Friday, December 30, 2011




THE New Year rings in new hopes and expectations, as if failures and frustrations have been rung out with the year that has just ended. To begin the New Year with forebodings may sound like a pessimist’s pastime. However, we must face it with buoyant self-confidence. And the stout-hearts among us like this writer should not lose hope, though the reality, grim and grinding, beckons the nation to a desperate prospect. The economic hardships alone do not account for the mounting discontent. Much more is involved in the present complex situation.

There is distress all over the country Deep-rooted fatalism, dumb acceptance of misery, a raging sea of poverty, and a few islands of vulgar luxury, inhabited by a few who behave as if nothing has happened. This is India today. And this should disturb every sensitive Indian today. The time is long past when one could pacify one’s conscience by angry outburst or exposure of a few misdeeds. The situation is far more serious, the prospect grimmer.

The cancers that have grown in the vitals of India are so horrendous that whole limbs may decay and die before some sort of curative effort succeeds in the rest of the system. Men of vision, integrity and merit were at the helm of affairs in the early years of this nation. A different set of qualifications has now become necessary to attain and then retain office. Men and women of merit have disappeared from the higher echelons of power.

The welter of crashing values, the miasma of poverty, the insensate outburst of religious fundamentalism and fanaticism, regionalism and casteism: it is chaotic. One is also shocked at the sight of brute force trampling upon the underprivileged, while the elite enjoy all the inevitable accompaniments of permissive morality, addiction to vicarious violence, erotic and narcotic fantasies.

Caught in the immediacy of the present we may be agonizing over these maladies. There is still hope. “There is an ebb and tide in the affairs of man. Things will change”. This may be the darkest hour before the radiant dawn. God has not gone bankrupt. He can make the blind see, the deaf hear and the lame cross the mountain. If past is any pointer to the future, there is indeed hope. There is resilience in our people, which no combination of adversities can kill. Our ideals and principles might appear to be in eclipse. But, eclipses are short-lived.

In an atmosphere surcharged with cynicism on the one hand and despair on the other, we would do well to go out anywhere, amidst the din and bustle of the factories, among the IT professionals or the vast expanses of the fields, in the beehive of busy offices or in the boisterous, crowded campuses – among men, women, the young and the old – you will hear a thousand and one questions why things have gone wrong and what’s the way out of it.

Dedicated men and women, sacrificing comfort and many allurements of the consumerist society are building a new India in the remote villages and hilly regions of this vast land of ours. There abound in this country today men and women of finest moral qualities, experts in their respective fields seeking to advance the frontiers of knowledge and to serve the community by disseminating it to the public. In the prevailing darkness they move about like figures in silhouettes; soon the sun shall arrive and identify them, and among them shall be seen new leaders with a new message of enriched patriotism. A new resolve to make this land of ours a better place to live in. The saga of such endeavours is hardly publicised by the media addicted to the burlesque of present-day politics. But they give us reasons for hope.

The reserves of India are too strong to be contained by the unworthy for too long. Today’s rulers as well as the ones waiting in their wings to be future rulers must necessarily be themselves marginalised sooner or later because they are superficial manifestations of a superficial phenomenon; neither they nor the phenomenon that sustains them have any validity in the general scheme of human progress.

Like wars, seemingly hopeless political cancers help steel a nation’s nerve and accelerate the maturing process. India will then step out of the new into the newer.

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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Plight of Dalit Christians- a response

From: Fr. Benjamin Chinnappan

Dear sir,

I read your article that you wrote in the Decan Herlad about the the Plight of the Dalit Christians. Although it was two decades ago, the situation has not improved a lot among the dalit Christians. Every word you wrote is very sharp and challenges the conscience of the Indian Catholic Church. I studied in Bangalore at St.Peter's Seminary during 1980-90 but our formation never focussed on the reality of the Indian church. Your article is definitely very powerful to meditate on the passion of our Lord. As you know, most of the bishops, priests and nuns hail from the Upper Caste Community, they do not want to acknowledge their guilt. Due to blind faith, illiteracy and poverty, the dalit Christians could not claim for their equal rights even upto this day. The Catholic church in India cannot put this drama all the time. The show will come to an end.

