Ask, and it shall be given you; seek,
and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you - St
His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI
Secretariat of State
00120 Vatican City State - Europe
Wish You a Merry Christmas and New Year
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. First, social,
economic and political status of converted Christians; and second,
growing tensions in different parts of the country due to
conversion-related activities. The second has more to do with the way
the Catholic Church opts to function in the country.
According to official estimates of the
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 the 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 in his own image and this has become the
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
Ideology of Church
Theoretically, there is no place for
non-equality and racism in Christianity and when it is attached with
identity of the 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
In that way, Holy Father/Pope, ‘you’
are responsible for maintaining the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ on the
earth. Now you should explain to 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 to Christianity
seems to have been forfeited. On the contrary, they are now entangled
in even deeper quagmire of inequality.
Church moving opposite to ideology of
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, the Catholic Church has immensely progressed
which is reflected in the 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 - the status of converted Christians.
Converted Christians are the backbone
of the 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 society. They are
being treated differently by their upper-class brothers (Bishops and
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 to 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
the 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 reservations for the dalit
class who were victims 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 the moral right to betray the faith of those who had blindly
believed in the church and its promises? They have given their whole
life to the 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
Catholics had also left the facilities (reservation) given by the
Church should compensate
Church is now blaming others for its
failures. When the Indian constitution was being framed, these
converted Christians remained in the fold of the church and did not
switch their loyalties. Within the framework of the constitution,
minorities were given special rights and privileges that were
unthinkable even in USA and Europe. Taking benefit of these rights,
the church has enlarged its empire but seems to have forgotten
converted Christians. Church leadership is stifling the just demands
of their own people who are the backbone of the Catholic Church in
Now, church leadership has no moral
right to bring the converted people in the realm of the same caste
system that has oppressed them for centuries. Had they not gone in
the fold of the church and continued with the Hindu system they, too,
would have enjoyed benefits bestowed upon them by the Constitution of
India and progressed like their other Dalit Hindu brothers in the
After the Government of India, the
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 laborers. I demand from the 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 the church leadership, but
the 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 be smooth. It is good to have
institutions/policy made for the welfare of people. However, it is
even more important 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, Bishops
are 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 faiths has escalated over the years and at some places it has
even taken violent turn. Be it ignominious incident of burning of
Graham Staines with his two children in 1999 or Kandhamal 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 a 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 in 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 faiths. 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 matters
related to Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and other religions there is some
government intervention. For example, properties of religious
institutions of 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. Even in Europe many countries have control over
the properties of church. India is one country where church enjoys
immense religious freedom.
Introspection of evangelization policy
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
There is a thin line between
propagation of one’s 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
Christianity advocates equality but in practice reality is starkly
different. Discriminatory caste policies of the 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 of how much church has progressed after
independence and how much progress converted Christians have made
during the same period.
Church receives huge donations 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 the distant
future. The current system harbours inequality. That is why it will
be wrong to expect that things will change in the near future.
Converted Christians are looking
towards you with a lot of hope and we request you to take concrete
steps for change in the fundamental structure of church.
Yours in Christ
R L Francis
The author is president, Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM)