It is not enough that each one is a believer in or follower
of Jesus but each one should believe in each other among the disciples. They should recognize

one another in their breaking of bread (Lk 24:30f). Breaking of bread eventually becomes the
hall-mark of the followers of Christ where all have equal rights and privileges. The Eucharist
was a group meal and a service of mutual help. The bread and wine represent the totality of the
universe – And to eat together is the essence of Christianity. 34 If there is any preference or
partiality among those who gather for the Eucharistic fellowship, then the celebration becomes
an anti-thesis. Paul reminds us that we have been called to the fellowship of Jesus (I Cor 1:9)
and James admonishes that faith in the Lord should be reflected in respect for fellow humans in
the breaking of bread – He cannot tolerate discrimination between a rich person with gold-ring
and a poor person with vile raiment since God chose poor in the world to be rich in faith (Jam
2:2-4). Having established equality and dignity of all at the Eucharistic table, the final step is to
empower them to be the rich in order to bring in equality among the powerful and the broken.
This is the present area of opportunity where the poor and the marginalized have to be
intellectually empowered so that they could have economic and social upward mobility. Thus
empowered all could enter the heavenly banquet to meet the eternal bridegroom where there will
no more be tears of want and suppression.

4.2. Mission and Ministry: Change in attitude towards the marginalized culminating in
conviction that all are created equal and all would be saved together without any discrimination
and exception would lead us to concrete proposals with timeline to empower the marginalized.
When Jesus asked Peter, „Do you love me?‟ (Jn 20:15-17), he entrusted the mission of feeding
the sheep to Peter. The same mission, bequeathed to the Church, is to create a conducive
atmosphere for the sheep to grow without any partiality and discrimination in order to find
fullness of life first here on earth before finding unity with God. Thus it is the primary mission of
the Church to guarantee integral growth of the people – Integral growth implies affirmative
action for the marginalized and the neglected and the discriminated as Jesus said that physician is
needed for the affected (Mt 9:12). The process begins with reflection on „what is happening in
the Church‟ and „what is happening to the Church‟. Pope Benedict XVI emphasizes integral
development in his encyclical „Caritas in veritate‟.35 Within the Church the marginalized are
getting disillusioned and are getting ready for an exodus (which has already started to trickle out)
and the secular powers are creeping into the Church and soon there is a danger of Church going
secular. Let us not underestimate the power of the poor and the marginalized – Just think of the
French revolution and thereby the Church losing its grip on people and properties in Europe!
And here a silent revolution is brewing up. In the beginning the Church was poor but as the
power-game came in the discrimination also came in and the poor and the marginalized who
were the centre of the Church were driven to the edge of the society already in the first century –
That is why Paul and James have to warn against discrimination of the poor and the marginalized
in breaking of bread which is the symbol of unity in Jesus. And today the original Church of the
poor and for the poor has become the Church of money and power, sidelining the poor. Our
present mission is to address the derailed Church of Jesus which is fragmented by caste
discrimination, oppression and power-struggle.

III. Towards Tomorrow together with the Marginalized

5. Concrete Action-Plan: The awareness and consciousness and acceptance of casteism and
discrimination in the Church have been an eye-opener to propel an action programme. The
Propaganda Fide disapproved of separate seats in churches in 1783 and again in 1865 demanded

