06/01/2021, 16.50
INDIA
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Disappointment in Tamil Nadu after a non-Dalit becomes the new bishop of Salem

by Nirmala Carvalho

Pope Francis picked a non-Dalit, Mgr Rayappan, even though most locals are Dalits. In Tamil Nadu, only one bishop out of 17 is a Dalit. Over the past year many rallies raised the issue.

Pondicherry (AsiaNews) – The appointment of another non-Dalit as the new bishop of Salem (Tamil Nadu) has disappointed local Catholics since Dalits constitute by far the majority of the community.

Yesterday, Pope Francis named Arulselvam Rayappan, 60, from the clergy of the Archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, as the new bishop of Salem, Tamil Nadu.

Ordained priest in 1986, a canon lawyer with a doctorate from Urbaniana University, Mgr Rayappan led the Pontifical Institute of St Peter in Bangalore. Between 2010 and 2018, he served as the secretary of the Commission for Canon Law and Legislative Texts of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI).

His appointment, however, has touched a raw nerve within India’s Catholic community, namely the caste system, an issue still affecting Indian society as a whole but also Christians.

The Diocese of Salem is in the Ecclesiastical province of Pondicherry-Cuddalore, where earlier this year members of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement took to the streets to demand the nuncio appoint a Dalit archbishop.

Although, Dalits represent 75 per cent of the local community, there has never been an archbishop from this community in over 300 years.

“How many years will the Dalit still have to wait?” wonders Father Z. Devasagaya Raj, former national secretary of the CBCI Commission for Scheduled Castes within the CBCI, speaking to AsiaNews.

Currently, “Among the 17 Catholic bishops in Tamil Nadu there is only one bishop from the Dalit community. Dalits who are marginalised yet a majority in Tamil Nadu have been pleading to the Vatican to appoint Dalit bishops in six vacant dioceses. The first appointment after the arrival of the new Nuncio to India disappoints the Dalits”.

For Father A. X. J. Bosco, a Jesuit and an activist for the rights of disadvantaged castes, “This is a clear injustice.

“Over the past year,” he told AsiaNews, “demonstrations and rallies have been held in many places – dharnas (sit-ins) with priests, meetings were  representatives of the Regional Bishops' Conference. Letters have been sent to the cardinal, the pro-nuncio and the Vatican, always with the request to appoint Dalit bishops.

“Since 2004, eight bishops have been appointed and a candidate from this majority group has never been chosen. The Bishops' Conference has a Dalit empowerment policy that says that the caste [system] is a sin, yet it seems that Church leaders continue to cherish this system, and do not seem to see that it goes against the very basic tenets of Christianity.

“Dr Ambedkar (a famous anti-caste activist) said that Dalits had converted to Christianity to be free, but were deceived. The thousands of people who fought for Dalit bishops must be going through bitter disappointment and now distrust the Church leadership.”

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