Parliamentarians and Church Leaders Meeting on Justice for Dalit Christians
On behalf of the organizers Mr. Philip Jadhav called the meeting to order and requested Rev. Dr. Enos Das Pradhan, General Secretary, Church of North India (CNI) and Chairperson NCCI Commission on Polity and National Governance to chair the meeting.
Welcome and Introduction
Rev. Dr. Enos Das Pradhan welcomed the gathering and particularly the Members of the Parliament (MPs) present during the occasion. The MPs were felicitated with a stole as a mark of recognising their solidarity with the cause of the Dalit Christians struggle for justice. The chair gave a brief introduction to the issue, the struggle thus far, and the future course that has to be planned. The Chair also read out a letter from Shri. Ashok Gehlot expressing the greetings and best wishes of Smt. Sonia Gandhi, President, Congress President and Chairperson UPA.
Hon. Shri. P C Thomas offered greetings and solidarity on behalf of the MPs from Kerala and requested that he be excused to attend another Meeting. The presence of Hon. Shri. Oscar Fernandez at the start of the meeting and his solidarity for the cause were also recognized.
The Most Rev. Charles Soren, Bishop of Hazaribagh and the Chairperson of the CBCI Commission on SC/ST/BC offered prayer invoking God’s blessing on the endeavour, and God’s wisdom to guide the struggle.
Presentation by Dr. James Massey
Rev. Dr. James Massey, Director CDSS, Former Member of the National Commission for Minorities made a presentation on Justification for Equal Rights to Dalit Christians with reference to 1950 presidential order. In his presentation Dr. Massey highlighted the plight of the Dalit Christians in this country. He made reference to the Presidential Order 1950 and the discrimination based on religion till date affecting the dignity of Dalit Christians and denying right to life and security.
Denouncing the discrimination based on caste even within the Church, Dr. Massey made useful suggestions, referring to specific portions of his document, on how such accusations can be handled by the Honourable Members of the Parliament both in the floor of the House while piloting the issue, and outside while lobbying for the cause.
Dr. Massey made his submission that solution relating to the paragraph three of the Presidential Order 1950 was the easiest among all other options that have been attempted in the past, and suggested even in the present times.
Presentation by Fr. Lourdusamy
Fr. Lourdusamy, Director, Vellore Social Service Society, Former Secretary of the CBCI Commission on SC/ ST/BC made his presentation on Historical Struggle of Dalit Christians for Equal Rights. In his presentation Fr. Lourdusamy highlighted the milestones in the history of this struggle – fought both politically and in the judiciary. He referred to the fact that inclusion of one word “Christianity” in a two-line paragraph is all that we are fighting “for over the last 57 years”.
Tracing the history of the movement, Fr. Lourdusamy highlighted the occasions when the solution was near yet aborted due to a variety of political factors. Mention was made about the situation at the time of Hon Shri. Ram Vilas Paswan, and that of Hon. Shri Sitaram Kesri where Dalit Christians were in sight of a solution, yet let down by the Peoples’ representatives. He also pointed out the fact that the objects and Reasons as presented in the draft bill during the time of the latter is evidence enough to show that the Government is convinced of the fact that the plight of the Dalit Christians is no better than that of their brothers and sisters of other faith.
He mentioned that successive Congress Governments led by the Late Smt. Indra Gandhi, the Late Shri. Rajiv Gandhi, the Late Shri. P. V. Narasimha Rao had promised that this exclusion will be corrected and as such the present Congress-led UPA government is morally responsible to see this through its logical end. Reference was also made to the private members bill moved by Hon. Prof. P. J. Kurien and the mileage that the struggle received on account of the said bill.
Fr. Lourdusamy also made reference to the case popularly referred to as the Soosai Case, and the current Public Interest Litigation before the Hon. Supreme Court. He also made mention of the efforts of Mr. Franklin Caesar in this regard.
In his presentation Fr. Lourdusamy suggested that the struggle that has come to be construed as a struggle of the Dalit Christians should be recaptured as a struggle of the Christian Community (and those others who subscribe to the cause) for the dignity and right of the Dalit Christians.
He also noted with concern that the Leadership of the Church should make a total impact (not symbolic presence) in this struggle; he suggested a mass mobilisation of Bishops / Church Leaders and the Christian people to intensify the benefits that are expected to accrue should the report of the Justice Renganath Misra Commission Report be positive to the cause of our struggle. Such a mobilisation will augur well for the efforts of the Hon. MPs in the floor of the house and among their colleagues. It was also suggested that the opposition from a section of the Hon MPs must be reviewed and suitably responded. He also suggested that it would do well to mobilize symbolic commitments (signatures) of MPs expressing their solidarity for the issue of Dalit Christians.