that all castes be admitted into the Catholic schools. In 1933, South Indian Bishops wrote a
common pastoral letter in favour of the abolition of caste distinction in the Church.36 Already at
the Synod of Pondicherry in 1844, the seating arrangement in Church for different castes,
inequality and injustice to Dalits were discussed and a statement was issued.37 As per the report
of the General Body Meeting of the CBCI 1988:
The discrimination based on caste that is rampant in the rest of society continues also
among Christians. Most Christians of scheduled caste origin are still deprived of
economic opportunities, access to adequate educational facilities, leadership roles and
participation in decision-making.
It would be good to reflect on the admonition of Pope John Paul II who said, while addressing
the Bishops of India during their „ad limina‟ visit (Nov 17th 2003):
Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign
to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality and a serious hindrance to
the Church‟s mission of evangelization. Therefore, customs or traditions that perpetuate
or reinforce caste division should be sensitively reformed so that they may become an
expression of the solidarity of the whole Christian community.
„Action Plan for the integrated Development of Catholic Dalits in Tamilnadu‟ (Oct 16th 2004), a
joint-venture of TNBC and TNPCRI, states:
It is a historical fact that the missionaries declared emphatically that there was no place
for caste discrimination in Christianity and opposed casteism. However, when people
from different castes became Christians, they carried along with them the hierarchical
caste system with all its evil. In the long run casteism got entrenched with all its evil
forms and designs in the Catholic Church. As a result the Dalits were discriminated
against within the Church. Though there is no place for caste discrimination and
untouchability in Christ‟s teachings, it is painful to see that (different) forms of
untouchability and discriminatory practices are still prevalent in the Church.
The following is the „Ten-Point-Programme for the integrated Developmment of Dalit Catholics‟
declared by TNBC in Vellore on Jan 30th 1990. In the words of the above mentioned document
(Oct 16th 2004): „Though the Ten-Point-Programme was declared in 1990, no worthwhile
initiative was taken to implement the programme even after ten years‟.38 Is it the sign of
unwillingness or ineffectiveness? Is the situation today any better?

6. Ten-Point-Programme: On the request of TNBC, Madras Institute of Developmental Studies
(MIDS) undertook a scientific evaluation of the implementation of the Ten-Point-Programme
and submitted the report to the TNBC at Vailankanni in July 2003. After study of the evaluation
report the Ten-Point-Programme was reiterated and stressed to be followed by all – TNBC,
TNPCRI, priests and the faithful. The Ten-Point-Programme could be summarized as follows:
1. Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin (CSCO), who are the Dalits, should not be
discriminated in places of worship and burial grounds.
2. Vocations of CSCO should be encouraged to join seminaries, noviciates of religious
3. Dalit leadership should be fostered by inducting CSCOs into Parish Councils, Parish
Finance Committees, Diocesan Pastoral Councils, Multi-Purpose Social Service Societies
and other Church related organizations.
4. CSCO should be given preference with regard to training centres (such as Teacher
Training and Industrial Schools).

5. Remedial programmes should be organized to enhance the learning capacity of the slow-
learners (especially the first-generation learners).
6. Preference should be given to CSCOs with regard to appointments in educational
institutions and other Church sponsored organization and projects.
7. Development projects of CSCOs should be given priority in the Diocesan Social Service
Societies and members from CSCOs should be chosen for the active execution of such
projects as well as in the related training programmes.
8. TNBC and TNPCRI should jointly create a Scholarship Fund to enable the education
(especially technical and professional) of the CSCO students.
9. SC/ST/BC commission should be created in each diocese immediately to monitor the
10. TNBC should actively work and support towards obtaining the rights and privileges of
CSCOs from the Central and State Governments.

It is high time that we review the progress between then and now – between our wish and our
accomplishment. It is good to realize the opportunities we have missed and the obstacles we have
to overcome. Already on Jan 14th 1982 the CBCI during the General Body Meeting declared that
casteism is sin. Moreover it emphatically said that „caste mentality‟ and its consequent effects of
discrimination is alien to Christianity since it is inhuman and violates God-given dignity and
equality of the human person. How much have we adhered to this which is our own teaching to

6.1. Accomplished and yet to be realized: The diocesan SC/ST/BC commissions and Scholarship
Funds have been created – But how effectively do they function? Attempts have been made with
regard to admission and appointment policies in our educational institutions but how much have
we gone ahead? Empowering measures of appointing the Dalits to administrative positions are
yet to be realized in a noticeable way. With regard to developmental projects we need to be
transparent: As per the Foreign Contribution Regulation 2005-06 accounts the Church has spent
only 0.12% and 0.32% for SC and ST welfare respectively out of funds received for SC/ST
projects.39 Does it imply that the funds raised abroad in the name of the Dalits have not been
spent for their upliftment?

