The discrimination continues even after death, laments Dalit Christians of this church in Tamil Nadu
From refusing permission to carry the idols during the annual festival procession to denying membership in church committees, Dalit Christians say the discrimination continues even after death.
TIRUCHY: Over 110 years have passed since St Mary Magdalene Church was established at Kottapalayam panchayat in Thuraiyur taluk of the district but Dalit Christians who attend service in the parish under Roman Catholic Diocese of Kumbakonam say little has changed with regard to the discrimination meted out to them by members of the dominant community.
From refusing permission to carry the idols during the annual festival procession to denying membership in church committees, Dalit Christians say the discrimination continues even after death – by barring use of its burial ground.
During TNIE’s visit to a neighbouring locality in Kottapalayam, where alone around 100 such families from the scheduled caste community who converted to Christianity reside, the residents further claimed of other means of discrimination at the church such as non-collection of subscription for the annual festival and maintaining separate hearse vehicles to carry their dead.
Kuzhanthai S (75), a Dalit Christian in the village, said, “The discriminatory practices were there even before the parish came into existence. Our generation tolerated it as our forefathers were working as agricultural labourers in dominant caste members’ fields but now we have educated youth who embolden us to speak up.”
Xavier A (59), who introduced himself as a fifth generation Christian, said, “Our faith and commitment to the Christian way of life is no lesser to that of the members of other communities. While some among the latter acknowledge and support our causes they show reluctance to come out in the open about it.”
J Doss Prakash, who has since 2010 been fighting the alleged discriminatory practices through petitions to the district collector, the human rights commission, and to the Pope, said, “The church and the Kumbakonam diocese are well aware of the problems. Yet, they are reluctant to take action.”
“No priest ever took action to eradicate untouchability in Kottapalayam. In 2011 we had a priest from the Dalit community but he succumbed to pressure to deliver any change. The incumbent priest tried to invite all the Dalit Christians in the seven villages surrounding the church for last year’s annual festival but the dominant community members forced him to withdraw the invitation,” Prakash added.
Sharing a copy of the invitation from last year inviting residents of the seven villages, parish priest Fr Augustine said, “Around 3,000 such invitations remain in my office. I was forced to print invitation cards without addressing the Dalit Christians, which were then circulated.”
Admitting to the discrimination prevalent in the parish, Fr Augustine said, “I am taking every measure possible but it’s quite challenging to convince the communities. Fearing a clash we take maximum caution while handling the issues. I am also trying to hold peace talks to attempt redressal.”
When enquired, Kumbakonam Diocese Vicar General Rev. Fr Amirthasamy agreed that the rights of Dalit Christians must be upheld. “We are trying to bring in the required change. If government officials are planning to take action to eradicate the discrimination, the church would support it,” he said.
When contacted, Thuraiyur Revenue Divisional Officer (RDO) S Madhavan denied having received any complaints of discrimination from the parish and assured of action should he receive one.