Thomas Schirrmacher
ProMundis BlogPost

When Indian Dalits Convert to Christianity or Islam, they lose Social Welfare Benefits and Rights they are Guaranteed under the Constitution

7. April 2011 von Schirrmacher · 11 Comments 

The International Institute for Religious Freedom is seeking sponsors for a research project that will address the combination of the oppression of Dalits[1] in India as well as the growing persecution of Christians in India. What is primarily happening with regard to these issues?

“The number of Hindu Dalits is estimated to be over 160 million, and together with Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian ‘untouchables’ the number amounts to approximately 240 million, or almost one quarter of the Indian population. Up until the present day they are often massively discriminated against by caste Indians, and in some cases also experiencing persecution and violence. They are to some extent outside of the caste system or on its lowest rung, and for that reason considered to be ‘unclean’ or ‘untouchable.’ In particular in rural areas, this discrimination is up until the present day a reality, something that in the West is often viewed as a form of racism or slavery. This can go so far as to mean that contact with their shadows has to be avoided. Again and again they are the victims of violence and land confiscation.”[2] Up to today 400,000 to perhaps 800,000 Dalits clean latrines daily with their bare hands.

Dalits who convert to Islam or Christianity in India lose their legal status as Dalits and with that the financial and legal support to which they are entitled according to the constitution and legal code. Using the logic that as Muslims or Christians they no longer belong to the lowest order of society, they lose their constitutional rights. Strangely this does not apply to Dalits who become either Buddhists or Sikhs. At least this is the way the constitution views it. Reality is at this point often something else.

That is at least the complaint that one of the two large international associations of Dalits that exist worldwide, the Dalit Freedom Network (www. Dalitnetwork.org) under the leadership of its international president Joseph D’souza, has with human rights campaigners.[3] The other international association, International Dalit Solidarity Network (IDSN) (www.idsn.org), with its central organization in India, the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) (www.ncdhr.org.in), and the German branch, Dalit Solidarität in Deutschland (DSiD) (www.dalit.de), is more cautious but does not, however, contradict the analysis.

Still, the question comes up again and again as to whether this extreme discrimination of Christians and Muslims is constitutionally as well as legally truly preset. Furthermore, an additional question is whether in reality this discrimination is also so intensely practiced and directly applicable to many Dalits. Statements from relevant investigations of the condition Dalits find themselves in serve as the initial rationale for the research project.

The international human rights organization Human Rights Watch domiciled in New York at the headquarters of the UN published the first major human rights report on the condition of Dalits in India (and in Indian communities around the world) in 1999. It was entitled “Broken People – Caste Violence“ and since then has been made available on the web by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.[4] Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) at the New York University School of Law presented an opinion regarding reports from India to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) in 2007.[5] This was due to the fact that India’s report had been submitted eight years too late and did not include a single actual infringement against Dalits. The HRW report is considered one of the best reports on the condition of Dalits from the viewpoint of human rights. Regarding the religious freedom of Dalits, there is the following rather lengthy excerpt.[6] (References to excerpts have to do with the entire report, and footnotes are found at the end of the excerpt.)

Excerpt from the Human Rights Watch report:

Article 5 (d) (vii): The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Dalits in India face a number of restrictions on their right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Caste-based human rights violations that are the subject of this report are often given religious sanction under the theory that Dalits must live segregated lives and perform menial occupations because they are born into a caste outside of the Hindu varna system. As a result, Dalits are routinely denied entry into Hindu temples (see Section VIII(F)(2)(b)). Dalits have responded to ill-treatment by upper-caste Hindus by converting en masse to Buddhism, Christianity, and historically to Islam. The loss of constitutional privileges upon conversion, however, serves as a serious impediment to their freedom to choose their religion.  Additionally, most Dalits are ultimately unable to escape their treatment as “untouchables” regardless of the religion they profess.284 The introduction of anti-conversion legislation in several states has further made religious conversion extremely difficult if not impossible. Finally, Dalits may become targets of forced “reconversions” to Hinduism by sangh parivar groups.285

a. Loss of constitutional privileges upon conversion

While the Indian Constitution grants certain constitutional privileges to Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh Dalits (see Section V(B)), the same benefits do not extend to those who convert to Christianity or Islam. Dalit Christians and Muslims lose their “scheduled caste” status even though they are unable to escape discriminatory treatment from Christians and Muslims. Many Dalit Christians must pray in separate or segregated churches, bury their dead in separate cemeteries, and endure discrimination by non-Dalit priests and nuns.286

Descendants of Dalit converts to Islam also face discrimination at the hands of Muslims who trace their ancestry to Arab, Iranian, or Central Asian origin.287 Descendants of indigenous converts are commonly referred to as ajlaf or “base” or “lowly.”288 Further, upper-caste Muslims often deny Dalit Muslims entry to graveyards for burial.289 The continued practice of “untouchability” against Dalit Christians and Muslims undermines the argument that these communities should lose constitutional privileges upon conversion, and have led to charges that the Indian government’s practice of assigning scheduled caste status on the basis of religion amounts to religious discrimination.290 Additionally, Dalit Christians and Muslims may be subject to multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of their caste and religion, a risk that has increased with the rise of Hindu nationalism in India.291

b. Anti-conversion legislation

Dalits’ right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion is explicitly denied through legislation that prohibits or impedes religious conversion. Seven states, a majority of them ruled by the Hindu nationalist BJP—Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Tamil Nadu—have introduced legislation designed to make conversion difficult or virtually impossible.292 Four of the anti-conversion laws explicitly stipulate harsher punishments where the convert is a Dalit, tribal, female, or a minor.293 Critics have argued that such bills represent a political move by Hindu nationalist groups to maintain their Hindu vote bank.294 Notably, mass “re-conversions” to Hinduism engineered by VHP, often using threats and coercion, are allowed under these laws.295

– – – – –

284 Human Rights Watch, Broken People, p. 27.

285 In one notable incident in the state of Orissa, seven Dalit women, who had embraced the Christian faith of their own volition, were physically abused and forcibly tonsured before being forcibly “reconverted” to Hinduism. http://www.pucl.org/Topics/Religioncommunalism/
2004/kilipal.htm
(accessed February 7, 2007).

