Dalits' Concerns & An Indian Theological Response

1. We, the members of the Indian Theological Association (ITA) came together for our 28th Annual Meeting held at Vidya Deep, Bangalore, April 24--28, 2005, to reflect on a subject that is a matter of great concern to the country and to the Church: Dalits' Concerns and an Indian Theological Response. The 65 participants deliberated on this concern and formulated a response to it. This response also included some concrete recommendations.

2. Fifty-five years after the Constituent Assembly resolved to "constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC," startling disclosures have been made. Despite its development as a formidable economic power, the shocked nation is forced to accept that the 160 million Dalits in India continue to be the most deprived, dispossessed and dehumanized segment of Indian society. Not only do they encounter great difficulty in gaining access to the basic minimum facilities of life like education, housing and health, but they also continue to face discrimination in public life, job opportunities and political participation. As the most destitute section of the Indian society, Dalits are deprived of their own way of thinking, behaving, and living. The thought patterns about themselves, society and the world are largely imposed upon them by the dominant castes. Even though Dalits are productive, the dominant castes seldom allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labour. In this situation, Dalits experience a sense of helplessness. The Indian Constitution had abolished the crime of untouchability but how do we explain its widespread practice even today in practically every State? How is it that in spite of the proclaimed political and social democratization of the Indian nation, dehumanization and the crudest kind of discrimination still humiliate the Dalits? What can explain the shocking increase and frequency in atrocities on Dalits?

3. Still more disturbing have been the many questions raised by members of the Christian community. Does not the Bible state that all humans are created in God's own image and likeness? How is it that the Christian community in India defied this manifest will of God for centuries? Again, if all the baptized are equal and prized members in the Body of Christ, why is it that Dalit Christians continue to experience caste exclusion and segregation in places of worship, in educational and other institutions, as well as in the various sectors of the community? Truth and uprightness urge us to face these questions. The 160 million Indian citizens in this situation deserve expressions of unqualified apology from the Church for the unpardonable delay in the realization of these faith demands.


II. Dalit Reality: Listening to Dalit Anguish and Akrosh

4. Dalit experiences of slavery and oppression, exclusion and exploitation have a very long history stretching almost three thousand years. Their body and spirit still bear festering wounds that have not healed. Scarred both physically and psychologically with the suffering of centuries, they still struggle for self-assertion, while hungering and thirsting for a fuller humanity. The dehumanization of Dalits is visible to persons of good will. One cannot be deaf to their voices of anguish and akrosh. We believe that the God of history sees their suffering and hears their voice and is stirred to act. "The agonizing pain and deep frustration is well reflected in poetry that gives voice to the Dalits. The 13lh Century bhakti poet Chokkamela from Maharashtra laments: "

"0, Keshava!
If you give me this birth, why give me birth at all?
You cast me away to be born; you were cruel…." (Abhanga 6)

"0 God, my caste is low; how can I serve You?
Everyone tells me to go away; how can I see you?
When I touch anyone, they take offence.
Chokkamela wants your mercy." (Abhanga 76)

They ask: "How can you wear the garland of Vithoba?"
They abuse me and curse me: "Why have you polluted
God?" (Abhanga 5)

5. J. V. Pawar describes the accumulated grief of Dalits in the following words:
"Even the sea has a shore.
Why doesn't my grief have limits?"
The Dalit search for an end to suffering is like chasing a mirage. In the mythical heroes Ekalavya and Shambuka, Dalit vulnerability is cruelly exploited by those espousing varna dharma.

6. The Dalit experience of the loss of human dignity is compounded by their abject poverty forcing them to fight even against the scavenging birds and beasts to have their meager sustenance. Arjun Dangle captures this misery with deep pathos:
"We fought with crows,
Never even giving them the snot from our noses
As we dragged out the Upper Lane's dead cattle,
Skinned it neatly
And shared the meat among ourselves ...
We warred with jackals-dogs-vultures-kites
Because we ate their share."

7. Do the Dalits have little place in the voluminous religio-secular literature of the upper castes, because of the upper caste authors' conspiracy of silence regarding the Dalit oppression and pathos? In the words of Waman Nimbalkar: Dalit concerns "This dire, crushed life of the outskirts of the village never became the subject of your poetry."

