BBC Report on Thatchoor, a Catholic village near Madras
Wednesday, April 3, 1996.
"East" , the BBC's perennially controversial current affairs series with an Asian perspective returns on Wednesday, 3 April , with a brand new look in its collection of hard-hitting analytical and investigative stories from Britain and abroad. In the report "Last Among Equals", veteran broadcaster Mark Tully OBE reports from India on how caste discrimination in the Christian church is leading to exploitation, violence, and in some cases murder. The Christian missionaries came to India preaching 'blessed are the poor'. They converted the poorest of the poor, the low-caste (actually no-caste) Hindus or 'Untouchables', who were eager to escape the hardships that the caste system imposed on them. However, as Tully reveals, these so-called 'Dalit' Christians found themselves treated just as harshly by their Christian brethren as they had been by the upper-caste Hindus. Caste divisions in the church are particularly acute in rural areas like the village of Tutchoor, 60kms from Madras. Here, the upper caste Christians live on one side of the hill, nearer the church. Their religious processions do not pass the Dalits' homes, and they even worship and are buried separately.
However, in a now more democratic India, the Dalits are trying to use the power of their numbers to seek the implementation of the Christian promise that the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. But, as Tully discovers, they are meeting with determined opposition from the upper castes, despite the church's acknowledgment of the sin of discrimination. "Equality is of course the doctrine of the teaching, but in the grounds of reality they are not treated equal," says Dalit Bishop Azariah of the Church of South India. "Even within the church they are not equal, " he admits.
Better representation in the clergy is now one of the main Dalit demands. Although the bishops say things are changing, they are not able to protect Dalit priests from the prejudices of the higher castes. Alarmingly, Christian priests and nuns working for the Dalits are victims of violence. With instances of rape, assault and murder in Ghaziabad, it now seems that modern-day Christian martyrs are paying the price for the missionaries' failure to insist that all men are equal in the eyes of Jesus.
CBCI CONDEMNATION OF THATCHOOR
17th July 1997