286 In a village in Tamil Nadu, for instance, discrimination on the basis of caste has been practiced by Christians for decades. In the village’s church Dalit Christians are made to sit apart from other Christians and must stand while talking to the priest. Like upper-caste Hindus, Christians in this village mete out severe punishment against Christian Dalits who question discriminatory traditions. In February 1999, when a Dalit priest attempted to conduct a funeral procession for his late mother through the main street of his town, Christians attacked the procession with guns, homemade weapons, and stones and verbally abused the Dalits with derogatory caste remarks and threats; more than 100 people were injured. Caste Christians Discriminate against Dalit Priest, National Public Hearing, April 18-19, 2000, Chennai-Tamil Nadu, Case Papers: Summary Jury’s Interim Observations & Recommendations, Vol. 1, p. 259.

287 Salil Kader, “Muslims Infected by Caste Virus,” March 14, 2006, http://www.indianmuslims.info/articles/others/salil_kader_muslims_infected_by_caste_virus.html (accessed February 7, 2007).

288 Yoginder Sikand, “The Dalit Muslims and the All-India Backward Muslim Morcha,” December 16, 2004, The South Asian, available at: http://www.thesouthasian.org/archives/2004/the_dalit_muslims_and_the_alli.html (accessed February 7, 2007).

289 Salil Kader, “Social Stratification Among Muslims in India,” June 15, 2004, Counter Currents, http://www.countercurrents.org/dalitkader150604.htm (accessed February 7, 2007).

290 See Yoginder Sikand, “Muslim Dalit and OBC Conference: A Report,” November 30, 2005, The Milli Gazette, http://www.milligazette.com/dailyupdate/2005/20051130-muslim-dalits.htm (accessed February 7, 2007) (arguing that the Indian government’s practice of assigning scheduled caste status on the basis of religion amounts to religious discrimination). See also Yoginder Sikand, “The Dalit Muslims and the All-India Backward Muslim Morcha,” December 16, 2004, The South Asian, http://www.thesouthasian.org/archives/2004/the_dalit_muslims_and_the_alli.html (accessed February 7, 2007). For the same claim with respect to Christian Dalits, see Minority Rights Group, “India’s Dalit Christians face caste discrimination and loss of government assistance,” March 3, 2004, http://www.minorityrights.org/news_detail.asp?ID=230 (accessed February 7, 2007); see also Appeal to Join Hands to End Discrimination Against Dalits, All India Christian Council, http://www.aiccindia.org/newsite/0804061910/resources/appeal_to_join_hands.htm (accessed February 7, 2007).

291 Human Rights Watch, We Have No Orders to Save You, pp. 39-40; see also Human Rights Watch, Politics by Other Means: Attacks Against Christians in India, Vol. 11, No. 6, September 1999.

292 “Dalits to burn anti-conversion laws at Nagpur rally,” Indian Catholic, October 11, 2006,
http://www.theindiancatholic.com/newsread.asp?nid=3859 (accessed February 7, 2007); “Dalits in conversion ceremony,” BBC News, October 14, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/6050408.stm (accessed February 7, 2007).

293 Daniel Blake, “100,000 Dalit Christians to Attend ‘World Religious Freedom Day’ Rally in India,” Christian Today, October 11, 2006, http://www.christiantoday.com/article/100000.dalit.christians.
to.attend.world.religious.freedom.day.rally.in.india/7943.htm
(accessed February 7, 2007).

294 One such bill was the controversial Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion Bill, passed in the state of Tamil Nadu on October 31, 2002. The law was widely criticized for making it more difficult for poor people, persecuted minorities, and those ostracized under the caste system to convert to another religion. Human Rights Watch, World Report 2003, p. 240. The law nevertheless found support with the BJP-led federal government (Ibid.), and remained in force until June 7, 2006, when it was repealed by the Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion (Repeal) Act, 2006 (Tamil Nadu Prohibition of Forcible Conversion of Religion (Repeal) Act, 2006 – www.tn.gov.in/acts-rules/law/ACT_10to12_131_07JUN06.pdf (accessed February 7, 2007). More recently, on September 19, 2006, the state of Gujarat passed a law that classifies Jainism and Buddhism as branches of Hinduism, even though the Indian constitution classifies the two as separate religions. The new law makes conversion from Hinduism to Buddhism or Jainism easier, because the conversion is deemed to be an “inter-denominational” one. However, the purpose of the bill, according to government critics, is to ensure that Dalits do not convert to Islam or Christianity, and that those who convert to Buddhism or Jainism remain a part of Hinduism and thus remain likely to vote for the Hindu nationalist BJP, which heads the state of Gujarat. The leader of Gujarat’s opposition Congress party said that the BJP-led government of Gujarat was using the law as a “tool” to maintain its bedrock of votes. Rajeev Khanna, “Anger Over Gujarat Religion Law,” BBC News, September 20, 2006, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/5362802.stm (accessed February 7, 2007). Dalit leader Udit Raj, chairman of the All India Confederation of SC/ST Organization poignantly asserts: “[Hindu extremists are trying to assimilate] Buddhism and Jainism into Hinduism. Where is the freedom to choose your own faith?” “Dalits to Burn Anti-Conversion Laws at Nagpur Rally,” The Indian Catholic, October 11, 2006.