The visible contradiction of our faith in one-God-and-one-faith is the discrimination in the burial
grounds. If caste system is an integral part of Hinduism and if it exists in Christianity, then is
Christianity any different from Hinduism? Is there any need for Christianity, especially when the
Dalit Catholics are denied the Government privileges extended to others (ie. Non-Christian
Dalits)? According to Deliege, the relegation of Untouchables to the bottom of the social ladder
is therefore religious in nature, and stems from their association with impure tasks. 40 One can
change one‟s nationality, religion, even gender, but cannot change one‟s caste – One could never
be freed from the clutches of untouchability! Because Hinduism is caste-ridden Dr Ambedkar,
along with thousands of his followers, embraced indigenous Budhism which does not recognize
caste-discrimination. But those of the Dalits who embraced Christianity might soon feel that they
have made a mistake and that they have not become any better by becoming Christians and that
the baptismal water, though perhaps washes out the original sin, is not capable of washing away
the Dalit-stigma. Is it because untouchability seems to be considered as indelible and
irreversible? If the baptismal water could remove the original sin, it should also remove the

structural sin of untouchability. But it has not. This shows that we have not yet understood the
real meaning of baptism (Gal 3: 27f) and its Christian social responsibilities in the Church (Lk 3:

7. Integrated Development of the Catholic Dalits: The Ten-Point-Programme has been
telescoped into Eight-Point-Programme and rechristened as Action Plan for the Integrated
Development of Catholic Dalits in Tamilnadu. And it would be better to frankly review what
progress we have made so far with it – We could start with whether we are convinced of the need
and whether we have taken up the implementation whole-heartedly. Only then we would be able
to objectively evaluate our progress. We could take lessons from the secular Central and State
Governments and non-religious private and corporate companies and industries. The Right to
Education Bill, making education a fundamental right for every child in the 6-14 age group, has
been recently cleared by the Union Cabinet on July 2nd 09 – This might be probably passed
during the current parliament session. The cost to the exchequer will be nearly Rs 12,000 crores
every year. Even private unaided schools will get assistance as 25% of their seats will have to be
reserved for poor children in the neighbourhood. Corporate and private industries/companies are
becoming more and more pro-active with regard to option for the marginalized.41 The children of
the world seem to be more sensitive to the disadvantaged than the children of God! The money-
makers of corporate world seem to better express their solidarity with the disadvantaged than the
direct descendants of the apostles in the empowerment process of the marginalized!

7.1. Priority Action: The need of the hour is education – formal, professional, skill-based. The
potential of intellectual capacity is not lacking among the marginalized but lack of primary
education, economical inability to pay the fees for education, the handicap of first generation
learners with no imitable role-model among the kith and kin to go up in educational ladder, low
self-esteem due to millennium of slavery-like labourer-status, inaccessibility to the elite
educational institutions from the rural areas etc have crippled the children and the youth from
getting effectively educated. Din of humiliating words and shouting from the land-lords and from
the dominant caste people have become loud in heart with the consequence of a feeling of
diffidence. So what is most needed now is opening up professional educational institutions, in
addition to formal educational institutions, to offer technical education since the job-market
revolves around technical and managerial education. At least 50% of the admissions should be
offered to the rural poor and the marginalized Dalits and adequate financial support should be
made available for their effective learning. In addition, there should be career centres to train
them for future job-market. This needs concrete plan with timeline and committed personnel to
implement the programme. Conviction should turn into commitment leading to accomplishment.

8. Emancipation Movement: If the social or religious organization does not take efforts to
ensure the empowerment of the marginalized there would come up Dalit uprising. One could see
how it is already coming up: For example, it is learnt that most of the People‟s War Group and to
some extent Maoist Groups are of the marginalized and discriminated people and out of
frustration they are at war with the dominant groups of power and authority. The eruption of the
Naxalite movement in 1960s was the outcome of oppression due to casteism and feudal system.
(Around the same time Black Movement, under the militant leadership of Malcolm X, picked up
momentum in the USA.) Dalit Panthers came up in Mumbai in 1972. The Worli riots of 1974
and Aurangabad riots of 1978 are well known.42 EVR‟s Self-Respect Movement in Tamilnadu

started in 1930s and later Dalit movements gained currency in Tamilnadu. If the needs of the
marginalized, even in the religious milieu, are not effectively and meaningfully addressed the
Church also might face the same fate. For the affected say: We are not satisfied, and we will not
be satisfied until „justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream‟ (Amos
5:24). Along with Nelson Mandela the Dalits say: “Our deepest fear is not that we are
inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our
darkness, that most frightens us”.43 The Dalit hearts are getting restless like the bottom of
volcanoes – It might erupt anytime and consume the obstacles on the way in the lava that wreaks
vengeance. Hence the choice is between the Church giving in under pressure from the militants
or the Church, out of conviction, takes a pro-active role to empower the poor and the

