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Even death fails to redeem them of their tag

December 03, 2006 16:15 IST

For these Dalits, even death fails to redeem them of their tag of untouchability.

Contrary to the popular theory of the churches and Christian leaders professing equality in parishes, in the Palakarai township of Tiruchirapally (Tamil Nadu), the church cemetery, located right adjacent to the bishop's house has a wall separating the allotted space for the burial of Dalit church members.

"The wall was constructed with the support of the church by the upper class members of the church some 20 years ago and nobody has dared to intervene fearing backlash," said Prof Selva Kumar, a local Dalit Christian from Trichy.

"Cases of discrimination are many. We are not allowed to mix up with other members of the church, marriages outside the caste is a big no and even for the holy communion, we are made to come in a separate line," said Franklin Caesar, co-ordinator, National Council of Dalit Christians.

Members of the NCDC are in New Delhi on a relay hunger strike at Jantar Mantar demanding equality within the church and reservation privileges at par with their Hindu counterparts.

"We are at the fringes and only some urgent measures can save us, we are facing a grave situation," Caesar adds.

When asked about this, the Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) in New Delhi responded with great caution. "Social changes take time and the church authorities do not want things to be spoiled by acting overnight," said Fr Babu John, Spokesperson, CBCI.

"Although we do not acknowledge any discrimination but we are aware that these things exist and we are looking into it," he added.

Demanding that the Union government should extend the Scheduled Castes rights to the Dalits converted to Christianity also, as done to the converts of other religion, the leaders also sought immediate redressal and measures from the church's side.

"Asking for reservation is our foremost agenda but more representation in the leadership and a strict note of acts of discrimination by the church can go a long way in giving us the relief," said Fr Paul.

Fr Paul, himself a Dalit priest from Tamil Nadu, shared the difficulty of being an untouchable and opting for clergy-ship.

"It was difficult in the beginning, there was a social inertia to accept me as a leader and priest but with time I am now used to adverse comments and also things have improved," he adds.

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