Father Ben, USA.
29 Dec. 2011

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Responses to the Christmas Message


Dear PN,

Many thanks for your Christmas Greetings which Veena and I warmly reciprocate.

To be frank, your Christmas message is excellent. It is a gust of fresh air, so badly required in today's Church and our misguided brethren who have mistaken the wood for the trees. It is a very powerful and down to earth message. We have forgotten that Christ came and preached a simple life of love. This has been forgotten in our misplaced "social action" and bigoted behaviour.

Slovenia being an alpine country is cold. We have had some snow. The temperatures are on an average -5 to 10 degrees. However we are enjoying the place.


Jayakar (Jerome)

Dear PN,

Thank you very much for your Christmas greetings and the attached message. The message is typical of your secular thinking and so appropriate in the present environment of fundamentalist intolerance. The saddest part is that those who profer homilies are themselves not free from what they are complaining against and that too in a spirit of condescension. And politicians add to the intlerance by their uninformed postures. I cannot help recalling Edmund Burke who famously said,""Those who carry on great public schemes must be proof against the most fatiguing delays, the most mortifying disappointments, the most shocking insults and what is worst of all, the presumptuous judgements of the ignorant"

I wish you and your family Christmas greetings and all the best during the coming new yhear.


Dear brother,

Thank you for the insights into Christmas, Christ and Christ like personalities. This message will certainly reach the hearts of everyone.



Dear Benji,

Thank you for forwarding the text of your sermon at the Institute o
World culture . It is well written and my congratulations! I am sure
people who will listen to these words will get a different word. Wish
you all the blessings
achen(Rev. K.C.Abraham)

Dear P N,

Thanks for the most inspiring message. I wish more and more people listen to such messages in these troubled times when life has lost its meaning !

Warm Regards,

Rev.Dr.M.Mani Chacko, Ph.D( Lond.)
General Secretary
The Bible Society of India
'LOGOS', # 206, Mahatma Gandhi Road
Bangalore- 560 001

Tel : 080 - 4112 4714, 4112 4715, 4151 2580 ( O )
080 - 25599020 ( R )
E. Mail :

Dear Benji

Very balanced speech. Good. am happy for you.
Wish you and May the blessings of Christmas.

joe & susheela Thomas

Dear Benji,

I am so happy to see you engaged in the good fight keeping values which many people will not be able to understand or appreciate. We are keeping well but with growing restrictions and restricted involvments. i have retired but am kept busy with grand kids and some church related activites.

Take care
Our best wishes and prayers to you , May and others in the family.
George Ninan (Bishop )

Benjamin, I read the message with rapt attention(which i usually do with all your text) and heart goes with you to the "so called Christians" who are more concerned about the ritualistic aspect of Christmas rather than feeling the love towards your brothers and sisters, the real spirit meant to be.

Cheers to that, hic..

The Abrahams (SOM)

Friday, December 23, 2011


P. N. Benjamin
Delivered at the Indian Institute of World Culture, December 24, 2011

“LORD, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is doubt, let me sow faith; where there is despair, let me bring hope; where there is sorrow, let me bring joy; where there is darkness, light. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console; not so much to be understood as to understand; not so much to be loved, as to love. For, it is in giving that we receive; in pardoning that we are pardoned; in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

I am a Christian by faith, Hindu by culture, and Indian by citizenship. But, permit me to add a word about my Christian commitment and witness in this troubled times. I have always loved John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, perhaps because its hero remains on the move up to the very end. Even when he is crossing that last river, with Mount Zion actually in sight, he is still assailed by doubts and troubled by the hazards of his journey. I, too, have found no finality in the quest for a sure faith, and do not expect, or even hope to find one. At the same time, I dare to say as I have plodded on the light has shone a little more brightly and steadily for me. To make this light shine before men, as Christ exhorted us, has always seemed to me the highest that any communicator can hope to achieve – even if it amounts to not more than, as it were, striking a match in a dark cavern, which flares up and flickers out. Such, at any rate, is the purpose of this message, undertaken with no expert knowledge, no sudden Damascus Road illumination; representing no more than the efforts of a skeptical mind to grapple with the circumstances of his life and time.

