Poster of Dalit Christian Digest, the recently launched news portal.

By Bijay Kumar Minj, New Delhi

Dec 11 2020

Dalit Christian Digest aims to promote equality in the Church and society

The Indian Bishops’ office for socially poor Dalit Christians has launched a news portal to bring their voice, challenges, and success stories to national and international attention.

The news portal named Dalit Christian Digest was launched online by Bishop Sarat Chandra Nayak, chairperson of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office for Scheduled Castes and Backward Classes on Dec. 9.

“It is the need of the hour for Dalit Christians to share their realities of pain, passion, and accomplishment; to voice their demands for equality, dignity, and justice; and to claim their rightful spaces in the various ministries and missions of the Church,” Bishop Nayak of Berhampur Diocese said during the opening remarks of the webinar.

“The vision of Dalit Christian Digest is to promote equality in the Church and society as all humans are created in the image and likeness of God,” he said.

“The Dalit Christians, the sons and daughters of the soil, have been demanding their right to be treated equally in the Church and society,” the prelate said.

Meanwhile, the struggle of Dalit Christians and Muslims continue their struggle to be treated equally with the Dalit people of other religions. A Presidential Order in 1950 reserved social benefits meant for Dalit people only to Dalit of Hindus, considering the caste system as a Hindu reality.    

The order was amended to restore the privileges to Sikhs (1956) and to Buddhists (1990), but Christians and Muslims are denied these benefits saying their religions are caste free.

Different commissions appointed by the government have clearly said a change of religion does not change social and economic realities. They have also recommended that Dalit among Christians and Muslims should be included in the list of beneficiaries.

Dalits, the former untouchables, are the lowest caste within Hindu society. Huge numbers of Dalits have converted to Christianity and Islam over the decades, but the religions offer limited protection from societal prejudice.

The word Dalit means “trampled upon” in Sanskrit and refers to all groups once considered untouchable and outside the four-tiered Hindu caste system. Government data shows 201 million of India’s 1.2 billion people belong to this socially deprived community. Some 60 percent of India’s 25 million Christians are of Dalit or tribal origin.

“The purpose of the news portal is to publicize the success stories of Dalit Christians within the Church and in society and to advocate policy changes such as proportionate reservation for Dalit Christians in Church hierarchy, governance, institutions, parishes, and congregations”, Vincent Manoharan, media relations officer of Dalit Christian Digest, said.

He said that it is also to expose all forms of caste-based discrimination, untouchability practices, and atrocities perpetrated in Churches against Dalit Christians and to advocate for equality and justice for Dalit Christians.

Father Vijay Kumar Nayaksecretary of the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Office for Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes, said the news portal will be a tool to share knowledge and issues related to Dalit Christians.

“It is high time that Dalit Christians get the recognition they deserve and the issues facing them come out from under the carpet,” Meena Varma, executive director of International Dalit Solidarity Network, said.

“Surveys have found that Dalits, of any denomination, do not find any presence worth the name in the so-called mainline print and television journalism,” John Dayal, former president of the All India Catholic Union and member of the National Integration Council, said.

“It was necessary to take this step as we hardly see any Christian news portal where their plight is highlighted,” Father Devasagaya Raj, former secretary of the Indian Catholic Bishops’ Office for Scheduled Castes and Other Backward Classes, said.

“Our main concern is to bring to the nation as well as the international audience the pain and suffering of our people,” he said. – UCANews