Empowerment of Dalit Christians in Odisha stressed

By Jugal Ranjit and Smita Nayak

This News is by courtesy of; http://mattersindia.com/2017/12/empowerment-of-dalit-christians-in-odisha-stressed/

Bhubaneswar: A state-level seminar on Dalit Christian Empowerment organized here on Dec 1 with twin objectives to address the Dalit concerns and promote their wellbeing in Odisha.

Father Manoj Kumar Nayak, secretary, Commission for Scheduled Caste and Backward Caste of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, one of the organisers, welcomed participants and dignitaries. Father Ajaya Kumar Singh explained the objectives of the seminar.

Dalit Christians in Odisha as a large section in the minorities, undergo caste-based discrimination, excluded and subjugated not only in the larger society but also within Christianity, in addition to the State. This abominable situation needs to be addressed for the DCs to gain their human dignity and space in all socio-economic domains, he said.

Jesuit Fr. Bosco, eminent Dalit Christian leader, former Jesuit Provincial of Andhra Pradesh Province, highlighted how Dalit Christians are ignored and oppressed mainly by the State through the promulgation of Presidential Order 150 para 3, which denies the status of Scheduled Caste to Dalit Christians by which they had to forgo the protection and privileges that have been available for Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits in the name of Scheduled Caste.

He gave a trajectory of events mainly from the year 2004 as a case has been filed in the Supreme Court. Despite the recommendations of Ranganath Mishra Commission (headed by Former Chief Justice of Supreme Court), the National Commission of Scheduled Caste, New Delhi and the implead petitions filed by Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, National Council of Churches in India, All India Catholic Union, and a few other organisations, the matter has been dragged both by United Progressive Alliance, a coalition of centre-left political parties led by Indian National Congress and National Democratic Alliance, a coalition of centre-right political parties led by Bharatiya Janata Party governments.

All the advocacy efforts and struggles promoted by Dalit Christian population of the entire country are deliberately sidelined by the Govt. He said that now Supreme Court has to constitute a Constitution Bench and that will decide the demand of Dalit Christians. He voiced that Dalit Christians should remain united and wins over this SC status for their socio, economic and political empowerment.

Fr. Xavier of Tamilnadu shared how DCLM (Dalit Christian Liberation Movement) in Tamil Nadu gained some benefits from the Church but in the course of time, it was diluted by the mushrooming of many movements which have been cunningly supported by the Church authorities by which the concerns of Dalit Christians are put at stake. He voiced that irrespective of all differences in the name of denominations and sub-castes. “Dalit Christians should remain as a force to gain our rights both in the Church and society,” he said.

Rev. Dr. Vincent Manoharan, Convener of National Dalit Christians Watch (NDCW), New Delhi highlighted how Dalit Christians are excluded by caste, which leads to undergo severe social restrictions, economic and political disabilities besides facing a range of crude forms of atrocities both within the larger society and mainly within the Church.

He gave references how Church hierarchy, Parishes/Congregations and Church based Institutions deny the legitimate space and rights of DCs although they form majority-60-70% of the total Christians. He voiced that perpetuation of this violence needs to be challenged by clear strategies and action plans of the DCs both at the State and National level to hold state and church accountable for all the deficiencies and discriminations that they face in the name of Caste which is against to Humanity and God.

Sr. Sneha Gill, Advocate and Member of Delhi Minority Commission, New Delhi listed out how the Dalit Christians need to approach the Government especially the Minority Commission to avail protection and also to avail the benefits that are in place for the minorities. She urged that Churches should proactively involve in helping the Dalit Christians mainly the students to avail beneficial measures that are stored in the commissions and also with the Govt which are difficult to be tapped by the poor and illiterate Dalit Christians.

After these inputs, the participants discussed and came out with the following recommendations: need to create awareness among grassroots especially youth; need for a movement to be promoted mainly by bringing people from Panchayat, Taluk, District and State levels; need to work out means to make our children get higher education;

Poverty and health situation of Dalit Christians need to be addressed by availing the schemes and programs of Govt mainly through PM’s 15 point programs; need to capacitate the DC youth to mobilize Dalit Christians at all levels and also to involve in Advocacy and Lobbying to ensure the rights and space of DCs both from the Church and State; priority to be given to DCs in all the existing programs and projects run by NGOs and Civil society organisations;

Unemployed youth needs to be provided with skill and leadership training;

Networking of all DC organisations needs to be done; Sensitization and challenging of State machinery and Church leaders need to be done through Advocacy, lobbying and also by struggle promotions;Need to demand for Odisha State Minority Commission;Need to urge Church to open up space for DCs families and students to get to know the existing programs and benefits that are available both in Govt and Church and to help them to avail the same;

Resources need to be raised for taking forward all these activities to ensure the results;

Babasaheb Ambedkar needs to be recognized as the Icon of DCs as a social and political leader to gain their rights while taking Christ our God and Liberator.

Based on these recommendations/Strategies, a State Core Team of NDCW was formed to take it forward.

This team resolved to meet shortly to work out action plans to carry forward. Manoharan, Fr. Ajay Kumar Singh and Gill assured of their guidance support to this Odisha chapter whenever they are called.

Fr. Singh prompted a core team to commit to larger interventions and struggles to empower Dalit Christians and to challenge all oppressive forces – State and Church- to gain dignity, equality and justice.

This seminar was jointly organised by OFSA (Odisha Forum for Social Action) and NDCW (National Dalit Christian Watch) to discuss the burning issues that the DCs face and to suggest the way forward to address the same.