Christmas is the feast of our common humanity. Once a year, for a brief spell, we greet one another as human beings: we shake off the trappings with which we aspire to be more than human, and give up the arrogance of treating others as less than human. The labels of race and language, caste and creed, and class are laid aside.

“Happy Christmas”, we can say to a stranger and add a smile to it – nothing would be out of place. It is as if a gust of goodwill from out of the blue has swooped into our atmosphere and we all take a whiff of it. People are kinder, handclasps are warmer, even the miser opens his purse with a sheepish smile to any one who passes the hat around.

Christmas is also a feast of affirmations – even if only once a year we need to become aware of a set of values, which we tend to ignore in the daily commerce of life. We may grope in darkness but it is good to know that there is a gleam somewhere. Amidst all disenchantment around us we need to affirm our faith – in life, in ourselves, in others and therefore in God. We need to hope – hope against hope until as Shelly says, “Hope creates from its own wreck the thing it contemplates”. And we need to love -- to rediscover that universal principle of life.

Bertrand Russell who explained to us why he could never be a Christian slipped back in another context to the core of Christmas message when he said, “The thing I mean, please forgive me for mentioning it, is love. If you feel this, you have a motive for existence, a guide in action, a reason for courage, and an imperative necessity for intellectual honesty… although you may not find happiness, you will never know the despair of those whose life is aimless and void of purpose”.

Magnificat: A Song of Deliverance

There is more to Christmas than peace and goodwill. The story of the birth of Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the mother of the Messiah – the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance:

“My soul doth magnify the Lord/ And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Saviour…/He hath showed strength with his arm/He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/He hath put down the mighty from their seats/And exalted them of low degree/He hath filled the hungry with good things/And the rich he hath sent empty away…”

This Song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for all humankind. It reflects the teachings of the prophets of the Old Testament who denounced the oppressors of the people who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. The prophets were constantly exhorting the people to “untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed”. Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

It might seem strange that in this momentous hour of her life when the angel had cast her in this stupendous role, she should be preoccupied with justice for her people. But one can well imagine that, then as now, this was a burning question. The Jews were under the Roman yoke and longed for the Messiah who would liberate them. Mary’s Song is a song of deliverance not only from foreign domination but the oppressor within the gates.

She did not know then that beginning with the Magnificat the road would end at the cross where she would stand weeping for her son who would show the world an entirely new way. But now it is a cry for justice, liberation from the tyranny of the rich and the exalted. Thus, woven into the message of peace and goodwill is also the lesson that these conditions can only come when there is social justice.

The Church has side-stepped this problem dispensing charity while ignoring the deeper claims of equality. The Song of Mary is a reminder that charity without justice is an insult, and peace only a graveyard where there is no equality.

Yes, the voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call to violent revolution – for violent revolutions always end in tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one’s neighbour, and therefore to God. We like to imagine that religion is a love affair between man and God, but that affair is possible only when one loves one’s neighbour.

Christmas reminds us that in a creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour – only in such a cooperative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric, which will be permanent. In short, Christmas comes to remind us that we are all inextricably bound together in this brief sojourn on this troubled planet that either we are ALL saved or we are ALL damned for we are all human, all vulnerable, all in need of one another.

Is Jesus the only Prince of Peace?

Christmas takes Christians to the roots of their faith, the child in a manger. It is a cluster of events – the journey to Bethlehem, the angels and shepherds, the manger, the mother and child and Joseph, even the cattle – these are enduring symbols of Christian faith.

The deeper meaning and enduring significance of Christmas point out that God’s love touches human life in a simple way – in the form of a child in the manger. Faith, in its deepest sense is a personal response to the Mystery of God that touches life but is not confined to it. It is priests and theologians who complicate it through ritual and doctrine. What can be more helpless than a new-born baby? Christmas demands that Christians joyfully accept and nurture the child to grow to maturity within their hearts and in the life of the Church.

