By: Fr Gerard Mitchell SJ
The Vatican is well aware of the caste discrimination that the Dalits face, especially the Christian Dalits; and the Vatican will take up the issue in a more proactive manner, supporting the struggle of Dalit Christians for equal rights and possibly even allotting a special fund for this as it has in the case of sub-Saharan Africa
This was the hope expressed by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Prefect of the Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in the Vatican. Cardinal Turkson was delivering the keynote address to a two Day conference, ‘Christian Responsibility to Dalits and Caste Discrimination’, on 9th and 10thMay 2017 at Amigo Hall, St George’s Cathedral in Southwark. The Cardinal condemned the continuing discrimination practiced by some Catholics on the basis of caste. He went on to promise that this would be addressed by the Vatican and those in authority in the Church.
Lord Bishop Richard Harries of Pentregarth, addressing the conference, exhorted the UK Church communities and others, to root out caste discrimination. The sheer number of people who are subjected to discrimination and dehumanisation has made the issue vital and requires the immediate attention and support of UK Church communities, as they have done for the Anti-Slavery and Anti-Apartheid movements.
Lord Harries discussed his experience in bringing an amendment to the Equality Act 2010 making caste discrimination illegal. He appealed for all political parties and people from all walks of UK life, to support the efforts to implement the Equality Act.
The conference was also addressed by Most Rev Dr A Neethinathan, Bishop of Chengelput, India - Chairman of the Department for Dalits, Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI). The Policy of Dalit Empowerment adopted by the CBCI was introduced to the conference by a video message from Moran Mor Baselios Cardinal Cleemis, the President of CBCI. A message of good wishes and blessings of Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales was read in the Conference.
Delegates from church groups, NGOs and INGOs from the UK and Europe, together with guests from India attended. Addressing the conference, Professor Dr M Mary John, the president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) India explained the struggles of Dalit Christians for equal rights in the Catholic Church while Mr. Satpal Muman pointed out the need for institutional support for implementing caste legislation for the UK – namely section 9(5) of the Equality Act.
Dr George Kunnathu of Oxford University presented the plight of caste practices in the church in South Asian countries and Professor David Mosse of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) explained that caste discrimination is a part of Indian Church history and it is the responsibility of Church internationally to address it. Ms Marie Marcel Thekkekara introduced the shame of India in the plight of manual scavengers and Mr Aiden McQuade, the Director of Anti-Slavery International, likened the caste discrimination suffered by Dalits to Modern day slavery.
Ms HH Deepa from India presented the Model of Community Development that is being developed in India for the victims of Kahandamal caste riots in India. Mr VJ George, General Secretary, DALITAID- INDIA questioned general trend of International Aid Agencies (IAA) of addressing poverty symptoms of Dalits rather than addressing caste discrimination as its root cause. Representatives of aid agencies like World Vision - Ms Haifa Ungapen, CAFOD - Mr Neil Thorns, and Karuna Trust - Mr Padmaka Ciaran Maguire- explained their position and their commitment to address caste discrimination faced by Dalits.
The Conference issued a Statement underlining the commitments of the participants - including donor agencies, Bishops, Church leaders and the UK Diaspora to address caste discrimination in a more proactive manner.
Major conclusions and recommendations of the conference:
• Start a Dalit Desk / Secretariat in UK and launch a 'Make Caste Discrimination History' Campaign.
• Secure the support of the Vatican to address global caste discrimination.
• The official Church and Church based organizations shall take a proactive role in addressing caste discrimination and poverty of Dalits which is due to caste discrimination.
• The struggle of Dalit Christians for equal rights in India is a just and human rights issue which needs the support from international Church communities.
• UK Church / aid agencies to address Dalit Christian and Dalit issues and support implementation of UK Equality Act 2010 Section 9(5) by widely participating in the Caste Consultation.
• Institutions and agencies involved in addressing Dalit and Global poverty issues should have a Dalit Desk, Dalit consultants and professionals. Dalit poverty must be a crosscutting thematic area in the monitoring and evaluation of development projects.
• The Aid agencies to work towards sensitizing the general public, including their staff and their departments to address global poverty of Dalits.
• To strive for a proportionate share of global international development resources as Dalits form one third of the global poor.
• Dalit liberation Day and Ambedkar Day are to be celebrated globally and expressed the need for international exposure and skill training of Dalit leaders and future leaders.
• DALITAID-INDIA, as a Dalit led agency needs to be promoted along with implementation of a National Model Dalit Community Development Project in India.