8. The inhuman treatment of Dalits for thousands of years has damaged their personal identity and self-respect. Their psyche has been deeply affected by feelings of inferiority and self-hatred and Dalits can count on little support from others. Sapkale wrote the following poignant words in 1975, denouncing the apathy of the political parties and the media when caste fanatics cruelly blinded the Gawai brothers:
"The other day I heard your speech ...
You condemned America for bombing Vietnam ....
The next day your brothers condemned Russia
and wept for the Hungarians.
Gawai brothers lost their eyes,
Not a tear I saw in your eyes.
No protest meetings.
Just a small news in a couple of dailies
and everything is so peaceful! Quiet! Quiet!"

9. As history marches, we also hear the angry voices from the enlightened Dalits. Daya Pawar says:
"0 great country
how can you be called great?
You don't see the charred waste burning at your feet.
Like Nero you play the sarangi
and sing sweetly of the Himalayas."
In the midst of their unbearable and inescapable suffering, Dalit anger is also directed against God. One contemporary Dalit poet angrily explodes, "On my birthday, I cursed God. I cursed him, and cursed him again." Similar sad and angry voices continue to be raised by our Dalit brothers and sisters even today. We shall be better able to plumb the depths of Dalit suffering when we approach it through a multi- disciplinary analysis.


III A Multi-disciplinary Analysis

10. An analysis of Dalits' issues and concerns swings between the brutalities inflicted upon them and their continuous attempts at self-assertion to regain their stolen dignity, social identity and power for self-determination.

Economic oppression
11. Most of the Dalits are deprived of land and other means of material production and livelihood. They are denied fulfillment of basic human needs that are in fact fundamental human rights. Most of the atrocities inflicted upon the Dalits centre around land and wages, namely the economic base of human existence. Deprived of the material base, the Dalits are forced to do menial works and eventually become bonded labourers. Globalization has also had its impact on them. With the loss of a minimum economic security, numbers of Dalits in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Kamataka and Tamil Nadu have been driven to taking their own lives. In addition, Dalit women are increasingly forced into domestic labour, into the export oriented industries with little legal protection against exploitation, and in some cases even into prostitution, as contemporary forms of bonded labour and slavery.

12. Looked at from down up, the caste system can be seen primarily as a system of economic exploitation and exclusion, perpetuated by political domination and justified by religio- cultural ideology.

Political Oppression
13. The economically powerful castes/classes control the Dalits in politics. Besides, the Dalits are divided among themselves as sub-groups and the dominant castes and political parties that hold power often engineer these divisions among the Dalits.

14. The Dalits are also geographically scattered throughout India with different languages, culture and traditions thus making it Dalit Concerns difficult for them to organize themselves into a powerful political force with bargaining capacity. The mainline political parties exploit the Dalits as vote banks, but refuse to take up Dalit issues and concerns •seriously. To gain some political influence, the Dalits are forced in a way to work in collusion with the dominant castes that further their own vested interests.

15. In politics, reservation of seats to the Dalits has benefitted them to some extent. But they, especially Dalit women, often are not able to represent their fellow Dalits and their concerns because the elected Dalits depend on major political parties whose interests do not coincide with those of the Dalits. In some places the duly elected panchayat presidents have been forced to resign or been brutally assassinated by dominant caste people. Dr. Ambedkar had rightly pointed out: "Political power in this country has too long been the monopoly of a few and the many are not only beasts of burden, but also beasts of prey."

16. The Indian Constitution has also granted Dalits job reservation in government departments and special provisions for education, economic interest and protection from social injustice. These affirmative actions are to be appreciated. But these benefits are limited only to Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists and not to Christian and Muslim Dalits. At times, even the stipulated 15 % reservation quota for Dalits is not filled because it is claimed that there are no qualified Dalit candidates, except for Class IV jobs. Worse still it is often filled by the dominant castes.

17. Most Dalits, the victims of caste oppression in one way or other, feel that the government/state with its condoning silence is one of the major perpetuators of violence against them. The fact that some states have not been able to conduct local body elections in some places reserved to the Dalits clearly shows that the states have no political will to do so. At the Durban Conference on racism, the negative attitude and mindset of the concerned Central Government was manifest when it claimed that the caste system is not a form of racism.