Second, Christmas shows God’s concern for the poor and the lowly. The Church seems to have discovered Dalits and women only recently. The wise men from the East had to study the stars for a long time in order to predict the birth of this child. But to the shepherds in the field the message of hope came in a flash through song and light. What can be more lowly, more unhygienic than a manger for a baby to be born? And yet, the mother and baby survived without any complications

Third, Christmas is a community festival. It does not depend on an individual receiving a vision. From the beginning, there is a community of the faithful centered round the child, Joseph and Mary, the shepherds with their lambs, even the cattle in the corner, and later on, the three kings bearing gifts. Christmas emphasizes that the Church is not an institution with a hierarchy and doctrines but a community of believers sharing the love of God and serving the people in the name of the Prince of Peace.

The phrase “Prince of Peace” is too familiar, even too common. Like an overused coin it has lost its currency value. For instance, mass media today often overuse, misuse, even, abuse certain words. Television shapes the form of intellectual discourse. The demand for quick and short answers to serious questions that need time for reflection deprives words of their wealth and dignity. Ambiguity replaces precision.

Peace can be understood in two ways. It can mean peace within the heart, a sign of calmness, tranquility. This is what the Hindus describe as ‘shanthi’ or in Christian vocabulary it is “the peace that passes all understanding”. All religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism, emphasise this inward character -- the depth dimension -- of peace. But there is another way in which the word “peace” is in more urgent demand during these times of conflict. This is peace between communities, peoples and nations. It is the restoration of relationships between “enemies” through forgiveness and reconciliation. It seems to me that the Christmas message in the song of angels refers to this: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men (people) with whom he is pleased (Luke 2: 14). But we must note that in the Christmas message peace within the heart of the individual and peace between communities are closely related.

Christians believe that Jesus Christ is the only Prince of Peace in history. But, such a claim leads to exclusiveness and arrogance. In a pluralist society like ours different religions may be regarded as different responses to the Mystery of God or Truth or the Ultimate. The question for us today is not which among the many religions is true but what each religion can contribute to the quest for peace.

Consider, for example, the life of Gautama the Buddha. About five centuries before Jesus of Nazareth was born, the Buddha preached the message of ahimsa, which is more than just abstention from violent acts. It is a positive attitude of compassion, described as maha karuna citta (great compassionate consciousness) towards all life. The Buddha extended it towards animals as well, long before people started talking about “animal rights”. Therefore our Buddhist friends can rightly claim that for them the Buddha is the “Prince of Peace”.

It is a fact that more wars and tragedies, the use of nuclear bombs, and environmental pollution took place in the last century in countries which professed to follow Christ. However, all of us must be careful not to point accusing fingers at others. Tragedies like communal riots and atrocities against Dalits take place in our country also.

Shallow friendliness for the sake of superficial peace is morally wrong. But the Mystery of Truth or God is infinite and inexhaustible. God’s love is generous and God’s truth infinite. Can any one community of faith claim exclusive monopoly to it? For a true follower of Christ the distinctiveness of the Christian faith does not begin and end with Christmas. As the child grows to maturity his peace-making ministry passes through the garden of Gethsemane to the cross. It is the combination of Bethlehem and Golgotha, the manger and the cross. That is the distinctive marks of Christian faith. Christian brothers and sisters in this country must realize that friends of other faiths have their own distinctive mark and identity.

Mahatma Gandhi was an apostle of peace who devoted his life to bring together Hindus and Muslims. He was assassinated. Remember, Yitzhak Rabin, the late Prime Minister of Israel, was a soldier-turned-peace-maker. He too was killed in the 1990s. Mahatma Gandhi was killed by a Hindu fanatic. Yitzhak Rabin by a Jewish fanatic. Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism are much earlier than Christianity. Every religious community has its martyrs for peace. There is no single, exclusive way to peace within the human heart or among nations. Thus, exclusive claims, religious or secular, lead to fanaticism and conflict. In pluralist Indian society, commitment to one’s faith and openness to the faiths of one’s neighbours is the path to peace.

