‘Casteism is sin and caste based discrimination is crime’, affirmed Church leaders. The proclamation of this Jubilee was announced at a meeting of the Church leaders, theologians and Dalit activists, convened by the National Council of Churches in India in collaboration with the World Council of Churches. Since discrimination is contrary to the spirit of the gospel, Churches will have to be Zero Tolerance Zones with regard to the practice of caste discrimination, said the conference.
It was indeed a historic moment in the life and witness of the Churches India, since it was for the very first time church leaders, theological educators and social activists came together to wrestle with the issues relating to casteism prevalent both in Indian society and thus in the Church. They affirmed mutual partnership, and accompaniment with each other in carrying forward the mandate of Dalit liberation
“We commit to Lent 2011 to be a time of purging caste from our churches and towards developing resources, both theological and liturgical, for use of Sunday Schools, Youth Groups, Women’ s and Men’ s fellowships and church services” said the participants of this National Conference. The participants at the conference unanimously agreed on an affirmation of faith, an affirmation that condemns casteism and caste-based discrimination. This will direct the Churches toward developing a Churches Policy on Social Inclusion.
Bishop Dr. V. Devasahayam, President of Tamil Nadu Christian Council & Bishop of CSI-Madras Diocese in his opening devotion said, “The Indian Church is in a sorry state. Church will fail if it does not weed out caste within and outside. Both cannot go together as Christianity is life giving while casteism is a sin and scandal,” he further said, adding “Christ must save us from the abominable sin of caste. If He cant, then the Gospel is powerless.”
H.G. Geevergheese Mar Coorilos, Moderator of WCC-CWME exhorted the Churches on the need for Dalitisation of Indian Church, where a spirituality of dissent is expressed and experienced in our times today. He further said, “Churches have to be inclusive, and any discrimination in any form will not make it the body of Christ.”
Bishop Dr. Neethinathan, Member Bishop of the CBCI- Commission on SC/BC and Bishop of Chengalpet Catholic Diocese, called on the Churches in India to be sensitive and co-operative in owning up the issues of Dalits and to work relentlessly until we become caste-free.
Mr. Paul Divakar, General Secretary of NCDHR, welcomed the initiative to bring together the movements and Churches and challenged the Churches to translate the Holy Bible in the language of Human Rights, which can be reachable and relevant to the struggles of the Dalits today.
Ms. Rama Devi, from the Catholic Relief Service spoke on the violence against Dalits and Dalit woman, and called on the Churches to recognize the resilience of the victims in the face of suffering, while referring to the courage and witness of the survivors in the recent Kandhamal violence.
Mr. Bezawada Wilson, National Convener, Safai Karamchari Andolan, called on the leaders of the Churches to participate in the campaign to eliminate manual scavenging by 2010. He further urged, when every human being is the temple of God, let the Churches go to the temples of God that are forced into the undignified occupations like manual scavenging and liberate them from that bondage, and make the temples of God, the Churches relevant for our times.
Rev. Dr. James Massey, former Member of the National Minorities Commission, Government of India spoke on the missiological and prophetic challenges of the Churches in addressing the Dalit cause, and have called the churches to be the channels of giving ‘whole salvation’, which can bring in a transformation of the society.
The Conference was inaugurated by Bishop Dr. Taranath S. Sagar, President of NCCI, and in his opening address called on the Churches to act, for this is the moment of truth that has come. He further said, unless the Churches do the mission of God, i.e. Dalit liberation, in all sincerity and faithfulness to each of our calling, the generations next would make us accountable for not being able to live up to the task.
Office bearers of the NCCI, several heads of Churches including Bishops, Presidents, General Secretaries, theological educators, and activists from different Dalit social movements attended the conference. Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala, Programme Executive, WCC, Rev. Dr. Chandran Paul Martin, Deputy General Secretary of LWF, Ms. Constanze Ennen, Project Officer, EMW, Germany, Mr. Charlie O’ Campo, Executive Secretary, CCA-JID, Rev. Dr. Yim Tesoo, Minjung Theologian, Korea, Rev. David Haslem, Co-ordinator, Churches Support Group for Dalit Solidarity, UK, Dr. Walter Hahn, Co-ordinator, Dalit Solidarity Network, Germany, Dr. Aruna Gnanadasan, renowned lay theologian, Rev. Dr. Sathianathan Clarke, Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington DC, and several other distinguished leaders, theologians and activists participated and accompanied the process. Bishop Dr. B.S. Devamani, Chairperson of NCCI-Commission on Dalits and Rev. Asir Ebenezer, Officiating General Secretary of NCCI, and Rev. Raj Bharath Patta, Executive Secretary, NCCI Commission on Dalits gave leadership to this conference. A concrete plan of action was proposed to accompany the affirmation of faith. It was agreed that NCCI and CBCI would produce different resources for Christian nurture and ministerial formation from Dalit perspectives in order that the Church can be accompanied in this commitment.
During the conference a booklet titled “Recipes in Resilience” containing 50 recipes of beef delicacies was released by the President of NCCI to register protest against the anti-cow slaughter movement in Karnataka, and to affirm the solidarity of the Churches to the Dalit and Muslim communities who will be affected. The Chairperson of the NCCI Commission on Dalits released the posters and liturgical resources for Dalit Liberation Sunday, a joint observance of NCCI and CBCI, to be observed on 5th December 2010.
Rev. Raj Bharath Patta,
NCCI-Commission on Dalits