New Delhi (AsiaNews) – Two Christians died and many more were wounded shot by police who intervened yesterday to stop clashes between Dalit Catholics and upper caste Catholics in the diocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore (Tamil Nadu).
Troubles started on 7 March when a group of Dalit Christians from the Villupuram district began a hunger strike to protest discrimination in a local parish by the Vanniyar.
Three months ago Dalits from St Jabamalais Annai Church in Earyur built another church dedicated to Saghaya Madha (Our Lady of perpetual Help) and sought to have it erected as a separate parish with its own priest.
They were backed in their demands by two political groups, the Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (Vck) and Ambedkar Makkal Iyakkam (AMI). The VCK even put up posters calling for the closure of St Jabamalai and the recognition of the new parish church.
In response some 500 upper caste Christians went on a rampage on Sunday, attacking Dalits and torching over 30 huts.
Police said that when they moved in to stop the protest they were pelted with stones and were thus “forced” to open fire on the aggressors. M Periy Nayagam, 40, and A. Magimai, 24, were killed and 40 more people were wounded.
Fr G Cosmon Arokiaraj, secretary to the Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, told AsiaNews that the “confrontation in the area between Dalit and Vanniyar Catholics goes back quite some time, but the Church does not want to split a parish along caste line,” but is working towards “gradually removing discrimination against the Dalits and uprooting all forms of discrimination.”
These tragic incidents show that it is urgent to ban many forms of discrimination against Dalit Christians both within the Christian community and especially society at large. In fact “since the Christian community is perceived as a single entity,” he explained, “the government does not recognise to Dalit Christians the same rights as other Dalits.”
In the Indian caste system, states have granted specific benefits and quotas in schools and public service for Dalits to compensate for their secular low social standing.
“For years Dalits have been discriminated within the Church itself,” he said. “They cannot sit with upper caste members in the same church; they are buried in separate cemeteries; they cannot use the same roads as upper caste people. When the mother of a Dalit priest died in the 1990s the upper caste did not allow the funeral procession to use the main road; even the bishop failed to bring about a compromise.”
“In India more than 65 per cent of all Christians are Dalit, but Christians represent only 2.3 per cent of a population of 1.1 billion people.”