At a time of tension and conflict in the world, including our own country, the distinctive message of Christmas for us is this: that peace is eminently desirable, that peace-making is costly, and that while peace, as the gift of God, the creator of all humanity is singular, the paths to peace are always plural.
There are people of other religions, even secular people, who criticize Christianity as a religion and the Church as an institution, but yet respect and revere Jesus Christ, his life and teachings. Therefore, it was not strange that the title of a booklet written by Swami Ranganathananda of the Ramakrishna Mission on the eve of Christmas 1949 was: “The Christ We Adore”. The Swamiji said then: “Mankind has been offering its heartfelt adoration at the altar of Jesus the Christ for over two millenniums. And even today this child of Mary remains the source of inspiration for millions the world over”.
Christians must learn to adore Christ, obey and follow him because of the message of Christmas, “ the good tidings of great joy”, contained in the song of the angels: Be not be afraid…for unto you is born this day in the city of David a saviour which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2: 10-11)

Monday, December 5, 2011

The light at midnight

The light at midnight


IT was somewhere in the neighbourhood of the present-day Bethlehem that Christ's birth took place nearly 2000 years ago. In the exposition and portrayal of it, literally billions of words, oceans of paint, acres of canvas, mountains of stone and marble have been expended, not to mention, in recent times, miles of film. Is there, then, anything left to say? Yes, there is. Christ and his story continue to attract the minds and imaginations of many.

The story of the birth of Christ begins with a revelation to a peasant girl that she would be the Saviour of the world. She would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Son of God. She was so overpowered by the message that she breaks into poetic utterance: the greatest of all songs of motherhood.

"My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath/ rejoiced in my God my Saviour.../ For he hath regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden/ For, behold, from henceforth all/ generations shall call me blessed./ For he that is mighty hath magnified me,/ and holy is his name.../ He hath showed strength with his arms/ He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts/ He hath put down the mighty from their seats/ And exalted them of low degree/ He hath filled the hungry with good things/ And the rich, he hath sent empty away." This song of Mary is called the Magnificat. Mary sees a vision of a new order of things where the weak and the poor will throw off their shackles. It is a song of liberation for man as well as for woman.

Against oppressors

The song of Mary reflects the teaching of the prophets of the Old Testament. These prophets denounced the oppressors of the people, those who would sell the needy for a pair of shoes. They were constantly exhorting the people "to untie the knots of the yoke, and loose the fetters of justice, to set free those who have been crushed". Mary belonged to this oppressed section of the people.

Joseph, a poor carpenter from Nazareth, who married Mary, likewise understood that the child to be born to her had a special destiny in the world. Every son of every mother is a son of God, but Mary knew that her son was to have a unique relationship with God and a unique role to play in the lives of men. It was to Mary and Joseph that Christ was born in a stable, no other more suitable accommodation being available, or within the means of Mary and Joseph. The essential point about Christ's birth is that it was so poor and so humble. The Son of God was born into the world not as a prince but as a pauper. God was revealed to humankind not in the guise of power or wealth or physical beauty, but of weakness, obscurity and humility.

Each generation of Christians inevitably seeks to fashion its own Christ, from the austere figures carved in wood in the early Middle Ages, through the ebullient Renaissance Christs to the weird efforts of our time to devise a Hipster saviour. Yet, behind all this there is a real man: born, growing up, reaching maturity like other men, turning his mind to what life means rather than to what it provides; trudging through this self-same dust, and sheltering from this self-same sun; lying down at night to sleep and rising in the morning to live another day.

Christ's mission on earth reached far beyond considerations of national independence or servitude — to the roots of power itself and the fearful passion men have to dominate other men. He very humanly chose to begin his ministry in Nazareth where he was known and had grown up. Therefore, in the synagogue, he chose to read the splendid passage found in the Old Testament in which the Prophet Isaiah proclaims: "The spirit of the Lord is upon me. Because he hath annointed me to preach the gospel, to the poor: He hath sent me to heal the broken-hearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering sight to the blind. To set at liberty them that are bruised. To preach the acceptable year of the Lord."

All would have been well if Christ had just left matters there. Nothing pleases the congregation more, whether it is in a synagogue, church, temple or mosque, than to be told about preaching deliverance to captives, healing the brokenhearted etc., always being provided nothing is expected of them. But that was not to be.