295 “VHP orchestrates mass reconversion in Orissa,” Deccan Herald, May 2, 2005, http://www.deccanherald.com/deccanherald/may22005/national13399200551.asp (accessed February 7, 2007).

In her standard German language work on the condition of Dalits, Brigitte Voykowitsch concurringly quotes Philomen Raj, the leader of the commission of Catholic Churches in India, who seeks to help fight discrimination against Dalits in the church, but who also with all other Dalits plans campaigns all across India:

“Dalits convert due to the oppression that they suffer. Actually, however, they lose when they convert to Christianity. Only untouchable Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are officially considered so-called ‘scheduled castes,’ which are registered castes with claims to state support measures such as quotas for places at university and for civil service jobs. We are fighting for Dalits to be accepted as a registered caste, because they suffer under the same economic and social disadvantages.”[7]

In a collective volume of the Evangelical Missions Association in Hamburg, one of the affected parties writes regarding the difference in treatment received by Dalits and Adivasis, the underprivileged tribal people of India:

“In its constitution the country of India has codified the protection of and aid to oppressed population groups. There are quotas in institutions of education as well as in the area of governmental employees and civil servants. While the members of the Adavasis people group can always lay claim to the support entitled to them irrespective to which religion they adhere, members of the Dalit people group are stricken from the list of those who have a claim to quota consideration if they convert to another religion. For that reason Christian Dalits lose all these privileges which they otherwise would have from the side of the government. The result is that they have to compete for available places at universities with all the other population groups that do not count as oppressed.”[8]

These allegations do not appear to be pulled out of thin air, even if they have been investigated far too little and for that reason can only be denounced with difficulty in front of international committees and the global public.

But even at that point, where the topic formally imposes itself, for instance with the function of anti-conversion laws in several of the Indian states, seldom is a connection made to the Dalit question. Up to the present day, there has never been a charge brought as a fraudulent conversion case where the anti-conversion law has held up in court. Therefore, there must be other reasons than true danger of fraudulent conversions as a result of bribery or violence.

Dalits‘ conversions to other religions as a result of protest have a history in India. The jurist and Dalit Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956) was essentially responsible for the composition of India’s Constitution. The fact that the caste system was done away with in the constitution and that Dalits and tribal peoples enjoyed particular protection were items attributable to him. As early as 1935 he announced that he did not want to die as a Hindu. But it was not until October 14, 1956 in Nagpur that Ambedkar, in a large ceremony with 388,000 other Dalits, converted to Buddhism. In Buddhist teaching he saw a socially revolutionary religion that replaced the caste system, with a set of ethics which were based on equality and freedom. In the matter of a few years 6 million Dalits converted to Buddhism. Ambedkar himself died only a few months after his conversion on December 6, 1956. Still, his ceremonies set a precedent. On the 50th anniversary of his conversion around 5,000 Dalits converted to Buddhism in Mumbai (earlier Bombay).[9]

The history and the consequences of such conversions by Dalits to Buddhism is rather well researched.[10] The history of the conversion of Dalits to other religions, above all to Christianity, was hardly noted, although today, in large Dalit networks, preeminently Buddhists and Christians work closely together. In October 2006 approximately 2,500 Dalkits in Nagpur converted in a public ceremony, in part to Buddhism and in part to Christianity. Most notably it is hardly known just how much the present day situation of increasing persecution against Christians and Muslims in India is interrelated.

The IIRF’s research project is supposed to change all that.


[1] A good introduction with various viewpoints is found in „Dalits: Religion und Menschenrechte der ehemaligen ‚Unberührbaren‘ in Indien.“ Weltmission heute 67. Hamburg: Evangelisches Missionswerk in Deutschland, 2009 with a good list of literature pp. 192-196. Also Brigitte Voykowitsch. Dalits: Die Unberührbaren in Indien. Wien: Verlag der Apfel, 2006 and from an academic point of view: S. M. Michael (ed.). Dalits in Modern India. Los Angeles/Singapore: SAGE, 2007. Dalits: Many English language sources are found under http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives/casteism/

[2] http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dalit (9.10.2009): Wikipedia can sometimes be unreliable or the result of ideological “edit wars.“ The articles relating to Dalits and fundamentalist Hinduism are, however, all very good.

[3] Joseph D’souza. Dalit Freedom: Now and Forever. London: OM & Colorado: Dalit Freedom Network, 2005.

[4] www.unhcr.org/…/country,,HRW,,IND,4562d8cf2,3ae6a83f0,0.html; see also www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1999/india.

[5] „Hidden Apartheid“. New York: Human Rights Watch, 2007. http://www.hrw.org/en/node/11030/section/1, as a pdf at www.chrgj.org/docs/IndiaCERDShadowReport.pdf.

[6] Ibid. pp. 75-77; the central sentence, that Dalits lose government support when when they convert to Christianity or Islam, is confirmed in similar language by Smita Narula. “Broken people: caste violence against India’s ‘untouchables.’“ New York: Human Rights Watch, 199. p. 27 And “India practises  ‘hidden apartheid‘ against dalits: report“ (7.3.2007). http://www.worldproutassembly.org/archives/2007/03/india_practises.html.

[7] Brigitte Voykowitsch. Dalits. op. cit., p. 85, comp. on the discrimination  of Dalits in Christian Churches and the growing equal rights movement there pp. 83-87.