Social Oppression
18. Without social democracy and economic equity, political democracy cannot be healthy and survive for long. For centuries the Dalits had been discriminated against in society on the basis of ascribed untouchability. Social segregation, curtailment of their mobility and deprivation of equal status, human dignity and rights led to dehumanization and depersonalization. The peculiarity of Indian untouchability is that it is inherited by birth and ensured by strict endogamy. It is a hierarchical system in which there is increasing purity, power, privilege, status, dignity and respect in the ascending order and decrease of the same in the descending order. If at all there are certain things that increase for the Dalits, they are contempt, indignity, discrimination, oppression, exploitation and exclusion. It is an unethical system that divides not only labour but also the labourers by assigning them by birth to a variety of occupations that socially are considered filthy, polluting and demeaning. When the Dalits attempt to resist these discriminations and exploitations, ruthless forms of violence are unleashed on them. Even today entire villages in India remain completely segregated' by caste in what has been called Indian Apartheid.

19. Every hour nearly three crimes and atrocities are committed on Dalits all over India, says the report of the National Campaign for Dalit Human Rights. Raping Dalit women by dominant castes is aimed at demoralizing the entire Dalit groups and stifling their protest attempts to assert their human dignity. Rape and molestation of Dalit women have long been the cruel weapons of torment and subjugation in the hands of the dominant castes. Religio-Cultural Oppression

20. The social structure of discrimination and exclusion seems supported by religio-cultural symbols and ideology. Forms of Brahmanic religion interpret the Vedas, Shastras, Puranans and Dharmashastras as supporting the caste hierarchy with all its implications. Education is one of the elements of self-development and empowerment. Denying it to the Dalits cripples their minds and incapacitates them to participate fully in society. In the past, education was denied the Dalits on the basis of caste and today access to quality education eludes them because of its enormous cost, and the well-orchestrated myth that they lack merit and quality.

2l. From childhood the deep furrows ploughed into the soul of the untouchable Dalits continue to stay. The sense of anxiety accompanies them. At every stage of life and in many places, they face the fear of being rejected, of being humiliated, of feeling helpless and of experiencing despair. At the same time, they are angry at a society that has no place for them and feel hostile towards the dominant castes. These mixed feelings and emotions bring about a constant inner war in the psycho-dynamics of the Dalits.

22. The various oppressions heaped on the Dalits by the so-called upper caste people not only dehumanize the Dalit community but also affect the perpetrators themselves. In treating the Dalits as sub-human, the perpetrators are rendering themselves inhuman. By excluding the Dalit participation and contribution in so many sectors of the civil society and government, the nation itself is impoverished and weakened.

Dalit Assertion: A History
23. The history of Dalit assertion and resistance is as old as Dalit oppression itself. The emergence of the shramanic traditions in opposition to the brahmanic tradition is, perhaps, the earliest instance of this. Philosophical schools like Lokayata and Charvaka, religious streams like Buddhism and Jainism, and other counter cultural movements like that of the Tamil Siddhars come under these shramanic traditions. The indigenous people, the ancestors of today's Dalits, used them as vehicles of their revolt and resistance against the brahmanic social order. The Bhakti movements, starting from the 6th century in South India and later spreading into North India, became a powerful weapon in the hands of the oppressed Dalits to declare their freedom and independence from the domination of brahminic varnashrama system. During the period of the Moghul rule and of the European Colonial powers, rejection of Hinduism and conversion to Islam or Christianity became a powerful statement of their protest and political revolt. Later when Hindu reformers like Gandhi worked for the emancipation of the Dalits, the majority of the Dalits rejected the move because the reformers' agenda had been only to remove Untouchability and leave Hinduism and its caste system unaffected. Whereas, the efforts of non-brahmin, non-Dalit social revolutionaries like Mahatma Jyotirao Phule, Sri Narayana Guru and E.V.R. Periyar found immense favour among the Dalits, because their rational and secular interventions seriously challenged and weakened the brahmanic social structures and religious hegemony. Meanwhile revolutionary movements emerged from the Dalit matrix itself, headed by Dr. Arnbedkar and others. Today every Indian State has its own groups of Dalit leaders who operate under the emancipatory ideology integrating the ideals and strategies of Phule, Periyar, Ambedkar and Marx.