Much of Christ's life appears to have been devoted to denouncing the Pharisees, the priests.. They were the fundamentalists of his time, the ultra-conservatives who spent their lives enforcing on the public their version of the "word of God", as well as their special regulations of conduct. Jesus was determined to drive puritanism and arid conformity out of men's hearts and to make them learn the habit of love.

Christ turned the world's accepted standards upside down. He affirmed the priority of justice over religion. He criticised the religion of law and priesthood and opposed the commercialisation of sacrifices and the observance of Sabbath. That God manifests himself in human mercy is the most important Christian idea. God does not reside in human-made temples. His presence is in works of human mercy.

Christ's humanity

The deity of Christ is hidden in his humanity. We understand Christ's suffering as the suffering of God. But his life was the life of a real man. The religion of the Cross seems to be capable of being assimilated into other religions. Thus in all areas of life, Christ enters. Religion, ideology, revolutionary instinct, God, son, man, painting, literature and time become the dwelling of the Saviour and testimony to his words. Therefore, the image of Christ as the one who has made the ends of the earth his own is right.

The voice of Christmas cries in the wilderness. It is not a call for violent revolution for violent revolutions always end hi tyranny of one kind or another. Christmas calls for a change of heart, a turning away from oneself to one's neighbour, and therefore to God. Christmas reminds us that in the creative relationship there is God, man and always his neighbour — only in such a co-operative partnership can we hope for a restructuring of the social fabric which is permanent.

Dalit Christians' plight

I have often found it useful to revisit what one said in the past, to analyse the relevance today. In this context, I firmly believe that the following article I wrote in an edit-page article in Deccan Herald on 15 September 1990 is worthy of your consideration today. Particularly when it was written at a time when the Christian lobby, especially the Dalit warriors, was not as hysterical as it is today.

I would suggest that the present-day Christian leaders should read what was written more than twenty years ago, and realise how little their rhetoric has changed. And, more importantly, their rhetoric of the past has been responded to, but they live in a make-believe world that there is no response.

The discrimination within the Church

(Deccan Herald, 15 Sept. 1990)

OUT of the 20 million Christians in India, over 16 "million are of Scheduled Caste background. The vast majority of the Harijan Christians are poor, landless labourers and unemployed or underemployed urban slum-dwellers.

Their problems concerning land, housing, health, education and employment are as acute and grievous as those of their fellow-Harijans, or even worse. The Christians of Harijan origin suffer from the same social, economic and educational handicaps as in their Hindu and Sikh counterparts.

Conversions have neither offered a way of escape from the bondage of caste nor have they fostered the social transformation of the Harijan Christians. They still live under the same conditions of discrimination, exploitation and oppression.

Unlike the other converts, the Harijan Christians are "twice alienated," both by the Government and the Church: on the one hand, they are denied, as Christians, the rights and benefits availed of by their fellow Harijans, and on the other, as Harijans, they are dominated and persecuted by the upper castes within the Church. The Harijan Christians, (apart from a small group of their elite) suffer grave economic disparities, demoralising social discrimination and cruel denial of political privileges.

To a religion that has always prided itself on the advocacy of complete equality of all human beings, irrespective of caste, colour or race, the charge of discrimination within its own family is galling. And the charge has been made in several quarters. Strangely enough, the Church has won its adherents in the country on the strength of its teaching about the dignity of all human beings and its rejection of distinctions based on birth, colour and race. Now it finds itself charged with failures on this very score.

To the untouchables, the oppressed and those victimised in a socially stratified society, Christianity once brought a message of hope. The reason it has lost its appeal Is not that it has ceased to preach equality, but it has lost its nerve to practise it. It has compromised its own teaching.