[8] George Bharati. “Was ist los in kondhamal.“ pp. 39-48 in: Dalits: Religion und Menschenrechte der ehemaligen ‘Unberührbaren‘ in Indien. op. cit. pp. 45, the article itself is also at http://www.nmz-mission.de/fix/files/doc/Bharati_Artikel_Kondhamal_2008dt.pdf.

[9] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6695695.stm.

[10] See for example Brigitte Voykowitsch. Dalits. op. cit. pp. 34-87 (“Ambdekar und die Religion“); Timothy Fitzgerald. „Ambedkar, Buddhism and the Concept of Religion”. S. 132-149 in: S. M. Michael (ed.). Dalits in Modern India. Los Angeles/Singapore: SAGE, 2007; the standard work is Johannes Beltz. Mahar, Buddhist and Dalit. New Delhi: Manohar, 2005; Additional literature at http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhimrao_Ramji_Ambedkar.

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Comments

11 Responds to “When Indian Dalits Convert to Christianity or Islam, they lose Social Welfare Benefits and Rights they are Guaranteed under the Constitution”
  1. Harry Larson sagt:

    Thomas, It has been many years since we have seen you, either in Bonn or our home in Escondido, California. Thank you for this article. Patty and I now live in Hyderabad, India and work with Dalits. Send me an email address and we will catch you up on our lives.

    Your brother,

    Harry Larson

  2. thomas sagt:

    Great to hear from you again. Even though have been in India often, the last time in Hyderabad is nearly 25 years ago. We are preparing two documentations in English, one on the Dailts in general, and one on the Christians among them and the question of their possible persecution.
    Yours, Thomas

    email: drthschirrmacher [ET] me.com

  3. subhash sagt:

    thanks for the article….
    social system (casteism)of india can be seen everywhere in this country…industry, media, land, education, health, big businesses etc. all are controlled by the so called upper caste hindus…media speaks the language of the caste-hindus and never raises issues related to dalits…the constitutional reservation in education and jobs apply only on givt. sectior…….but after globlisation only 4% job are there in govt. sector and 96% jobs created in private sector…there is no such benefits provided by the private sector as these sector are dominated by caste hindus………..yet you have raised very good points about conversion of dalits to islam and charistianity….
    thanks sir.
    subhash

  4. R L Francis sagt:

    An Open Letter of Indian Dalit Christians to HIS HOLINESS POPE BENEDICT XVI and Church Authority
    December 23, 2011
    Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” – St Matthew 7.7

    His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
    Secretariat of State
    00120 Vatican City State – Europe

    Wish You a Merry Christmas and New Year
    Your Holiness,
    The debate related to the status of Christians in India is going on and you are already aware of it. There are two points to this wide ranging debate. Firstly, social, economic and political status of converted Christians and second is growing tension in different parts of country due to conversion related activities. The second has more to do with the way catholic church adopts to function in the country.
    According to official estimates of government, there are 30 million Christians in the country and 70 percent of this population has directly come from socially and economically downtrodden community popularly known as “Dalits”. However, as per unofficial figures the population of minority Christians is not less than 60-70 million. Irony is that; these people have been constantly suppressed and exploited even under the structure of catholic church being led by you (Pope). They are ridiculed for their sacrifices made hundreds of years ago for the church. They don’t command equal status in the existing structure of church and this has made the sacrifices futile. Christianity stresses on the fact that God has created people with his own image and this has become founding stone of equality of human values in Christian society. But, they are continuously meted out differential treatment in the name of caste and birth. In order to catch your attention towards these core issues, I am writing this letter to you. I am going to discuss first core issue.

    Ideology of Church
    Theoretically, there is no place for non-equality and racism in the Christianity and when it is attached with identity of Catholic Church; the concept of caste automatically vanishes like camphor as the word ‘Catholic- means-Universal’. There is only one head of this universal community of people and that is none other than representative of Vicar of Christ which is responsible for recruitment of Bishops in order to guide their disciples. In that way Holy Father/Pope means ‘you’ are responsible for maintaining ‘Kingdom of heaven’ on the earth. Now, you should explain me where is the place of dirty ideology like casteism and racism in this ‘Kingdom of heaven’?
    Deprived class in Indian church
    Downtrodden class in India has always been victim of unequal treatment, casteism and social exploitation. In order to seek solace and relief from their pathetic condition they are still coming under the aegis of church for the last 3 or 4 centuries. But, here, too, they have been exploited in the name of caste and race. The hope with which they had come in the Christianity seems to have forfeited. On the contrary, they are now entangled in even deeper quagmire of inequality.
    Church moving opposite to the ideology of Christianity
    Catholic Church has completely failed in its duty to provide equality and justice to that majority of converted people under the structure controlled by you (Pope). The resources have been captured by upper-class Christians. After independence of India Catholic Church has immensely progressed which is reflected from heavy increase in the number of schools, colleges, social institutions, new diocese, Fathers, Bishops, nuns and their followers? However, despite this entire progress one thing that has not changed is the status of converted Christians.
    Converted Christians are the backbone of Catholic Church in India but their participation in the structure of Catholic Church is zero. Bishop, Father and Cardinal from this class are rare to find and those who somehow managed after hard fought struggle are standing marginalized in the society. They are being treated differently by their upper-class brothers (Bishops and Fathers).
    Thousands of organizations related to education, health and non-governmental organizations are being run by church and right to run these institutions has been conferred by Indian constitution. The structure of church being run under Vatican (You) has failed to do justice with converted Christians. Understanding the gravity of the situation Pope John Paul-II had severely criticized the attitude of unequal treatment and discriminatory approach in the church. In 2003, he had said that Bishops were appointed to look after lambs and it is their duty to abolish any kind of discrimination prevalent in the catholic church.
    Betrayal of faith
    There is widespread anger among converted Christians against the policies adopted by the church. They have started demanding their rights within the existing structure of church. The response of church has been abysmal in this regard. The church leadership has termed this anger unjustified. Instead of addressing the genuine concerns of converted Christians they have shied away from their responsibilities and are trying to shift it on government of India. This is being done in order to fulfill their own ulterior motive. By doing so church is pushing these people in the same quagmire of caste system.
    When Indian constitution was being framed, constitution makers advocated for reservation of dalit class who were victim of caste oppression in the prevalent Hindu system. Majority of Hindu people sacrificed their right to equality in favour of their dalit brothers as a compensation of injustice meted out to them.
    Your Holiness, do your representatives have moral right to betray the faith of those who had blindly believed on church and its promises. They have given their whole life to church. The story is similar to the poor widow about whom Jesus had said to their disciples, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12: 41-44) we dalit catholic, had also left the facilities (reservation) given by Indian government.
    Church should compensate
    Church is now blaming others for its failures. When Indian constitution was being framed these converted Christians remained in the fold of church and did not switch their loyalties. Within the framework of constitution minorities were given special rights and privileges that were even unthinkable in USA and Europe. Taking benefit of these rights church has enlarged its empire but seems to have forgotten converted Christians. Church leadership is trying stifling the just demand of their own people who are backbone of the Catholic Church in the country.
    Now, church leadership has no moral right to bring the converted people in the realm of same caste system that has oppressed them for centuries. Had they not gone in the fold of church and continued with the Hindu system they, too, would have enjoyed benefits bestowed upon them by constitution of India and progressed like their other Dalit Hindu brothers in the same fashion.

