ASIA/INDIA - The Church: a new policy towards the Dalits

New Delhi - To build a truly inclusive community is an ethical imperative: motivated by this intent the Indian Bishops' Conference has launched a new policy of inclusion, support and development of Dalits , the poorest and marginalized sectors of Indian society.
A document presented by Cardinal Baselios Cleemi, President of the Conference and, among others, by Archbishop Kuriakose Bharanikulangara and by Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas, secretary general of the Conference, explain that this policy aims to be a step forward, to "eradicate the practices of untouchability and caste discrimination at all levels, improving the living conditions of the Dalits and especially accompanying the Dalit Christians who seek constitutional protection and justice from the state".
"The Catholic Church has been working for the development of Dalits for many years through social development programs and education. Now through the new policy for the Dalits in India, the Church wants to dedicate itself to them through a more systematic approach", explained to Fides Fr. Zackarias Devasagayaraj, CBCI Office Secretary who takes care of the pastoral care for the Dalits. "Our hope is that this new approach changes the lives of many Dalit communities in the Catholic Church. We hope to show civil society a new mentality and a new way to consider the poor and marginalized such as the Dalits", he added.
Father Ajaya Kumar Singh, a social activist and director of the "Forum for Social Action of Orissa", told Fides: "It is a historic initiative of the Church in India today. It is a milestone to resolve the issue of Dalits in India. Almost 65% of the Indian Catholic community is made up of Dalits. A policy to facilitate their inclusion in all spheres of society and to ensure them a dignified life is essential". "I am sure that in this way the Dalits will be able to recover their own space. We hope with all our heart to put an end to caste practices in the Church and in society. I hope this document represents a light for the community", he says.
The Dalits in India, often victims of oppression, belong to the former caste of "untouchables" in the Hindu caste system. It is estimated that more than half of the 25 million Christians in India are Dalits.