8.1. Empowering Process: More effective way to empower the powerless would be to start
entrepreneur centres (through Micro-Finance Institutions) which would help the marginalized to
pick up some business (supported by cooperatives). This would ensure economic stability paving
the way to decline in social disabilities. The next phase would be considerable degree of self-
reliance which eventually builds up political dominance. This is the model that has been
effective in Jenubhavi in Belgaum (Karnataka) where the Samagars (dealing with shoe-making)
could eventually claim not only equality but dominance over the dominant Lingayats. The
Samagars were not allowed to enter village temples, nor to draw water from the common well,
and they were not served in teashops and hotels. Drinking water was given to the Samagars by
upper castes in such a way as to avoid direct contact between each other‟s vessels. But now, in
about four decades, as businessmen the Samagars emerged as the main donors for village affairs
and they are the decision makers in the village.44

Another area of priority is empowering women. Thorat states: Dalit women face deprivation and
discrimination as do their dominant caste counterparts in terms of the predicament of gender
discrimination… Specifically, Dalit women have extremely low levels of literacy and education,
and are heavily dependent on wage labour. Discriminated against in employment and wages,
they are concentrated in unskilled, low-paid, and sometimes hazardous, manual jobs. They are
often victims of violence, sexual exploitation, and religious and social superstitions.45 These
need our concerted efforts.

9. Holistic Liberation: The option for the poor and the oppressed in the Bible would be the best
course of action. Yahweh took the stand with the oppressed and the marginalized in Egypt: The
children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto
God by reason of the bondage (Ex 2:23). He led them out of Egyptian slavery „with mighty hand
and outstretched arm‟ (Dt 26:8). And He made them a great nation. All through, even today, „the
cry of the afflicted‟ (Ps 9:12) reaches Yahweh fast and effectively. And Jesus, in his turn,
realized that the spirit of the Lord was upon him and he proclaimed his life-mission „to preach
the gospel to the poor‟. He further explicitated it as: to heal the brokenhearted, to preach
deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are
bruised (Lk 4:18). He lived out what he preached as he went throughout every city and village,
preaching the glad tidings of the kingdom of God and delivering the people from their bondage:
and the twelve were with him (Lk 8:1).

Jesus‟ approach was integrated: This freedom and liberation (Lk 4:18) is holistic – starting with
the physically challenged to be healed, the economically crippled should be able to walk, the
socially timid and dumb should be able to speak voicing forth their rights and attain their dignity,
the eyes of those blinded by prejudices and hatred should be open, and to bombard those who
turn a deaf-ear to the cry of the needy and the suppressed. Thus curing individual diseases he led
on to challenging social sicknesses with culmination in addressing political evils (Lk 7:21) –
That is why he was executed as a state-criminal on the Roman cross.

9.1. Road-Map: The Church today in Tamilnadu, especially TNBC and TNPCRI, should launch
upon an integrated programme – It has to take into consideration all aspects for the holistic
development of the marginalized:
1. An honest and open evaluation of the 10/8 point programme could be done, by the
SC/ST/BC commission in each diocese and the outcome is made available to all
concerned. A scientific statistics/census of the Catholic Dalit population should be
taken in all the dioceses through a credible institute.
2. First become convinced that the Dalits are also created in the image and likeness of
God; they have been redeemed by the one and the same Jesus; they have been
baptized with one baptism; and they share the one, Catholic and apostolic faith.
3. Take steps to eradicate all practices, direct and indirect, of untouchability –
Common cemetery, meaningful way of celebrating Parish Patron/Patroness‟ feast,
Corpus Christi procession etc so that the Eucharistic table of sharing the same body
and blood of Christ does not become a parody or paradox. Culprits of
untouchability should be brought to books.
4. Bring in regulations so that Dalits (laity, priests, religious) are given administrative
positions with decision-making leadership.
5. Get on to the drawing board to plan on the effective education of the rural poor and
the Dalits making it possible to get admission, with sufficient financial aid, to
pursue education, especially in our own institutions of learning. Remedial
programme and coaching classes are to be organized for the slow-learners and the
first generation learners. The philosophy of relevant education for effective
employment leading to meaningful empowerment could be followed. To enhance
the employment of the youth, career centres should be established in every
6. The percentage set apart for the welfare of the Dalit Christians by Social Service
Society in each diocese should be reasonable and it should be proportional to the
Dalit Christian percentage in each diocese.
7. Enact and implement policies with regard to appointment of Dalits as teachers and
administrators in our schools, colleges and technical institutes so that they could
become role model for the Dalit children to achieve great things in life.
8. TNBC and TNPCRI, in collaboration, should work on starting technical and
professional institutes of higher learning admitting the rural poor and the Dalits
(Dalit admissions should be proportional to the Dalit percentage in each diocese),
with sufficient financial aid, into programmes ensuring bright future. If possible a
Catholic University, with the possibility of affiliation for all the Catholic colleges,
could be worked out. The present favourable atmosphere in Indian politics could be

