Dalit empowerment – An ethical imperative for a just Odisha

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By Matters India Reporter

Sambalpur: A three-day seminar on the theme ‘Dalit Empowerment-An Ethical Imperative for a Just Odisha’ was held by Khristo Jyoti College (KJC), Regional Commission for Clergy, Priests and Religious Odisha, with the association of Odisha Forum for Social Action (OFSA), Nov 27-29.

The objective of the seminar was to study and reflect the ‘Dalit Empowerment Policy (DEP) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI)’ in the context of the status of Dalit Christians (DP) in Odisha and to evolve strategies and action plans to address the issues that are being faced by Dalit Christians.

This was widely attended by the Bishops, heads of religious orders, provincials, institution heads, priests and nuns, theologians, and students of KJC numbering 119.

Representatives from Scheduled Caste/Backward Class (SC/BC) Commission of CBCI, OROSA, NDCW and Jesuit-run Indian Social Institute, Bangalore were also invited as dignitaries and input providing resource persons.

Bishop Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur inaugurated it. He said Church needs to discern the exclusion, dependency and disadvantage being faced by DCs both in society and Church. Both need to respond to restore dignity and justice to marginalized section.

While explaining the objective of the seminar, Divine Word Father Jesuraj Royappan, KJC principal expressed his that this seminar will provide significant recommendations to address the issue of Dalit Christians in Odisha.

Bishop Anthonisamy Neethinathan of Chingleput, chairman of SC/BC Commission of CBCI, elucidated a trajectory of events from 1844 to till date, which led to the formulation of the DEP and reminded of Vatican II statement that ‘joy and sorrow of people should be the joy and sorrow of the Church’ and also pointed out Holy Father's Continued voice ‘for the favor of the marginalized, who are at the fringes of the society.’

Fr. Devasahayaraj, Secretary SC/BC Commission of CBCI, while introducing the DEP, prompted the concepts of ‘imago dei, the Nazareth Manifesto, Love thy neighbor, Eucharist, Kingdom of God, New Heaven and New Earth and ‘All are one’ and urged the Church leaders to commit to treating DCs as equals.

Sr. Robancy of SC/BC Commission of CBCI, narrated how DEP was perceived, evolved and declared on the 31 October 2015.

Sr. Sister Anastasia Gill, a member of Delhi Minority Commission, quoting her own personal experience and highlighted that education is the core of the development of DCs and requested the Church not to discriminate DCs while providing admissions in its Institutions.

Father Selvaraj Arulnathan, director of ISI, Bangalore, gave a wider framework of action plans to address poverty, illiteracy and exclusion being faced by DCs, to provide them space in education, employment, formation and vocation- for ensuring benefit from the DEP.

Fr. Ajaya Kumar Singh, Director of OROSA voiced Church to continuously support the demand of DCs to get SC status which was rescinded by the Presidential Order 1950 Para 3.

Vincent Manoharan of NDCW urged the Church to offer proportionate space for DCs in all its positions -in hierarchy and institutions – while ensuring protection and restoring equality, dignity and justice in all matters and functions of Parishes.

While Jugal Ranjit, social worker, listed out the issues being faced by DCs in the Church in Odisha. He and others introduced the plight of PM’s 15 point programs that are available for the development of Minorities and urged the Church to take note and initiate measures to avail the same for DCs. The participants sat as 6 groups and came out with their recommendations to address the issue of DCS.

Finally, Vincent Manoharan gave a framework of major strategies for the realization of DEP which include – ‘Creation of a Data back on the status of DCs, documenting their issues, capacitation of youth, organizing Fact Findings during the time of massive discrimination unleashed on DCs, involving in Advocacy and Lobbying, promoting a strong DC lay movement, networking with other DC movements, organizing struggles and accessing justice from the Church, State, UN and European Union through engaging with them’.

On the final day, Bishops, Mother General, Provincials and Institutional Heads attended the seminar. After listening to the recapitalization of what had happened on the past two days, the Church leaders came out with the following affirmation: They are fully aware of the status of DCs in the Church and also realized the need for providing immediate attention for their socio-economic empowerment. Although they don’t have a policy so far exclusively for the benefit of DCs, they commit to giving priority and space for DCs in all their institutions and programs. DEP will be translated into Oriya within a short time and shared at the parish level especially with the institutions. Diocesan level Dalit Policy will also be evolved to address the issue of DCs; Databank will be created on the status of DCs;

DC children and students will be given priority in – school admissions, special coaching, career building coaching, English learning/speaking and also availing public scholarship and other assistance. Dropout DCs will be given leadership and skill training. Psychological and spiritual counselling will be given to DC students. From the level of formation, vocation and seminaries DCs will get special attention and avail due space;

Diocesan Level Team will be promoted to meet Church leaders and also the State for ensuring the empowerment of DCs.

Every each, five Dalit bright students will be identified and they will be given free education;

two priests will be specially assigned to take forward the cause of DCs at all levels of Church and also to help DC students for making online applications to avail the benefit of the Government.

Insights on B.R. Ambedkar would be oriented to DC students through seminar and special events: to try to introduce Entrepreneurship trainings for the economic empowerment of DCs; try to avail the benefits out of SCP/TSP (for Tribals) and try to build unity between Dalits and Tribals, monitor the realization of the above Affirmation, a Monitoring Committee was initiated with the following Members:

Both the Bishops declared as their final words that they were happy that this seminar paved way for initiating a number of action plans for the empowerment of Dalits (and Tribals), the most affected marginalized communities in Odisha. They called that both these communities should come and live together and also strive together to regain their dignity and human personality. Dalits who suffer caste-based discrimination will be in priority in accessing socio-economic empowerment within Church and its domains. It is not a choice of the Church but it is a mandate and responsibility. They will carry the insights of Christ who was with the disadvantaged and the marginalized. They both vowed to work together along with all those who are called to commit for the deprived ones.

The Principal while thanking all expressed his satisfaction that this seminar fulfilled its objectives and also it evolved an action plan with the formation of a monitoring committee. This is the major contribution of KJC and also it has provided an insight to its students to commit for the cause of Dalits and Tribals for whom they are called to serve which is their vocation.