Catholic Church in India should end ‘silence’ over kidnapped Dalit bishop, say critics – Ruth Gledhill

Fr Prasad Gallela is the Bishop of Cuddapah

Ruth GledhillDiscrimination based on caste system is illegal in India but it has proved almost impossible to eradicate [within the Church].  A Capuchin Franciscan priest, Father Nithiya Sagayam, told Crux that the Church should speak out more on the caste system: “The silence of the official Church is criminal.” – Ruth Gledhill

The Catholic Church hierarchy in India has been accused of ignoring an attack on a Dalit bishop after three of its own priests were arrested in connection with the attack.

Bishop of Cuddapah Prasad Gallela, of the so-called “untouchable” Dalit caste, and his driver Vijay Kumar were kidnapped in April this year, blindfolded and beaten and taken to an undisclosed place where £50,000 was demanded in ransom.

Three high-caste [Reddy] priests were among those arrested for the crime.

The South India Dalit Catholic Association has now condemned the Catholic hierarchy’s “silence”, UCA reported. In a statement, the association condemns the “silence of the official church on the kidnapping and assault of Bishop Prasad Gallela by three priests of the Cuddappah Diocese on 25 April.”

A. J. X. BoscoJesuit Priest Father A. X. J. Bosco, a Dalit activist in the area, sent an open letter to the president of the national Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Cardinal Baselios Cleemis of Trivandrum, criticising the silence.

“The sad and criminal event has been published in the media,” he wrote, asking why there had been “no significant response condemning the culprit priests or supporting Gallela” in the national media.

He said: “Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only in words? Is the Church leadership afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?

“You can very well imagine what the people, especially the Dalit Catholics, would think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the official Church.

“We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church, and it is a great challenge to the Christian Community in India.

“The question to ask is—If Jesus were here, what he would have done?”

Bosco called for a “concrete” plan of action, including transfer of bishops to other dioceses when they refuse to treat Dalits as equals.

In May this year, Gallela was supported by a rally in Cuddappah city in south-east India, Crux reported.

Nithya SagayamDiscrimination based on caste system is illegal in India but it has proved almost impossible to eradicate.

A Capuchin Franciscan priest, Father Nithiya Sagayam, told Crux that the Church should speak out more on the caste system: “The silence of the official Church is criminal.”

He added: “Our socially discriminatory society is vigorously condemned by secular leaders who work for social justice. It is shocking that the Catholic Church and its official organisations have not responded effectively to end this evil, in spite of clear indications of caste discrimination within the Church leadership.”

Gallela’s attackers took three ATM cards, a silver chain with the bishop’s holy cross and his iPhone.

From 2000 to 2004, Gallela served as a priest in the diocese of San Angelo, Texas, before returning to India to teach in a local seminary. – Christian Today, 21 July 2016

Gandhi Quote

5 Responses

  1. The Bishop was kidnapped and beaten by Catholic Priests due to their resentment over not getting plum posting during routine transfers. The priests sought power and money. It is nothing new. As a lay Catholic person, I think that Indian government should intervene and enact laws with provisions that all the Church property would vest in the Trust, consisting of lay persons of that area. The priests and Bishop should only look after spiritual activities. At present, enormous wealth has accumulated in the possession of the hierarchy. It is a rich Church of poor people wherein the hierarchy has become stubborn, rude and arrogant. However, things are changing quite fast. In the instant case, the culprit priests should have been defrocked immediately.

  2. Gregory XV (9 January 1554 – 8 July 1623)

    Extract from “St. Thomas and Anti-Brahminism” by Dr Koenraad Elst

    “… Far from abolishing caste, the Church allowed caste distinctions to continue even within its own structure and functioning. Pope Gregory XV (reigned 1621 to 1623) formally sanctioned caste divisions in the Indian Church. This papal bull confirmed earlier decisions of the local [Indian] Church hierarchy in 1599 and 1606.

    “It is therefore not true that the Church’s motivation in blackening the Brahmins had anything to do with a concern for equality. The Church was against equality in the first place, and even when equality became the irresistible fashion, the Church allowed caste inequality to continue wherever it considered it opportune to do so. As a missionary has admitted to me: in Goa, many churches still have separate doors for high-caste and low-caste people, and caste discrimination at many levels is still widespread. Commenting on the persistence of caste distinctions in the Church, a Dalit convert told me: I feel like a frog who has jumped from one muddy pool into another pool just as muddy.

    “Whenever the Church feels it should accommodate existing caste feelings in settled Christian communities, it accepts them; and whenever it thinks it profitable to take a bold anti-caste stand before a Dalit public, it will do just that. It is true that contemporary missionaries, who have grown up with the idea of social equality, mostly have a sincere aversion for caste inequality, and are more dependable when it comes to conducting Church affairs in a caste-neutral way (as opposed to Indian Christians who insistently claim descent from high-caste converts). But when considering the missionary machine as a whole, we must say that the missionary commitment to equality and social justice is not sincere, but is an opportunistic policy motivated by a greed for conversions.