made use of. More and more institutions of higher learning should be founded in
rural areas.
9. TNBC and TNPCRI could make it clear about the stand, namely affirmative action
for the Dalits at all levels of empowerment.
10. To perpetuate the healing ministry of Jesus, more and more rural primary health
centres could be contemplated and personnel, from among the religious, could be
trained. Alternative medicines, at affordable cost, could be promoted.
11. In order to empower women, skill-based and technical educational centres should
be started (such as lab-technician course, pharmaceutical and physiotherapy training
institutes, nursing schools, informatics etc). Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and Micro-
Finance Institutions (MFIs) for women could be started in every parish. To avoid
exploitation by money-lenders, micro-banking system could be introduced on
cooperative basis. Action plan to eliminate female infanticide should be undertaken.
12. The two areas so far neglected, namely business and politics, should be addressed
so that the marginalized could become really powerful. More business schools and
entrepreneurship centres could be founded. Pro-active role should be taken in
capacity-building of the marginalized which would be helpful in empowering them.
People‟s movement, starting with social awareness/analysis and becoming village
heads and Panchayat Presidents, ward-members in towns, leading to political
leaders should be encouraged. People‟s power could be really massive.
13. TNBC and TNPCRI could play advocacy and lobbying role in getting SC/ST status
for the CSCOs. This would speed up the upward mobility of the downtrodden.
14. As part of socio-pastoral ministry care of the refugees, migrant workers, bonded-
labourers etc should be taken care of. These are also marginalized and neglected lot
in the society.
15. Establish a diocesan/Province grievance-cell comprising diocesan clergy, religious
and laity-experts where people, especially women, could appeal for justice on the
face of discrimination, untouchability and exploitation.
16. Found an institute of Dalit studies which would promote Dalit culture and Dalit
literature. In the Seminaries Dalit/Subaltern Theology should be introduced.
17. TNBC should come out with a Mission Statement: i. acknowledging casteism and
untouchability in the Catholic Church of Tamilnadu; ii. expressing the need for
empowering the marginalized; and iii. a timeline for concrete action programme.

Right now the marginalized are like Lazarus in the tomb: Tied up with bonds of bonded-labour,
neglect, poverty etc and sulking and stinking in the untouchability-stigma. And Jesus stands out
and cries to the Dalits „come out‟ and he further orders us to untie the bonds of poverty and
discrimination and to let him/her go in freedom as the liberated person (Jn 11:44). This is the
echo of Yahweh thundering, through Moses in the presence of the oppressing Pharaoh, „let my
people go‟ (Ex 5:1). It is our turn now to say: Let my people go – It is our responsibility to lead
them with raised hands and outstretched hand – And it is our mission to empower them since the
Church of tomorrow belongs to the marginalized and the poor. In this sense we become
instrumental for a new creation.

