To build a truly inclusive community is an ethical imperative: motivated by this intent the Indian Bishops' Conference (CBCI) has launched a new policy of inclusion, support and development of Dalits (so-called untouchables), the poorest and marginalized sectors of Indian society.
A document presented by Cardinal Baselios Cleemi, President of the
Conference and, among others, by Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara
and by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Conference,
explain that this policy aims to be a step forward, to "eradicate the
practices of untouchability and caste discrimination at all levels,
improving the living conditions of the Dalits and especially
accompanying the Dalit Christians who seek constitutional protection and
justice from the state".
"The Catholic Church has been working for the development of Dalits for
many years through social development programs and education. Now
through the new policy for the Dalits in India, the Church wants to
dedicate itself to them through a more systematic approach", explained
to Fides Fr. Zackarias Devasagayaraj, CBCI Office Secretary who takes
care of the pastoral care for the Dalits. "Our hope is that this new
approach changes the lives of many Dalit communities in the Catholic
Church. We hope to show civil society a new mentality and a new way to
consider the poor and marginalized such as the Dalits", he added.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, a social activist and director of the "Forum
for Social Action of Orissa", told Fides: "It is a historic initiative
of the Church in India today. It is a milestone to resolve the issue of
Dalits in India. Almost 65% of the Indian Catholic community is made up
of Dalits. A policy to facilitate their inclusion in all spheres of
society and to ensure them a dignified life is essential". "I am sure
that in this way the Dalits will be able to recover their own space. We
hope with all our heart to put an end to caste practices in the Church
and in society. I hope this document represents a light for the
community", he says.
The Dalits in India, often victims of oppression, belong to the former
caste of "untouchables" in the Hindu caste system. It is estimated that
more than half of the 25 million Christians in India are Dalits.