The Church in India--a shining light for all to see
"The Church presents itself as being at the service of all. "
is a country of more than 1.2 billion people, with Christians accounting for
only some 3 percent of the population, including close to 19 million Catholics.
Despite its relatively small size, the Indian Church has a disproportionate
impact on Indian society through education and social services. With the
ascension to power of the Hindu nationalist BJP party, there has been a rising
tide of violent attacks on Christians as well as Muslims. Rejection of faiths dismissed
as foreign imports adds to the wounds of both Christian and Muslims of low
caste background—known as dalits—who are denied government benefits awarded to low-caste Hindus, Sikhs
and Buddhist to compensate for centuries of discrimination by the dominant
address the needs of dalits within the Church—where low-caste faithful have also suffered various
forms of discrimination, despite the fact that 12 million out of India’s 19
million Catholics are dalits—the Catholic
Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) has just released a major document
proclaiming that “if there are any dual practices based on caste
discrimination, such practices should be stopped forthwith.”
representatives of Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), an international Catholic
charity, travelled to India and spoke with four of the six bishops of Odisha
state. In 2008, Hindu mob violence in the community of Kandhamal in Odisha
State killed some 100 Christians. Only slowly Christian defendants are being
exonerated from the charge of having provoked the rampage.
are the prospects for Christian and Muslim dalits
being granted government benefits?
Aplinar Senapati, CM, of Rayagada: Our fight continues on
the national, CBCI and state level. I hope and pray our government will relent.
Sarat Chandra Nayak of Berhapur: We have been fighting
for these rights for the past 60 years. Our hope is that the Supreme Court will
respond to this injustice.
Niranjan Sual Singh of Sambalpur: The primary, hidden
reason the government opposes benefits for Christian dalits is a concern that once low-caste Christian can take
advantage of affirmative action with regard to education and access to civil
service jobs, many Hindu dalits will
convert to Christianity.
is the Indian Church dealing with the challenge of itself fully welcoming dalits?
Singh: The Church must welcome these new believers. Unfortunately,
in many places, dalit Christians are
not given equal opportunities. For instance, dalit children are barred from being altar servers or dalits cannot be lectors; Mass is sometimes
segregated as are cemeteries. Dalits are often not considered for leadership
positions in the Church; and some communities oppose marriage of dalits with high-caste Catholics.
the Church see genuine opportunities for dialogue with moderate Hindus as a
tool to combat Hindu extremism?
John Barwa, SVD, of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar: There is an
openness among the Hindu population at large. Of course, we need dialogue more
than the Hindu majority. We have to take the initiative and demonstrate our
willingness to dialogue. The Church presents itself as being at the service of all.
The Church can become like a lamp on top of a mountain, a light for all to see.
Singh: We are seen as a Church that creates harmony among faiths.
For example, in the wake of the 2008 killings, Christians did not take revenge.
That is our identity and it makes the Church a powerful witness.
the Church have confidence that, in the end, justice will be done in Odisha?
Barwa: Justice is slowly being done. The scars will take a long
time to heal and evaporate. Prior to the massacre in Kandhamal, there was peace
in this region; now trust has been broken; our people cannot trust those who
burned down our houses and churches. Building up trust and confidence will take
much longer than the reconstruction of homes and churches.
Worshippers in Kandhamal; ACN photo