    After government of India, church is the only organized entity that can make available jobs but the participation of converted Christians is very low and maximum they can get is post of driver, cook, clerk, peon and gatekeeper. These jobs, too, can be availed on the mercy of Bishops and their condition is no better than slave laborer. I demand from church that they should compensate for the injustice and exploitation meted out to millions of converted Christians. Vatican had done this in the past and it can also be done here.
    Church should change its policy
    Church has always preferred safe trade. It has established thousands of schools, colleges and other institutions. This has benefited a lot to church leadership but majority of converted Christians have been largely deprived. Even in the field of education where church has practically monopoly it has failed to benefit converted Christians. We will not stop just after getting few benefits but Dalit Christians want their due share in the existing structure. Hindu society is changing very fast. Doors of temples are being opened for Dalit Hindus and many programmes are being run to abolish ignominious caste system whereas Christianity has not been able to do minor changes in its structure. Hindu dalits are constantly moving on but this is not the case with converted Christian society. Church administration being led by you is pushing them back. Perhaps their thinking is to assimilate converted Christians among 300 million Hindus. They believe that this will make the task of church leadership easier. Why it is that church leadership always seeks solution in putting converted Christians in the list of Hindu dalits.
    It is the duty of church leadership that process of development should not only be being smooth. It is good to have institutions/policy made for the welfare of people. However, it is even more important that who are implementing them? Converted Christians should get share proportionate to their population. Unless and until this happens their position in the society will remain the same and their problems will persist.
    Your Holiness,
    In the first point I have tried to elaborate the first point related to the problems faced by converted Christians. In India the relationship between Catholic Church and its followers is not based on democratic set-up. Inside the church upper-caste Christians have more opportunity to progress than converted Christians. Considering the status of these people some fundamental structural changes are needed. At present Bishop is the “Key power” and they are appointed by the Vatican and that is why they feel themselves more responsible towards Vatican and less towards Kalisia. Most of the Catholics are of the view that Bishop should be elected by Kalisia and not by the Vatican so that they could be made more responsible towards their people.

    Evangelization and escalating tension
    Recently, for the sake of safety and security of Christian society you have appealed to Hindu society that they should stand-up against condemnable hate propaganda against Christians and should pave the way for religious freedom. Your concerns are genuine as tension between Christians and people from other faith has escalated over the years and at some places it has even taken violent turn. Be it ignominious incident of burning of Graham Stains with his two children in 1999 or Kandhmal riots or violence at some other place. Indian society has always opposed violence on the name of caste or religion. Indian government has acted swiftly whenever such incidents have taken place. Perpetrators of crime have been punished. Government has also constituted various commissions in this regard and their reports have been startling.
    India has always been glorious symbol of tolerance and has shown respect for all religions and faiths with the feeling of amicable co-existence. There is no place for non-tolerant faith among majority of Hindu community. Every citizen respects fundamental right of religious freedom of other people.
    Many commissions constituted by government on the wake of violent instances against Christians have also indicated towards imperialistic nature of church. There is an urgent need for introspection on the method of propagation of Christian faith as they have become instruments of growing tension with people of other faith. We can stop this by changing the current practices by the church and help create amicable atmosphere.
    Freedom of church in India
    Indian church and Christians have rights that are not even available to European church. In the matters related to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions there is some government intervention. For example, properties of religious institutions in Muslims are looked after by Waqf board. Similarly, religious properties in Sikhs are also managed according to Indian law. Government has direct control over the income of big temples and this money is spent on upliftment of deprived class.
    But, government has no intervention in matters pertaining to Christians. Bishops are appointed by you and Vatican and Fathers/Bishops has ownership over huge assets and resources of church. Though, even in Europe many countries have control over the properties of church. India is one such country where church enjoys immense religious freedom.