24. The Dalits take up every weapon that is available to them to assert their identity and demand their dues as co-humans: They are active in the political, economic, socio-cultural, intellectual and religious fields. Contemporary Dalit/MBC intellectuals try to equip the Dalits to catch up with the post-modem world of liberal economic globalization. Today's Dalit movements have gone beyond asking for charity. They are demanding legislation guaranteeing equal opportunity to the Dalits, and affirmative action in terms of reservation in education and employment. Their cry is for reservation also in the private sector, as its very establishment becomes possible largely through the generous loans, subsidies and tax-holidays from the public sector. The days are not far off when the conscientized Dalits will be asking for compensation and restitution for all the deprivation and degradations they and their ancestors have suffered in the past. Militant Dalit Movements are today promoting the dissenting Dalit culture and Dalit literature. By their concerted militant efforts, the legitimate agenda of the Dalits for fuller humanity is brought to the centre stage of the nation's polity. These counter cultural efforts will not only benefit the Dalits but will go a long way in humanizing the entire Indian society. India will truly shine when the humanizing agenda of the Dalits and other oppressed masses are realized more and more.

Dalit Hermeneutics
25. The composite location of the Dalit world is comprised of their experiences as victims and subjects but also as persons committed to building community. The inner conflicts (legitimate aspirations versus imposed order, implicit consciousness versus explicit consciousness, agenda of human dignity versus need for survival, achieved dignity versus ascribed pollution, and so on) experienced by them are to be perceptively identified from the layers of their consciousness. Dalit inter-textuality (heritage, stories, legends, traditions, proverbs, and artistic-aesthetic expressions) is the regular source with which they are in dialogue. This Dalit pre-understanding is ready for a hermeneutical dialogue with any religio-cultural resources, native or foreign, oral or written, in view of empowering themselves to become co-human with others. Dalit hermeneutics is not a mere matter of comprehension but of transformation. Along with an inter-disciplinary approach, Dalit Hermeneutics seeks to look to the transcendental dimension that will bring about a psycho-social critique of societies and traditions. It is not the superiority of any text but the ethical necessity of creating a new society that serves as the dynamic foundation of Dalit hermeneutics and that is free from the virus of discriminative hierarchy.

Dalit Spirituality
26. While journeying with Dalits and expressing our genuine empathy for and solidarity with them, we identify their helpless groans and assertive struggles as a privileged locus of divine revelation. The Spirit of Life with its salvific intervention is actively present in the battered bodies, wounded psyche, dynamic restlessness, unrelenting articulation, creative imagination and aesthetic expressions of the victimized Dalits. They have no use for a rigid orthodoxy that does not lead to an orthopraxis of building a just and humane society. God's Spirit empowers them to claim their legitimate space and role for becoming a community- building community, rather than a passively groaning community bemoaning its victimization. They are oriented to experience the material world as the sacred locus mediating the divine presence and protective activities. Dalit spirituality has an instinctual recognition of the mutual relationship between earth and humankind. Their longing for justice and human dignity releases their spiritual energy to create a just and humane world. Dalits do not need the services of an intermediary that underlines their caste status. For them, the enjoyment of a fellowship meal becomes the constitutive dimension of community worship. The passionate yet ferocious maternal face of God is their favorite divine image. These are some of the salient aspects of the Dalit spiritual world and theological tenets. The Indian Church as well as all the people of good will are called upon to drink from these living streams of Dalit spirituality and be evangelized by the message revealed in and through the Dalit spiritual universe. The inner energies released from the Dalits' spiritual search enable them to reach out to the victims of similar multiple oppressions. The living stream gushing forth from the inner world of the Dalits will also empower them to identify and eliminate the anti-life and anti- human hierarchical elements internalized by them.


IV. Jesus, Church and Dalit Liberation

27. The person of Jesus Christ continues to be the central focus of the Christian experience. The kenotic experience he underwent makes him one with all those who suffer and are oppressed. Through him, God's address is made to humankind so that men and women are transformed and attain their true humanness and divine dignity.

