Protestors condemn caste prejudice within India's Catholic Church

(Photo: World Council of Churches)A person walks in Kusumpur one of the many slums which surround Delhi, India. Most of its inhabitants are Dalits and Indigenous people.

Caste discrimination among Christians has long simmered but it came to the boil recently when about 1,500 faithful rallied in the southeastern Indian city of Kadapa to protest caste discrimination in the Catholic Church.

It followed the kidnapping and beating of a Catholic bishop by three of his own priests, in an incident protesters see as reflective of caste prejudice within India's Catholic Church, Crux reports.

In late April, Bishop Prasad Gallela of Cuddapah, in the state of Andhra Pradesh, was abducted and beaten.

Later police charged 14 people in the assault, including three of Gallela's own priests, who were reportedly upset over personnel appointments they had sought that the bishop denied.

In the kidnapping, Gallela was shoved down on the floor of a car, kicked and beaten brutally with insults hurled at him. The kidnappers videotaped the entire ordeal.

The May 16 rally in the city of Kadapa, also located in Andhra Pradesh, was to protest what organizers see as a weak response to the Gallela case from Catholic leaders in India.

They suspect it is likely related to the fact that Gallela is a Dalit, or an "untouchable" under the ancient caste system, while the arrested priests are upper-caste.

India's constitution prohibits discrimination based on the centuries-old caste system, and there a variety of affirmative action programs to empower members of the traditionally lower castes.

However, Crux Now reported that observers say prejudices associated with caste status still run deep in Indian society.

The organizers of the May 16 protest, said 10 priests and eight religious sisters turned out, with the rest of the participants being laity.

Father A.X.J. Bosco, a Jesuit and adviser to the "Citizens Forum for Justice," the group that organized the rally, released an open letter to Cardinal Baselios Cleemis, president of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India, voicing those concerns.

"The sad and criminal event has been published in the media, [but] no significant response [from Church leadership] condemning the culprit priests or supporting Gallela has been in the national media," Bosco wrote.

He said, "Are all the prayers, statements, promises and assurances of the hierarchy and Church leaders only in words? Is the Church leadership afraid of their caste communities; or do they not care about the Dalits even if they happen to be bishops?"

"You can very well imagine what the people, especially the Dalit Catholics, would think and feel about the significant silence on the part of the official Church," Bosco wrote.

"We know that there is caste discrimination in the Church, and it is a great challenge to the Christian Community in India," he said. "The question to ask is – If Jesus were here, what he would have done?"

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