    “In the past century, the Churches one after another came around to the decision that the lower ranks of society should be made the prime target of conversion campaigns. Finding that the conversion of the high-caste people was not getting anywhere, they settled for the low-castes and tribals, and adapted their own image accordingly. One implication was that the Brahmins were no longer just the guardians of [Hinduism], but also the antipodes of the low-castes on the caste ladder. A totally new line of propaganda was launched: Brahmins were the oppressors of the low-caste people.”

    Read the full essay HERE.

  3. Dalit Christians return to Hinduism after discrimination in Kerala – M. S. Vidyanandan – The New Indian Express – 20 August 2016

    THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: If statistics are any indication, Kerala is witnessing an upward curve in Ghar Wapsi—the controversial reconversion drive launched by some Hindutva groups—resulting in the dwindling Dalit Christian population in the state.

    According to the data published in the state government gazette, of the 1,335 persons who officially changed their religion in 2015, 660 were Christians who converted to Hinduism. It is mandatory for a person to publish a gazette notification to legalise the conversion. The figures stood at 780 and 402 respectively up to July this year. Over 95 per cent of the Christian-Hindu converts were Dalits.

    After analysing the conversion trend, Express found the Christianity suffered the most with 1,189 persons denouncing the religion during the past 19 months. It was followed by Hinduism, 840, and Islam, 85.

    Shins Peter, former chairman of Kerala Converted Christians Development Corporation, said most of the Dalit Christians were “forced” to return to Hinduism to avail reservation benefits. “Despite the recommendations of Ranganath Mishra Commission and Sachar Committee report, successive Union Governments have failed to extend reservation benefits to Dalit Christians. In a sense, these are state-sponsored re-conversions,” he alleged.

    Corporation managing director N. Raveendran said the living conditions of Dalit Christians were poor when compared to that of the Hindu Scheduled Castes.

    “Except education assistance and a 1 percent job reservation, Dalit Christians get no other benefits from the government,” he said.

    The state-sponsored schemes for the Hindu Scheduled Castes include financial aid for housing, marriage and medical assistance.

    Dalit activist Sunny M. Kapikad said the re-conversion trend gathered strength in the 1980s. “Hardcore believers continue with Christianity while the less religious opt for reconversion,” he said.

    Peter said the discrimination faced by Dalit converts in Christianity was also a reason for reconversions.

    “Most of the converts feel that they are being treated as second-class members. The mainstream section will not make any matrimonial alliance with us. The number of Dalit priests in Kerala is also less. There are many instances of parishers opposing the appointment of Dalit priests,” he said.

    He said some Christian cemeteries have separate burial place for Dalit Christians.

    Former spokesperson of Syro Malabar Church Paul Thelakkat said the reconversions were mostly under the lure of reservation benefits. “Despite strict direction by churches, we have to admit that caste discrimination does exist. The Church views the issue seriously and efforts are being taken to ensure equal status for converts,” he said.

    Viswa Hindu Parishad zonal secretary K. N. Venkateswaran said the organisation helps those who express the desire to return to Hinduism.

    “Reservation is being provided to Hindu Dalits in a bid to compensate for the institutionalised inequalities. Since such practices do not exist in Christianity, the call for reservation for converts is absurd,” he said.

    • The Indian Church is the second largest capital wealth holder in India after the central government, still it lobbies to have Dalit Christians included in the Hindu SC/ST benefit list.

      Why doesn’t this fabulously wealthy Church itself offer the same assistance to its Dalit parishioners that the government would if they were included in the SC/ST benefit list?

      The real objective of the Church is not to get benefits for its Dalit members but to corner all the benefits the government doles out to Hindu Dalits. If the Church succeeded in changing the government’s mind, it would mean that Hindu Dalits would have to convert to Christianity in order to access central government funds and benefits!

      The ‘poor’ Dalit bishop in the article above lost three ATM cards and an iPhone. Probably he lost his gold Rolex watch too, though that is not mentioned in the report. And this is the kind of ‘poor, deprived and discriminated’ Dalit caste people the Church wants the Indian government to assist?

      The three priests arrested in the theft and abduction of the Dalit bishop are not named or photographed or their community identified (except as ‘upper caste’). Only one blog report identifies the criminals as belonging to the Reddy community. So it appears the Church is still trying to protect its upper caste clergy over and above the crimes they have committed against the lower caste bishop!

      This is why the official Indian Church, headed by a strongly castest Syrian Catholic cardinal, remains silent on the whole shameful affair!

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