The Proclamation of Christianity
28. In the biblical narrative of creation, God is seen creating all human beings equal They are made in the image of God. A just society considers all persons equal before the law. Christianity, as derived from the life and message of Jesus Christ, proclaims the equal status and dignity of every human being and the consequent right of every person to live in freedom. Through his life, death and resurrection, Jesus reveals God as Father of all men and women who are equal members in God's family. In the history of the First (Old) Testament God is seen as one who sides with the slave, the orphan, the widow, and the defenceless, namely, the anawim. These groups are seen as poor not because of personal failings but because injustice has been done to them. The liberation from Egypt is the enduring paradigm of God's power exercised on behalf of those who suffer because of injustice. Today's 'people of Israel' who groan under their bondage are those pushed to the margins of society, especially the Dalits.

29. In the Second (New) Testament, Jesus' concern for the oppressed and suffering is fundamental to his mission to proclaim good news to the poor, to set those in chains free and to bring liberty to the oppressed (Luke 4/18-19); it fulfils the messianic expectation found in the Old Testament (Isaiah 61). During his public ministry, Jesus made a decisive option for the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized and the outcast. He reserved his special care and attention for those who were looked down on totally by society. He chose fishermen as his close disciples; he shared table-fellowship with sinners; he touched the untouchable lepers, healed them and reinstated them in society; he allowed the "polluting" hemorrhaging woman to touch him thus curing her; he not only asked for a drink from the despised Samaritan woman but also made her a missionary disciple; he praised the gratitude of the Samaritan leper whom he had cured and paid tribute to the compassionate humanity of the "good Samaritan"; he even broke the Sabbath to heal the suffering like the paralytic, the man with the withered hand and the bent woman. He thus restored their dignity as children of Abraham and, more importantly, of God. Jesus did not believe that an external agent like birth or touch could cause purity or pollution. For Jesus, only the deliberate intention of committing evil and injustice towards another pollutes a person.

30. As a prophet, Jesus protested against the hypocrisy and inhumanity of the scribes and the Pharisees; he drove out the traders from the temple precincts to protest against the commercialization and desecration of the house of God; when he was slapped by the servant of the high priest Annas, instead of turning the other cheek, he dared to question him; when Pilate, the Roman Governor, tried to impress him with his claim to power, Jesus made him aware of its true ground and nature.

31. At the Last Supper, Jesus gives to his disciples the broken bread as the symbol of his broken body on the cross. Jesus allies himself with the social outcast, the economically poor and the exploited (Mt 11: 19). He sees himself as God's servant bringing justice to the people (Mt 12: 18). More than expressing mere sympathy and compassion for the miserable condition of the poor and suffering, Jesus stresses the need for prophetic engagement to bring about a community of equals. His prophetic protest can be seen reflected in the anti-caste movements of persons like Ambedkar and Periyar. Jesus' own life had humble beginnings in a stable, outside normal human habitation, exactly like the Dalits. In his death he was crucified as a despised criminal, abandoned and cast out from the Holy City. He died in close solidarity with all the crucified people of the earth. He emptied himself, becoming like refuse and rejected by society. Through this action of total solidarity with the poor and the outcast, he remains faithful to the will of his Father and proclaims a reign of justice and peace, dignity and equality for all who are victims, like the Dalits. In fact, by making the cause of the suffering masses his own, Jesus authenticated his person and his mission. The Reign of God that Jesus proclaimed is not confined merely to an individual's conversion but to a community's transformation.

32. The Church is the community. that symbolizes the transforming power of God in the world. It witnesses to the power of Christ changing persons and structures so that all may enjoy a decent and humane existence. The triumph of God's Reign is holistic. If it includes a turning to God in faith, it implies no less a qualitative change in the way persons relate to each other in the world. The Holy Spirit that Jesus leaves in his Church is meant to bring about the Reign of God among all people: to make them graced individuals, possessed of dignity as children of God and capable of living their lives in freedom and security. To the extent that Dalits experience discrimination in the Church, there is a betrayal of Christian discipleship, eucharistic fellowship and, therefore, a rejection of God's Reign as proclaimed by Jesus.

33. The situation of the Dalits today has come into the consciousness of the Church. Such awareness coupled with the assertiveness of Dalit identity must be seen as positive signs of God’s Reign taking shape in today's world. As Yahweh made common cause with the people of Israel who were oppressed in Egypt, as Jesus shared fellowship with society's rejects of his day, so too the Church of today is called to identify itself with the aspirations, the hopes and struggles of the Dalits. The Church will become an authentic witness to the gospel and a true symbol of God's liberating initiative in Jesus Christ when it works towards the total emancipation of Dalits. The active involvement of the Church with Dalits in their struggle for liberation, social justice and human dignity while constituting an essential aspect of the Church's mission in India, will transform the Church itself so that it authentically witnesses to the Christ event in the world. It will be the sign of the Holy Spirit working in the Church to bring about social identity and self-determination to a people that have suffered for centuries.

