for Deccan Chronicle on Dec. 4, 2007
Chennnai, Oct. 31: A group of Catholic priests wedded to the liberation theology are meeting next week to discuss ways to overcome casteism which they say has taken deep root in the Catholic church in Tamil Nadu.
Mylapore Bishop Chinnappa and Salesian of Don Bosco Provincial Stanislaus Swamikannu are among the priests who will participate in the two day conference to be held in Madurai on November 5 and 6 to discuss the issue.
"Dioceses, parish councils and educational institutions are riddled with casteism and Christian dalits are discriminated against," says Father X.T. Selvaraj, one of the organisers of the conference.
Asked whether the church supported their effort, Fr Selvaraj said, "The progressive forces in all dioceses are concerned about the trend that goes against the very essence of Christianity." Fr J.R. Vencie said dalits were segregated in all the church activities and there were separate burial grounds for them. "Christians continue to maintain their caste identities and there are no inter-caste marriages. Even in ordinary conversations dalits are denigrated," he said reading out from the pamphlet prepared for the conference.
According to church sources, caste confrontations are not confined between the dalits and other intermediate communities. Every district diocese has its own peculiar problem, they say. In Kanyakumari district it is the Nadars versus the fishermen community , while in Trichy the Vellalas and Udayars function as a group against the Vanniyars. In fact Vanniyars have formed a separate diocese in this district. Sivangai district diocese is witnessing a war between Udayars and non-Udayars.
In Thanjavur Vellalas and Udayars are against each other, according to them. Asked whether it would be possible to change entrenched attitudes of the people, especially when every community continued to maintain its identity, Fr Selvaraj said "We are making a humble beginning." He said dalits who had converted to Christianity to gain social acceptance now felt they had been betrayed.
"We have to remove this feeling. Christianity does not discriminate aginst anyone in the name of caste," he said. To a question on why the Christians should demand reservation if they had no faith in casteism, Fr Selvaraj explained there was nothing wrong in making use of benefits of reservation for social upliftment. The conference will discuss all aspects of casteism and pass resolutions urging all the Christians to give up their caste identities.