Dalit Christians in India held a demonstration on Friday, April 29, to protest what they described as “caste discrimination” by the Catholic Church over the installation of a non-Dalit bishop to the Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese.
“We have lost confidence in the Church hierarchy, so we are going to raise the issues of casteism practiced by them with the government and the constitutional authorities in the country,” said M Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, in a statement.
A series of protest actions greeted the appointment of Bishop Francis Kalist, a non-Dalit, as prelate of the predominantly Dalit Diocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, on March 19.
For months, Dalit groups have been appealing to Catholic Church leaders to appoint a Dalit archbishop, even meeting with the apostolic nuncio to India early this year.
“The problems within the Church can no longer be treated as internal religious matter [because] it involves denial of secular, civil, and human rights by the Church hierarchy,” said M Mary John, president of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, in a statement.
He said Dalit Christians need the protection of law against “caste discrimination in the Church.”
The group submitted a memorandum to India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, through the lieutenant governor of Puducherry, demanding equal rights and representation in all levels in the Catholic Church.
“We appealed to the premier for government intervention to stop casteism and discrimination against the Dalits within the Church,” said John.
Dalits account for about 64 percent of the Catholic population in India and 75 percent of Catholics in the Pondicherry-Cuddalore diocese.
John said the Dalit community would appeal to Pope Francis to make a special visit to India and focus on the issue of “casteism in the Catholic Church. ”