34. The Church of the New Testament was a witnessing community seeking to proclaim the message of Jesus in different contexts. Not only do we see this happening in A.D. 49 at the Council of Jerusalem but also the communion of Churches shows that ethnic contexts did allow for diversity within the one unity of faith. In the post New Testament phase, and especially when the era of Constantine brought peace and status to the Christians, the Church adopted the social and political structures of the Roman Empire. In the Middle Ages, the governing structures and organs of jurisdiction grew in prominence and affected the Church's self- understanding. An ecclesiology developed that suited the institutional setup of the established Church but was not sufficiently sympathetic to the needs of persons placed in varied contexts and regions. The manner in which the Church reacted to the question posed by the Malabar and Chinese Rites well illustrates the bias against the contextualization of Christianity. This would partly explain why the Church was not sufficiently agitated to respond to the questions and issues that emerged from the Dalits in their quest for liberation. In the past, the established Church adopted approaches that were suited to evangelize the upper caste people and preferential treatment was offered to those converts but neglected to provide special care for the Dalits. They got only the crumbs that fell from the table.

35. Dalits entered the Church with the hope that the Christian proclamation would ensure a just and egalitarian society at least within the Church. But they found that they were sadly mistaken, because the horror of exclusion, rejection and oppression followed them even after they became Christians.

36. It is only in recent times that the Church has awakened to address the questions and problems experienced by the Dalits with boldness and determination. In fact, the Church has started discovering the similarity between the brokenness of the Dalits and the broken and bleeding body of the crucified Jesus on Calvary. Jesus who was unjustly done to death on the cross was raised to life by the Righteous Father, thus giving authentic hope to all the crucified people. The Eucharist is the enduring symbol of wholeness that emerges from brokenness.

37. First of all, there is the need to recognize the complex reality of the Dalits. The Dalit question touches on different areas: politics, economics, social groupings, cultural moorings and religious sanctions. There must also be a determined effort to unmask the biased upper caste interpretations of myths and presuppositions that continue to hold the Dalits in subjugation. Instead, Dalit interpretations and myths that affirm the culture of life and liberation should be propagated.

38. The Church must commit itself to affirmative action that favours Dalits in their pursuit of growth, relationship and self- fulfillment. The Church can foster institutional groupings at the national, diocesan and parish levels that would facilitate the efforts of Dalits to receive a good education, to learn skills for gainful self- employment, to participate as co-humans in the political processes, and to ensure that the forces of exclusion do not prevail.

39. While making all the efforts to prevent the government from discriminating against the Dalit Christians on the basis of their religion, the hierarchical Church needs to set its own house in order. It should see to it that Dalits are given equal opportunities- by a clear policy of reservation for proportional representation- to occupy significant postings in the Church administration and church-run institutions. It would also be necessary for Church officials to prepare qualified Dalits who would succeed to reserved postings in the Church.

40. Just as the Church organizes theology programmes in different places to educate Catholics in their religion, it should also organize similar programmes for persons to come to an in-depth knowledge regarding the evils of caste system, and the sad plight of the Dalit brothers and sisters in it. It must be pointed out that it is a grave sin to deprive people of their human dignity on the basis of birth, and to deny them their God-given right and freedom to choose. The moral conscience of the Christian community should be awakened to realize that anyone who considers a Dalit, in whom God's Spirit resides, as inferior and polluting by birth is committing the unpardonable sin against the Holy Spirit; so also anyone who consciously continues to practice caste discriminations against the Dalilts is committing a sacrilege in receiving the Body of the Lord in communion.

The Church and Conversion
41. In the Christian vocabulary, conversion means a change of heart or a turning to God. Today's society, however, views conversion mainly as changing from one religion to another. Such a change is public, occurs in a historical context and has political, social and economic implications. While there is justification in seeing conversion as the end result of a spiritual quest, it is also true that such a quest is often accompanied by legitimate social and economic considerations. Hence, in the case of Dalit conversions, the Church must not be put off by the trumped-up charge of "forced or fraudulent conversions."

