04/14/2008, 00.00
INDIA
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Tamil Nadu: A thousand Dalit Christians reconvert to Hinduism

by Nirmala Carvalho
In a single ceremony Dalits take on oath for Hinduism and sign an affidavit. Caste discrimination is affecting the local Church.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – A thousand Dalit Christians were reconverted to Hinduism today, the 117th anniversary of the birth of Bhimrao Ambedkar, the messiah of the Dalits, in the town of Tirunelveli (Tamil Nadu).

Arjun Sampath, president of the Hindu Makkal Katchia (MMK), a local political party, announced that “185 Christian Dalit families from villages in Tirunelveli district will formally return to Hinduism.”

The function involved an atonement ritual (prayaschitha yagam) followed by a purification rite (sudhi chadangu).

“We’ll purify all those who return to Hinduism by sprinkling Ganga theertha (Ganga water) and Sethu theertha (sethu water),”Arjun said, adding that all of them would also get sacred Hindu names as well.

Those who want to follow the Shiva (Saiva) cult will be given sacred ash (bhasmam) and a string of dark berries of elaeocarpus ganitrus (rudraksha).

Followers of Vishnu will get a mark on their forehead (tilak) and a string of holy basil (tulsi).

All Christian Dalits who return to the Hindu fold will get a formal initiation (mantra deeksha) in both Sanskrit and Tamil.

Indeed a statement of faith is not enough for the HMK. “The members who return to Hindu fold will take an oath [. . .] and sign affidavits. Later, we’ll get the conversion certificates from Arya Samaj to get their names changed in the Gazette,” Arjun said.

What is more, the HMK is also planning to re-convert another 20,000 Christians in Villupuram district, starting next August.

Caste discrimination prevails among Christians in Tamil Nadu. Last 9 March in the parish of Eraiyur, Pondicherry-Cuddalore archdiocese, clashes between upper caste Christians and lower Dalit Christians led to police intervention, resulting in the death of two people. The situation is such that the two groups have separate cemeteries and, in church, separate pews.

Pope John Paul II urged Tamil Nadu bishops during their ‘ad limina’ visit of 17 November 2003 to overcome this division.

On that occasion the Holy Father said: “Any semblance of a caste-based prejudice in relations between Christians is a countersign to authentic human solidarity, a threat to genuine spirituality and a serious hindrance to the Church’s mission of evangelisation. Therefore, customs or traditions that perpetuate or reinforce caste division should be sensitively reformed so that they may become an expression of the solidarity of the whole Christian community. As the Apostle Paul teaches us, ‘if one member suffers, all suffer together’ (1 Cor, 12:26). It is the Church’s obligation to work unceasingly to change hearts, helping all people to see every human being as a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, and therefore a member of our own family.”

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