Responses of Honourable Members of the Parliament
The Honourable Members of the Parliament responded to the two presentations. Hon. Shri. H. T. Sangliana affirmed his solidarity for the issue of Rights to Dalit Christians. He exhorted the Church Leaders to put together a united fight, and to simultaneously dispel the darkness of discrimination from within the portals of the Church. The Hon. MP suggested that it will be good if a delegation of Church Leaders meet the Hon. Chief Justice of India who himself is from the Dalit Community.
Hon. Shri. P. C. Alexander encouraged all the Church leaders and Christians who are involved in the issue. He said that he sees hope, and believes that the solution is in sight since he is able to discern the positive support and goodwill forthcoming from MPs representing all sections of the Parliament including those belonging to other faiths. Shri. Alexander also stated that this discrimination, that too this long, cannot be justified; so also discrimination within the Church, he opined. He urged the Church leaders to continue to mobilize favourable public opinion.
Hon. Shri. Joachim Baxla expressed his appreciation to the organizers for bringing the Parliamentarians together with the Church Leaders and with the Christian Community and its struggle for Justice to Dalit Christians. He pointed out that decisions are made by evolving consensus amongst parties belonging to different coalitions, and as such mobilizing favourable opinion amongst coalition partners in the government, and those parties / coalitions outside the government is important. He expressed the support of his party the RSP in the cause of Justice to Dalit Christians.
Hon Shri S. K. Kharven than encouraged the Church Leaders to keep up the intensity of the struggle. He expressed his solidarity and those MPs who do not belong to the Christian Community but are favourably inclined to the grant of SC status to Dalit Christians. Quoting examples of financial assistance he sanctions annually to Schools in areas where Dalit Christians live, he made a passionate appeal to the Leaders of the Church to concentrate on the development of socio-economic condition of the Dalits who adhere to Christian faith.
Hon. Shri. Francis Fanthome expressed his personal commitment to the cause of the Dalit Christians. He said that he was personal witness to the fact that time and again reference has been made in the Parliament with regard to this issue, also by MPs who belong to other faith. He also felt that it is desirable to explore possibility of aligning with movements, activists and leaders within the Islamic Community who are campaigning for Justice to Dalit Muslims.
Hon. Shri. Appadurai drawing from his experience of working with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on SC/ST Welfare, encouraged that Lobbying should be intensified lest the issue will go to the back burner. A Dalit Christian himself, he spoke about the prevailing discrimination within the Church that has to be addressed. He also explained the reality that goodwill and favourable public opinion has to be translated into law making. This he said is difficult but we need to press on.
Hon. Prof. P. J. Kurien exhorted Church Leaders to be clear about what is needed. If it is rights and justice, we need to press on with the difficult task; alternately if it is privileges, we need to look at ways of getting around, which may be easier. He encouraged that the Campaign should be focused to reap result as desired.
The Church Leaders expressed their opinion on the issue. It was clarified that there should not be any dilution from the fact that the Campaign / Struggle is for the Rights and Dignity of the Dalit Christian, and the violation of Fundamental Rights on account of discrimination based on Religion. Members opined that as a Religious community, importance of prayer alongside struggle should be stressed.
It was also said that when the solution appears to be at hand, the struggle should be vigilant to keep at bay those who would be inclined to make use of the situation for personal gain. The Church Leaders also expressed the opinion that Non-violence as a force to intensify the struggle to be explored.
Mr. Franklin Caesar’s Intervention
Asked to give an opinion on the matter, Mr. Franklin Caesar said that several political parties, either overtly or otherwise, have expressed their willingness to pursue the matter within the Parliament. He also mentioned that the Judiciary vide several references was also not averse to the grant of SC Status to Dalit Christians.
The Parliamentarians and the Church Leaders came to the following consensus:
Fr. Khosman Arockiaraj, Secretary CBCI Commission on SC/ST/ BC proposed a vote of thanks. Bishop D. K. Sahu closed the meeting with Prayer and Benediction.
Mr. Frankin Caesar, and Mr. Philip Jadhav, Mr. S. Raju, Rev. Raj Bharat Patta, Ms. Sagarika Chetty, Rev. Asir Ebenezer (NCCI) facilitated the Program.