42. The religiously fanatic and fundamentalist forces look at conversion to other religions as a threat. Some groupings, especially those belonging to the far right, choose to view the conversion of Dalits to Christianity as an anti-national act. In practice, such conversion threatens their hitherto unchallenged hegemony.

43. It is difficult to deny that in the past, in many Indian States, the hierarchy's attitude to Dalits has been affected by a casteist mentality. In some parts of India Christian Dalits have experienced criminal caste discriminations in the Christian community. Conversion is not a mere internal act. People are converted as members of society and form new communities. If it is liberation and human dignity that Dalits seek when they are converted to the Church, they must find Christian brotherhood and full acceptance on entering the Church. This would be a fitting start to healing wounds and hurts of centuries. If not, conversion will be no more than a cultic act that makes for change of community but not of caste! It would be a mockery of the sacraments, especially of Baptism and Eucharist.

Catechesis and Sacramental Liturgy
44. Catechesis is directed to faith formation. In faith formation, there must be a serious effort to inculcate values of egalitarianism when learning about the truths of Christianity. One cannot preach about the eucharistic celebration being a sign of unity when Dalits are forced to keep their distance from Christians of a dominant caste. Sermons and exhortations should emphasize the evil of caste discrimination when practised in the administration of the sacraments and in the duties linked with ecclesiastical establishments.


V. Strategy for Affirmative Actions

45. We are aware that the church has implemented many programmatic initiatives to fight for the cause of Dalits and other marginalized groups and to remedy the caste division in the Indian Church and society. It is an evangelical imperative for the Indian Church to redefine the future of its mission priorities from the perspective of the subaltern people. In this regard, to further concretize our prophetic response to the concerns of Dalits, spelt out in the previous section, we recommend to all in the Church and society in India the following affirmative actions.

Actions within the Church
46. A waken the Christian community to the historical background of the Dalits and the injustice they face in the Church and society. Conscientize non-Dalit Christians of their casteist attitude, their lack of adequate understanding of the Christian faith and its radical social demands. Catechize them through faith formation programmes and homilies about the evil and sin of the practice of caste discrimination, especially at the celebration of the sacraments and liturgy and in the duties and responsibilities linked with ecclesiastical establishments. Promote enlightened Dalit leadership for full and active participation of Dalit Christians in the life and mission of the Indian Church. Recognize their hidden resources and absorb their skills, aptitudes and intellectual competence for the building up of ecclesial communities and the nation.

Recommendations to CBCI and Episcopal Conferences of Individual Churches
47. Denounce caste discrimination in unambiguous terms and forbid its practice in any form within the Church. Abolish caste segregation wherever it exists in the Church, e.g., separate cemeteries for Dalit and caste Christians.

Discipline and reprimand priests who practise exclusion in their dealings with fellow priests and people on the basis of caste.

Make preferential options for the Dalits in education, employment, social and economic empowerment an integral part of faith and value education. Make these policies concrete and implement them in church-run institutions of the diocese.

Decentralize and democratize power structures to enable a just sharing of power within the Church, without compromising on quality and commitment. Make a policy that includes representation of Dalit clergy and Dalit laity in the decision- making bodies such as the Diocesan/Parish Pastoral Councils, boards of trustees for education and multi-purpose societies, Finance Committees and other administrative bodies. Conduct a census, under CBCI auspices, of Dalit Christians in every diocese of the country and of Dalit representation in every ecclesiastical institution, to ascertain whether or not policies enhancing the lot of Dalits are being implemented. Share the results with church and secular circles and with people in the region by using regional languages. Insist on a CBCI-sponsored Dalit Commission in every diocese to study the Dalit situation and address the problems of the Dalit community at the local level. Urge the CBCI and regional bodies to commit themselves to a time-bound policy for the eradication of casteism at all levels in the Church. (Refer, for example, to the time-bound action plan adopted by the Tamil Nadu Bishops' Council, 2004.)