    Introspection of evangelization policy is necessary.
    Recently, Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue has raised few questions about status of religious freedom in India. The indication was towards anti-conversion law made by few states in India. Church is facing difficulty after enactment of this law. They should understand that Indian constitution allows anybody to follow faith of his/her choice and even allows propagation of religion. But, nobody can justify conversion of scheduled caste and tribes under the garb of social service. There is a thin line between propagation of once faith and conversion. If state gives absolute freedom to those who have sole motive of conversion then it is the duty of the state to intervene in the matter. This becomes all the more important considering wherever conversion has taken place in large number social tension has increased.
    This year Vatican had convened a meeting of various heads of faiths in Assisi of Italy on October 27. In this meeting Indian representation had tried to attract the attention of Vatican towards conversion. As a matter of fact if Vatican really wants amicable solution to various problems faced by Christianity then it is the church that will have to play larger role in the process.

    Development of converted Christians should be goal of church
    Your Holiness,
    Theoretically in Christianity advocates for equality but in practice reality is starkly different. Discriminatory caste policies of Catholic Church fail the basic motive of Christianity. In reality, condition of converted Christians worsens after conversion. Church should bring a White Paper on the matter that how much church has progressed after independence and how much progress converted Christians have made during the same period.
    Church receives huge donation in the name of social service and development of disciples of the faith but hardly anything has changed on the ground. This is certainly a food for thought that where this money goes?
    Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) an umbrella organization of Dalit Christians is of the view that church officials don’t want to leave any benefit currently enjoyed by them at any cost. They are not at all concerned with the betterment of converted Christians. This is why there is no hint of betterment of the status of this community even in distant future. The current system harbours inequality. That is why it will be wrong to expect that things will change in near future.
    Converted Christians are looking towards you with lot of hope and we request you to take concrete step for the change in fundamental structure of church.
    Yours in Christ

    R L Francis
    President
    Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)
    http://www.dalitchristian.com
    Copy to:
    H.E. Archbishop Salvatore Pennacchio
    Titular Archbishop of Montemarano
    Apostolic Nuncio
    50-C, Niti Marg, Chanakyapuri
    New Delhi – 110 021

    Cardinal Oswald Gracias
    President
    Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI)
    C.B.C.I centre
    1, Ashok Place
    Near Gole Dakkhana
    New Delhi – 110 001, India.

  5. someone sagt:

    Thanks for the article.

    @RL Francis – Dear, curious to know the respone from His Holiness.

    Its a true fact that Dalit Christians are discriminated from the other Christians in India.
    I belong to Kerala, I can say its quite prevelant. I have given up going churches from quite some time, from when I realized there is a difference, based on the Caste System in Churches.

    I felt, there might not be nothing like God at all. Cornering happens at all places, offices, frns circle, schools, colleges, bus etc.

    Wont get any church privilege as well and these days, it looks like the Church too dont want us.

    Not sure, how I can equate, but: its quite bad.

    Regards

  6. RL Francis sagt:

    An Unwanted Priest, an autobiography of Father William Premdass Chaudhary

    Posted By: releasedbooks.com on:2/28/2012 5:22:04 PM

    Reveals the pain and agony of Dalits and Tribals after the conversion into Christianity
    An Unwanted Priest, an autobiography of Father William Premdass Chaudhary

    New Delhi, February 28, 2012: Letters can be a great instrument to showcase the socio-political landscape of any society and culture and many people have used this as a great tool to express their feelings – both sorrow and happiness. Letters written by Dalit priest Father William Premdass Chaudhary have also been used to reveal quite a dark world of discrimination and untouchability widespread in the grandiose Catholic Church system and debunks many myths surrounding Church.
    Father William Premdass Chaudhary attacks on the problem directly in his latest published autobiography ‘An Unwanted Priest’. He has an inimitable style of writing; he describes life in the Church and priest and presents insight hitherto unknown to most of the people. Father William Premedass Chaudhary does not mince words when he picks pen. He goes on analyzing very far and peels the problem layer after layer with a great precision.
    Analyzing the deep rooted feeling of caste discrimination in the forewalls of Church, Father William writes at one place in response to letter written by Vincent M. Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi, “I am a Dalit priest not a beggar. I am not begging you for the parish. I am not the Manglorian priest so that you will care for me. I don’t require your permission and position (parish) to preach the gospel. Jesus is my master and not you. I am Jesus’ slave and not yours. Even without parish what I have achieved, I am fully satisfied.
    I am a Dalit priest so it is my duty to safeguard the dignity of Dalit Catholics……….” He further goes on saying, “Why, I ( local Dalit Priest) am not assigned pastoral ministry consecutively for four years but you have assigned pastoral ministry to other Priests of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese though no one have gone for long retreat”. You have written in your letter that you cannot assign me a parish because of my shortcomings which are fabricated, as neither of my shortcomings has been proved by you…….”
    The book reveals inside world of Church, clash of ego and raises questions on the style of functioning of the grand institution and clearly depicts the injustice meted out to Dalit people and priests. The book exposes many things and breaks many myths. Father William raises a big question on the financial mismanagement of certain influential officials in the Church.
    When he writes about Dominique Immanuel, another priest, that “Please tell Fr. Dominic to put on the website of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. He had Income and Expenditure for dubbing the movie into other languages. The same Income and Expenditure must be put on the website. When the movie was produced, the name of the Sadbhavana was added. Why it was so? Chetanalaya was the only producer. I heard that Fr. Dominic Emmanuel was telling others that Sadbhavana had contributed the money towards the production of movie…..”
    It does not seem farther from the truth that there is greater need to put proper accounting checks on the income and expenditure of Church. Similarly, at one place in the book he gives an interesting instance and that actually became basis for the title of the book which goes like this…
    “I am an unwanted priest because I am a Local dalit Priest”, Archbishop of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese told Fr Premdass. One day I was having heated argument with one of the inmate priests at clergy house. As argument went on, the priest called me an unwanted priest. The book also compels Hindu society to think about the Dalit brothers who in order to get the social respect and equal treatment opt for Christianity. The Dalit converts think that they are liberated. But, here too, they don’t get any reprieve. As, discrimination in the Church system is very subtle the situation for a dalit priest like Father William becomes worse and it becomes almost impossible for him to stay in the mainstream of priesthood.
    Father William has dared to write something that not many would even dare to say or confess even in dream. He accepts the harsh reality of conversion and the dilemma before a dalit brother. He writes, “Mostly dalit Hindus were and are poor because they were and are exploited by upper caste Hindus and they were and are doing labourer jobs and menial works. After the conversion dalit Catholics were and are exploited by the authorities of Catholics Churches. Hindu Dalit’s condition did not improve but remain the same. They were not allowed to come up by the upper caste people in the society (Hindu). The dalit Catholic’s economical condition also was and is not good and their standard of living was and is very poor even after becoming Catholics in Delhi diocese and in North India….”
    However, the book also points out some other type of discrimination such as dominance of South India on the Church system. South Indian, are cared more by Delhi diocese and they have plum positions in Catholic institutions while local people and dalit don’t get their rights and they are more or less like slaves for their Catholic masters.
    The problem is at several levels. Though, the form and strength of Indian Church is very much derives from large population of Dalits and Triblals who have reposed their faith in Jesus but the structure of Church has remained elitist and pro-upper caste. This need to change and this is precisely why wave of confrontation has started taking shape. Book mentions about Poor Christian liberation Movement (PCLM) that advocates the cause of dalit Christians strongly. Father William Premdass Chaudhary has chosen a very ideal platform to answer several questions surrounding him.
    The book – An Unwanted Priest: An autobiography of Father William Premdass Chaudhary – will help the religious believers, religious institutions, government, bureaucracy, judiciary, academicians, researchers and media professionals in understanding the various problems of Dalits and Tribals and the darkness behind the white robe. This will help in understanding the politics of Conversion. And, it will certainly educate all that only economic development of Dalits and Tribals, and not mere Conversion, can bring social change in India.