The road-map, for empowering the marginalized could be, literacy/capacity building → effective
employment → economic stability → social and political influence → power-sharing → caste-
free status of liberation and equality.46

10. Begin Today: Let us begin to act – act now. As Kennedy said: “All this will not be finished
in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days… nor even perhaps in our
lifetime on this planet. But let us begin”.47 But let us begin our action-programme to realize our
goal of liberation and freedom in our life-time. And let us remember the recent words of Obama:
“Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the
faint-hearted - for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and
fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things - some celebrated but
more often men and women obscure in their labor, who have carried us up the long, rugged path
towards prosperity and freedom”.48 Is the Church today to be a sign of conformity to the world of
consumerism leaving the marginalized along the current of poverty or to be a sign of
contradiction with solidarity with the marginalized? Let us become the trend-setters in changing
the face of our Church – Let us become the beacons of counter-culture where all are equal and all
walk hand-in-hand as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. So stop blaming and start „flaming‟,
setting the world on fire that would consume discrimination. Pro-action, not complacency, is
what is needed now: Remember Lazarus filled with sores and the rich man in purple clothes. The
rich man apparently did not do any harm to Lazarus but he was buried in hell since he was not
sensitive to the needs of Lazar, the neglected (Lk 16: 19-31). Empowering the marginalized is
our social responsibility.

11. Jesus’ Dream of Unity: Jesus dreamed of all human beings to be one as he and His father
were one (Jn 11:17) since all have been created in the image and likeness of His Abba, Father. It
is not only his dream, it is the dream of so many who have experienced the bitterness of
discrimination and who raised the prophetic voice of unity and dignity echoing down the corridor
of time. Martin Luther King said: „I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in
a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their
character‟. We could say in our context: We have a dream where the Dalits will not be judged by
the origin of their birth but by the content of their character. We could resonate with Martin
Luther King: I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and
mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be
made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together" (Is
40:4f). With that hope we can cry: „Come, Lord Jesus‟ (Rev 22:20). The whole Christian Bible
ends with that cry. The New Testament cannot be adequately understood without that
apocalyptic tone of „come‟. For Christians, the Bible does not end like a classical folktale with
„and they all lived happily ever after‟. It ends rather with a cry, a plea, a prayer, a passion:
„Come Lord Jesus, come.‟49 And our response should be: „Bend my heart to your will, O Lord,
and teach me your law‟ (Ps 119: 29.35) – The law is the justice of the marginalized.

Francis P Xavier SJ
Loyola College, Chennai

Invited paper presented for the Tamilnadu Bishops Conference Meeting on July 22 09.
The title is based on the words of Jesus that God will judge in favour of his own people, who cry to him day and
night, and do it quickly just as the judge faced with widows and orphans who ask for justice (Lk 18:1-8). The rights
of the marginalized, as rights of God, provide an image to express the importance of the fear of God when some
want to violate and crush God’s little ones, namely the downtrodden and the disadvantaged.
B. Obama, Presidential Inaugural address: Jan 20th 2009 at Washington DC
E. Tamez, Poverty, the Poor, and the Option for the Poor, In: D. G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.42.
C. Floristan, The Place of the poor in the Eucharistic Assembly, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p. 252.
D. Tracy, The Christian Option for the Poor, In: D.G. Groody, The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology,
University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.119.
A. Antony Raj SJ, A Dalit Jesuit speaks to the Tamil Church, JIVAN 1992.
Cf. Minutes of TNBC 1992.
According to figures presented at the International Dalit Conference that took place May 16 to 18 (2003) in
Vancouver, Canada.
9 nd
H. Mayell, National Geographical News, June 2 2003 (According to a report by Human Rights Watch published
in 1999).
R. Deliege, The Untouchables of India, Berg Pub., New York, 1999, p. 36.
S. Thorat, Dalits in India, Sage Pub., New Delhi, 2009, p.40 and 56.
Source: State Adidravidar Welfare Department, 2001.
13 nd
H. Mayell, National Geographical News, June 2 2003.
Source: Crime Record of India 2001 – National Crime Record Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs, Govt of India,
New Delhi (2000, 2001, 2002, 2003), In: P. Louis, Caste based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and
the need for Reservation, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper Series, Vol. II, Nov 04, 2007.
S. Thorat, Dalits in India, Sage Pub., New Delhi, 2009, p. 130 and 152.
EVR (E.V. Ramasamy) was a dogmatic exponent of the philosophy of ‘rationalism’ and fought against caste-
C.J. Fuller, Caste Today, Oxford Uni Press, Delhi, 1996, p. 280.
18 rd
The Hindu, Jan 23 2008.
E.N.A. Kumar, Upward Mobility or Class Formation? Samagars of Jenubhavi, In: S.R. Charsley and G.K. Karanth
(Ed), Challenging Untouchability – Dalit Initiative and Experience from Karnataka, Sage Pub, New Delhi, 1998, p.
G. Shah, Dalit Movements and the Search for Identity, In: G.Shah (Ed), Dalit Identity and Politics, Sage Pub., New
Delhi, 2001, p.198f.
G. Shah, Dalit Movements and the Search for Identity, In: G. Shah (Ed), Dalit Identity and Politics, Sage Pub., New
Delhi, 2001, p.197.
C.J. Fuller, Caste Today, Oxford Uni Press, Delhi, 1996, p. 279.
P. Louis, Caste based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the need for Reservation, Indian
Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper Series, Vol. II, Nov 04, 2007.
L. Stanislaus, The Liberative Mission of the Church among Dalit Christians, ISPCK, New Delhi, 1999, p. 88 (In: P.
Louis, Caste based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the need for Reservation, Indian Institute
of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper Series, Vol. II, Nov 04, 2007.)
J. O’Brien, Theology and the Option for the Poor, Michael Glazier Book, Collegeville, 1992, pp. 80.
J. O’Brien, Theology and the Option for the Poor, Michael Glazier Book, Collegeville, 1992, pp. 81-90.
C. Floristan, The Place of the poor in the Eucharistic Assembly, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p. 245.
T.D. Hanks, God so loved the Third World, Orbis Books, New York, 1983, p. 110f.