In Formation Houses, Seminaries and Theologates
48. Promote an increase in vocations to the priesthood and religious life from the Dalit community in the dioceses and religious congregations.
Set up Grievance-cells at the regional level to handle complaints with regard to unjust rejection or dismissal of Dalits by seminaries or religious congregations and for other injustices suffered by Dalits in the Church.
Design formation programmes to accept and effectively form candidates from Dalit backgrounds. Include Dalit Theology in the syllabus used in seminaries or in theological study, life and ministry, to understand and appreciate Dalit perspectives.
Give importance to Dalit views and values in the Church's ministry of inculturation and inter-religious dialogue.

In Educational Institutions and Social Centres
49. Give priority to the educational development of Dalit Christians, especially since the Christian community as a whole provides about 20 % of the educational service to the country. Maintain a statistical record of the number and performance of Dalit students in Catholic educational institutions.

Give preference to children born of inter-caste marriage and Dalit Christians in student admission, scholarship, and staff appointment in Catholic schools, colleges, training and professional centres. Conduct special remedial classes for poor Dalit students who may be backward in studies.

Raise funds and avail scholarships to deserving Dalit students for higher education in professional and technical training in Catholic institutions. No Dalit should have to forego primary education for want of economic means. Prepare Dalit youth to appear for competitive exams, e.g. lAS, IPS, IFA, etc. and encourage Dalit participation in the political processes of India.

Introduce Human Rights education in our educational institutions and catechetical programmes. Organize programmes to conscientize Dalits of their human rights and dignity, as well as their responsibilities in society.

Direct the resources of Multi-Purpose Social Service Centres to improve the quality of the life (food, housing, health, and economic empowerment) of Dalit Christians. Make transparency in financial transactions meant for Dalits mandatory at all levels. Organize economic projects to alleviate the struggles and misery of Dalits who live below poverty line, particularly the landless labourers.

Encourage inter-caste marriage between Dalits and other caste groups. Ban caste based advertisements for marriage alliance in the Christian periodicals. Prohibit the mentioning of caste in mass intentions and cemetery epitaphs.

Actions in Solidarity with Dalit Movements
50. The Church and church-related organizations should network with NGOs, secular organizations and movements that are working both to combat the evils of casteism in the country. Their joint efforts should be directed to reclaiming the rights for Dalits from the Central and State Governments and their legitimate status as equal citizens in building our nation.

The CBCI together with the NCCI should be pro-active in obtaining constitutional justice for Dalit Christians. They should also continue their efforts so that the government implements its new initiatives promised in favour of the Dalits and other marginalized groups.

It is imperative that the Church acts as an agent of reconciliation between the Dalit factions and sub-castes. Intervention in civil society in solidarity with the secular and humanist movements will mark the new thrusts of our future mission projects. It is equally important that the Church join hands with other movements which view the Dalit issue as a grave human rights concern in order to give Dalits the status of indigenous people along with the Adivasis of India.

Towards New Horizons
51.The corning together of cultures, religions, peoples and nations is a distinctive feature of the current world process. 'Steps towards another world' is the driving force in peoples' movements and interactions among nations and cultures. In the light of advancing human consciousness, unethical and antihuman values, perceptions, and traditions stand critiqued, revised, condemned or discarded. Surely, the caste system stands condemned and rejected, by this consciousness.

52. As theologians of the Catholic Church in India, we affirm our solidarity with all Dalits in India who are victims of the most inhuman discrimination. In the light of our reflections, we pledge to evaluate the social and ecclesial developments taking place in today's India, and support the efforts of Dalits who strive to shape their history with dignity and freedom. We resolve to study and teach the manifold dimensions of the unchristian attitude and action both in the Church and in society. We commit ourselves to take concrete steps to promote our Dalit brothers and sisters in the socio-economic as well as ecclesial realms of life.

53. The human spirit, under the impulses of the Divine Spirit, is opening up newer vistas for the human family, vistas that are worthy of the origin, nature and destiny of the human person. It is hoped that one day our human community in India will be free of this hideous yet centuries old evil of caste and a new situation of authentic brotherhood and sisterhood come into being. May this newness of vision lead us to face the promise and challenge of a bright future with the fullness of responsible freedom, of life and dignity. May the power and hope present in the Risen Christ and his creative Spirit sustain us in our struggle to build a just community of co-humans, who reflect the sacred image and likeness of God. Thus, may the Indian Church truly symbolize humankind as manifesting and proclaiming the Reign of God.