Tamil Nadu: Dalit Christians protest caste discrimination in Catholic Church

Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu have staged a protest against caste discrimination in the Catholic Church ahead of the consecration of Bishop Arulselvam Rayappan in Salem.

A protest organized by the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) on 23 July in front of the District Collector’s Office in Salem, condemning casteism.

“We have taken to the streets as our repeated demand to appoint bishops of Dalit origin in Tamil Nadu have failed. Our plight remains unheard and ignored by the hierarchy of the Catholic Church,” UCA news agency quoted Mary John, president of the DCLM, as saying.

Mary John also said that they want the consecration of the new bishop, Arulselvam Rayappan, in Salem scheduled for Aug. 4 to be stopped until a Dalit archbishop and bishops are appointed in the remaining vacancies in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry.

The protesters demand Bishop Peter Abir of Sultanpet, the apostolic administrator of Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archdiocese, go back to his diocese.

She went on to say: “Nepotism and discrimination are happening, particularly in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry, where only non-Dalit bishops and archbishops have been appointed during the past 15 years. There is only one Dalit bishop in the 18 Catholic dioceses in the region even though Dalits comprise about 75 percent of the Catholics here, making their representation negligible. This situation has continued for decades.”

More than 100 protesters also met the district collector and presented a memorandum complaining about casteism.

The DCLM which has been raising this issue for the past three decades with numerous letters and appeals to the Indian Catholic hierarchy and apostolic nuncios urged the government of Tamil Nadu and the Union government to take action to end discrimination against Dalit Christians.

The protesters also appealed to Pope Francis to intervene to end caste discrimination in the Indian Church.

“We have been also constantly making representations to the Vatican. We took to public protests to show our agony and anger, hoping to raise the consciousness of the Church over caste injustice,” UCA news agency quoted John as saying.

She continued: “During the past one year especially, we have staged more concerted public protests and street rallies because we realized that our silence, pious hope, and prayerful appeals for decades have only been defeated. With all this, we hoped that at least now our demand would be met with sensitivity and sensibility.”

While talking to UCA news, Father L. Sahayaraj, deputy secretary of the Tamil Nadu Bishops’ Council said that he was not aware of any protest. About the Dalit Christians’ demands, he said: “I have nothing to say on that subject.”