In Indian Christian communities caste discrimination takes many forms. There are some churches built for separate groups. These places of worship even today retain their caste identity. Another example of casteist practice is allotting separate places in church. Usually, the Christians of Scheduled Caste origin occupy the rear of the church. A glaring instance of caste distinction is found among the dead. The dead of the Harijan communities are buried in separate cemeteries or separate parts of the cemeteries.
A report by Bishop Arokiasamy of the Madurai Diocese to the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India meeting at Shillong last year says: Christians of Scheduled Caste origin are "not allowed to assist the priest or read scriptural passages during mass and not allowed to enter the sanctuary. They are denied participation in the church choir; when sacraments are being administered, the Harijan Christians have to receive them after the upper caste Christians. In death, they are allotted their own cemeteries ,, or a corner of the main cemetery, with a wall separating the section in some...In certain dioceses of central and south Kerala, the church hierarchy ignores the very existence of Pulayas because they are Harijans.

"Interdining is sacrilege, while intermarriage is unheard of. No caste Christian enters the home of a Harijan T Christian. During marriages in upper caste settlements Harijan Christians are given food outside the house, in little wicker baskets..:Caste Christians never attend weddings in Harijan colonies... Harijan Christian marriage and funeral processions are banned from passing through the streets where upper caste Christians live".

Could there be a more eloquent indictment of the Church's hypocrisy? Having so clearly failed to eradicate the caste system from its own sanctum sanctorum, the Christian leaders, bishops, priests and nuns, have today united to demand reservations for Harijan Christians. It is intriguing. It is un-Christian, to say the least.

It is interesting that the continued discrimination by Christians against people of their own faith, as set forth in the Kaka Kalekar Report and other studies, is now being advanced by Christian spokesmen as an argument for recognising the "Scheduled Castes" among Christians.

It has not escaped notice that while Christian spokesmen plead for the same preferential treatment to Christians of Scheduled Caste origin as is being given to those who stay in the Hindu or Sikh faiths, in the matter of recruitment to the public services, Christian establishments that have many jobs under their control, have not been known for their keenness to recruit Christians of Scheduled Caste origin for such jobs. (This, I must add, does not, however, exonerate the State from the charge of discrimination and of a lapse from strict adherence to secularism).


"There is total neglect of converts, both for appointments in the Christian institutions as well as for admission to their colleges. Just to quote an example, in the prestigious CMS College, Kottayam, Kerala, the present staff strength is 170. Out of that only two are from converted Christians. The proportion is more or less the same in the institutions of other church denominations also. The paradox is that the church leadership, which is not prepared to include Dalit Christians in any of their lists, is asking the government to do that. This exposes the politics of the church hierarchy". (Economic & Political Weekly, Dec. 3, 1988: M.J. Joseph: Class, Caste and Church).

The un-Christian treatment meted out to the Harijan Christians in the Indian Church hierarchy reminds one of the story of the Negro who, visiting a place in one of the southern States of1 the US went to a church on a Sunday. When the Black man was spotted he' was promptly thrown out by the White congregation. He walked off from the church, in tears over what! had happened. He had not proceeded-very far when he saw God walking? towards him. The Lord stopped and asked him why he was weeping. The Black told the Lord that he had gone to the church and been thrown out. The Lord comforted him, and said, "Don't take it to heart too much, my son; I have myself been trying to get into that church, and have so far failed".

To speak of the Harijan Christians and ask the government to uphold fairness and justice as enshrined in the Constitution is adding insult to injury. When a Harijan becomes a Christian he should be given a minimum chance of escaping from the "outcaste" status. He should be allowed to merge with the rest of the Christian community and the church should make it possible for him to start afresh. If Christians cannot treat "outcastes converts" as part of their fellowship it is better to leave them alone. Christ himself said: "You encompass sea and land to make one convert and then you make him twice the son of hell as you are".

Christian leaders have sinned more than others in perpetuating social injustice. A Church which champions the cause of the Dalit Christians can no longer go on claiming privileges or keep begging for benefits from the State. Its fearless stand for justice to| the converted Christians will let it no! longer remain silent about the discrimination within the Church, which is a matter of shame to its members and an embarrassment to its friends.

Its call for equal distribution of national resources will be heeded when its own resources, running into several thousands of crore of rupees, are reallocated and used for the poor and the downtrodden in the Church itself — yes, for the Harijan Christians.

Edit-page article in Deccan Herald, 15 Sept. 1990