E. Tamez, Poverty, the Poor, and the Option for the Poor, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.43.
E. Tamez, Poverty, the Poor, and the Option for the Poor, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.121.
D. Tracy, The Christian Option for the Poor, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology,
University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.124f.
Benedict XVI, Encyclical: Caritas in veritate, June 29, 2009, No. 6.
C. Floristan, The Place of the poor in the Euccaristic Assembly, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p. 245 (Cf. R.J. Karris, Luke: Artist and
C. Floristan, The Place of the poor in the Eucharistic Assembly, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in
Christian Theology, University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p. 243.
Benedict XVI, Encyclical: Caritas in veritate, June 29, 2009, No. 4.
L. Stanislaus, The Liberative Mission of the Church among Dalit Christians, ISPCK, New Delhi, 1999, p. 109-111.
P. Louis, Caste based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the need for Reservation, Indian
Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper Series, Vol. II, Nov 04, 2007.
38 th
Cf. Action Plan for the Integrated Development, TNBC and TNPCRI, Oct 16 2004.
The Hindustan Times, Sep 15, 2008.
R. Deliege, The Untouchables of India, Berg Pub., New York, 1999, p. 39.
41 rd
Times of India (Chennai), July 3 2009.
G. Shah, Dalit Movements and the Search for Identity, In: G. Shan (Ed), Dalit Identity and Politics, Sage Pub., New
Delhi, 2001, p.209.
Though ascribed to the inaugural address of N. Mandela (1994) the quote is from: M. Williamson, Return to Love,
Harper Collins, 1992, p. 190.
E.N.A. Kumar, Upward Mobility or Class Formation? – Samagars of Jenubhavi, In: S.R. Charsley and G.K. Karanth
(Ed), Challenging Untouchability – Dalit Initiative and Experience from Karnataka, Sage Pub., New Delhi, 1998, p.
S. Thorat, Dalits in India, Sage Pub., New Delhi, 2009, p.6.
E.N.A. Kumar, Upward Mobility or Class Formation? – Samagars of Jenubhavi, In: S.R. Charsley and G.K. Karanth
(Ed), Challenging Untouchability – Dalit Initiative and Experience from Karnataka, Sage Pub., New Delhi, 1998, p.
47 th
J.F. Kennedy, Presidential Inaugural Address, Jan 20 1961.
48 th
B. Obama, Presidential Inaugural Address, Jan 20 2009.
D. Tracy, The Christian Option for the Poor, In: D.G. Groody (Ed), The Option for the Poor in Christian Theology,
University of Notre Dame press, Notre Dame, 2007, p.125 and 129.

The paper was presented for the joint meeting of the Tamilnadu Bishops Conference along with the Secretaries of
Commissions and Executive Committee of Tamilnadu-Pondicherry Catholic Religious of India on July 22 nd 09.