    (R L Francis)
    President, Pclm
    Book Available for—-
    -Publication Wing of Jaykay Enterprises
    WB-27, G/F, Shakarpur, Delhi – 110 092, India
    E-mail: publication.jaykayenterprises@gmail.com

    -Taxshila Publication
    98-A, Hindi park, Daryaganj, New Delhi – 110 002
    E-mail: taxshilabooks@gmail.com

    -GAUTAM BOOK CENTRE
    Publishers & Distributors
    C-263A, Chandan Sadan, Street No. -9, Hardev Puri, Shahdara, Delhi – 110 093
    E-mail: gautambookcentre@gmail.com

  7. Prof Ratna K B sagt:

    Hi Prof Thomas
    I an also working on Dalit wpmen with respect of globalisation and its impact on social justice. Your articles are so informative and fact finding and thought provoking.Can I contact you on your -e mail id
    with regards
    Ratna

  8. R L Francis sagt:

    Church Should Publish a White Paper on its Business Operations
    Catholic and Protestant churches, across the country, is celebrating December 9, 2012 as ‘Dalit Liberation Sunday’. Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) and National Council for Churches in India (NCCI) have suddenly become worried for their Dalit brothers. Both of these churches work under Vatican and Geneva based ‘World Council of Churches’.

    In the October month of this year, Catholic Church has organized a congregation under Pope Benedict-XVI, which has advocated for faster evangelization considering the changing scenario of the world. It is under this theme that Indian arms of churches have thrown slogans like ‘Break the barriers – Build the world of equality’ for Dalit brothers.

    But, reality is that church has just tried to put old wine in the new bottle. They have demanded to include dalit Christians in the scheduled caste on name of ‘ Dalit Liberation Sunday’. They have criticized Manmohan Singh government to break their promises in this regard.

    The slogan looks pleasant from the hindsight, but reality lies in stark contrast to the ‘words’. When church has not been able to create equitable order for 2.5 to 3.0 crore dalit Christians, how can they do justice to non-Christian dalits?

    The big question on the entire church organizations is- If after conversion of several hundreds of years, their situation is as good as Hindu dalits, then what church has done for them over this long period? Despite 70 percent of total converted Christians come from dalit framework of Indian society, but their role in the church establishment is almost non-existent. Discrimination is persistently increasing within the church system. Church is trying to shift the blame on Hindu system.

    Christianity does not believe in discrimination of any kind. This was the main reason our dalit ancestors have opted for this faith. Even Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI), in its resolution passed in 1981 had said that there was no place for caste-based discrimination in Christianity. This is a bad system. The study of father Anthony Raj also proves this fact. Vatican severely criticizes caste based discrimination and untouchability. But, dalit Christians face this at every step. Handful of clergy controls all the resources of church. Through this demand of including, dalit Christians in the scheduled caste’s category, church has played double game. They have successfully divereted the anger of dalit Christians towards government and secondly, they have time and money to spend on more conversions, which will help them to firm their roots.

    Welfare of dalit Christians has never is an agenda for church. They have just been tool for the expansion of the church empire in India. This can be understood through an example. There are 168 Bishops and there are just four who come from dalit community. There are 13,000 diocesan priests, 14000 religious priests, one-lakh nuns and 5000 brothers in India. However, merely few hundred of them are from dalit community. Recently, only dalit priest from Delhi Catholic Archdiocese, Father William Premdas Chaudhry has described agony of dalit father in his autobiography, “An Unwanted Priest”.

