Dalit Christians Excluded from Church Festivals, Hundreds of Families Face Discrimination in Tamil Nadu

The Dalit Christians were prevented from participating in the ceremonies related to the church's car festival. These Dalit Christians have accused the church, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Kumbakonam, of deliberately not establishing the Parish Council to exclude them from the church's management.
Dalit Christians Excluded from Church Festivals, Hundreds of Families Face Discrimination in Tamil Nadu
Pic Source- Anurag Minus Verma/Medium

Chennai - Dalit Christian community is facing casteism in the southern part of Tamil Nadu. Members of the Dalit Christian community residing in Purathakudi and Magizhambadi villages near Manachanallur in Tiruchi district of Tamil Nadu claim that non-Dalit Christians in their localities are preventing them from taking part in the ceremonies linked to the car festival at St. Xavier’s Catholic Church. Apparently, the bishop is aware of the problem but is not taking any action.

The Mooknayak spoke to DP Kulanthainathan, a Dalit priest from Tiruchi and a member of the Dalit Christian forum. He said that the bishop knows about casteism in the community. “No one is willing to solve the issue even though the fact is known, " he said. Adding on to it, he revealed, “They are more worried about income. Non-Dalit Christians are comparatively more well-off. So, they do not want to unnecessarily involve themselves in the problem. Dalit Christians are less fortunate, so they do not have the power to make people in positions of power listen to them.”

He said, “Caste discrimination is a problem that has been prevalent in the communities for many years now. Dalit people thought conversion would save them from discrimination, but caste followed them here as well.”

According to a report by The Hindu, approximately 400 Dalit Christian families in the two villages faced caste-based discrimination from non-Dalit Christians. The Dalit Christians were prevented from participating in the ceremonies related to the church's car festival. These Dalit Christians have accused the church, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Kumbakonam, of deliberately not establishing the Parish Council to exclude them from the church's management.

The annual Parish Festival, typically held in November and December, was halted for several years and resumed only in 2017 following the intervention of the district administration and the police, according to S. Britto, another resident. Additionally, the church administration allegedly prohibited Dalit Christians from being involved in drawing the car or participating in its procession through their streets

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Commission Formed to Examine SC status of Dalits post-conversion

In October 2022, the Union government established a three-member Commission of Inquiry led by former Chief Justice of India, Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, to investigate whether individuals from the Dalit community, who have converted to religions other than Sikhism or Buddhism, should be granted Scheduled Caste (SC) status.

The notification for the commission's formation was issued shortly before the Supreme Court's anticipated review of the government's stance on October 11. This review pertains to a series of petitions urging the inclusion of Dalit Christians and Dalit Muslims, as well as the removal of religious criteria for SC inclusion. The Commission, under the leadership of ex-CJI Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, is tasked with submitting its report within a two-year timeframe.

Dalit Christians and Their Issues

Individuals from a Dalit background who embraced Christianity in significant numbers during the British colonial era form the majority within Indian Christian churches. While Indian Christians make up 2.5 percent of the overall population, it is commonly believed that a substantial portion, possibly around two-thirds, of the 20 million Christians in India can be identified as belonging to the Dalit community.

According to the research paper titled ‘A Study on Dalit Christians in South Tamil Nadu,’ many influential roles within the Church are held by Christians belonging to the upper caste. Consequently, Dalit Christians find themselves marginalized in their own land and within their religious community. They represent a disenfranchised population, systematically deprived of social justice and lacking safeguards against social and economic exploitation.

A primary concern is the exclusion of Christian Dalits from the Reservation System, a legal provision in India that implements affirmative action by reserving a percentage of seats in the public sector for Scheduled Castes, including Dalits. However, this benefit is extended only to Hindu, Sikh, or Buddhist Dalits, as Muslims and Christians were excluded from these advantages through a presidential order in 1950. Despite the clear prohibition of untouchability under Article 17 of the Constitution, Christian Dalits do not receive Scheduled Caste status.

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