    There is a common feeling that church has highest amount of land after government of India and they have land in the posh colonies. In India, church has some constitutional rights. Regulation must be imposed to control church and their institutions. There are 480 colleges in only Catholic Church, 63 medical colleges, 9500 secondary schools, 4000 high schools, 14000 primary schools, 7500 nursery schools, 500 training schools, 900 technical schools, 263 Professional institutions, six engineering colleges and 3000 hostels, 787 hospitals, 2800 dispensaries and halth centres currently being run by Catholic Church. If institutes are, being run by Protestants is included then number reaches to 45 to 50 thousands.

    Now, my question is how many deans, teachers, professors and doctors are from dalit Christian community in this huge empire of church? How many of them are doctors in medical hospitals? How many dalit Christians are director of social institutions of church, which gets crores of foreign funds for the welfare of converted Christians. Before celebrating ‘Dalit Liberation Sunday’ church should answer these questions. Church should tell that how many dlit Christian students gets education in their convent schools? Reality is that church has become business enterprise and now it is being driven by profit motive. If church has guts, they should bring a white paper on the issue.

    It is a harsh truth that many people won’t believe, that condition of Hindu dalits has considerably improved and Christian dalits are now left in this race. Hindu dalits have started ‘Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’ to help entrepreneurship among dalits. But, I want to ask why any such model for development of Christian dalits has not come from church despite having ample resources? I demand instead of ridiculing dalits, they should first create a system which gives them proper rights and justice in the present system.

    R L Francis
    The Writer is the President of Poor Christians Liberation Movement (PCLM)
    Ph. 9810108046
    Email:pclmfrancis@gmail.com

  9. R L Francis sagt:

    Church has betrayed with the faith of converted Christians

    New Delhi: Good Friday, March 29, 2013: On the occasion of Good Friday, Christian Organization ‘Poor Christian Liberation Movement’ has demanded for compensation because of the betrayal with converted Christians. Christian leader R.L. Francis says that instead of development of converted Christians and equality under the church system, it is fighting for the tag of scheduled caste from the government whereas there is no place for casteism in Christianity.

    Even those nuns and priests are victim of discrimination and exploitation who talk about rights of converted Christians. Indian church has completely shunned Jesus Christ and is indulged to fulfill its imperialistic ambitions. The decision of second Vatican council and Canon Law has not been implemented.

    Converted Christians are major part of total Christian population in the country and eighty percent of them come from dalit and tribal community. However, the number of Catholic dalit Bishops is just four out of 168. Out of 13000 diocese priest, 14000 religious priest, 5000 Brothers and more than 100000 nuns, only handful of them are dalits. They, too, are marginalized in church system.

    R.L. Francis says that church is indulged in accumulating huge property misutilising the freedom given by Indian constitution. But, there is no system to monitor such things. However, in western countries there are laws that control such activities. There must be some regulation to check these things.

    Church has largest land-holding after government of India and many such properties are in posh colonies. They control 22 percent educational system and 30 percent of health system; despite that poor Christians are dying and our church leaders are busy fighting for religious freedom and to get special status for their institutions.

    PCLM President R.L. Francis says that dalit Christians have far left behind than Hindu dalits. Hindu society had provided them opportunity to grow whereas church remained busy in building its empire.

    Poor Christian Liberation Movement demands from Pope Francis and Supreme Council of Vatican and World Council of Churches (WCC) that fund which is spent of evangelization should be spent on the welfare of dalit Christians. Power to elect Bishops should rest with Christians. Power of churches should be transferred to Christians and fund obtained from church institutions should be spent on the welfare of dalit Christians.

  10. PCLM sagt:

    Press Release

    Respect Jesus’ teachings and do not include us in SC category

    New Delhi, December 24th 2013
    The Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) and United Christian Democratic Forum (UCDF) have named Church Authorities of conspiring to include them in the Scheduled Caste list, which they said is not acceptable to Dalit Christians.

    In an open letter to His Holiness Pope Francis and Church Authorities, the PCLM President R. L. Francis, Advocate George Tomas, Rev. Ashwini Kumar and P. B. Lomeo said that Dalits converted to Christianity prefer to preserve their dignity, and are willing to forgo Scheduled Caste tag.

    Demanding compensation for the 30 million Dalit Christians, Mr. Francis said Dalits have suffered heavy economic losses by foregoing reservation and converting to Christianity to get respect and dignity in the Christian society.

    At the all India level, the Church flaunts that it has 22 percent education institution and funding and 30 percent health monopoly. Thus, it has resources almost at par with the Government of India. If the Church has such an enormous power why are the Dalit Christian not even getting the crumbs?

    Today, the Catholic Church Governance has six Cardinals, 30 Arch Bishops, 170 Bishops, 822 Major Superior and 25000 priests and over a lakh nuns. The surprising element is that in this huge administrative structure the number Dalit Christians holding of any importance cannot be counted on the fingers too.

    In a press release, Mr. Francis said the efforts of the Indian Church authorities to put Dalit Christians yet again in the scheduled Caste list would promote casteism in Christianity. It’s a mockery of Jesus Christ’s birth as “Saviour” in Bethlehem.

    R. L. Francis
    President, PCLM
    Ph. 9810108046
    http://www.dalitchristian.com

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    [...] from some isolated places and people. Original Post By divya Status of converted Dalits: When Indian Dalits Convert to Christianity or Islam, they lose Social Welfare Benefits and Rights th… Tehelka – India's Independent Weekly News Magazine [...]



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