Pain and agony of Dalit and Tribal Christians
Author: Father William Premdass Chaudhary
Publisher: Jaykay Enterprises, WB-27, G/F, Shakarpur, Delhi – 110 092 - email@example.com
R L Francis
Letters can be great instruments to showcase the socio-political landscape of any society and culture and many people have used this as an effective tool to express their feelings - both sorrow and happiness. Letters written by Dalit priest Father William Premdass Chaudhary reveal quite a dark world of discrimination and untouchability widespread in the grandiose Catholic Church system and debunks many myths surrounding the Church.
Father William Premdass Chaudhary attacks the problem directly in his latest published autobiography ‘An Unwanted Priest’. He has an inimitable style of writing. He describes life in the Church and priesthood and presents insights hitherto unknown to most of the people. Father William Premedass Chaudhary does not mince words when he picks his pen. He goes on analysing very far and peels the problem layer after layer with great precision.
Analysing the deep-rooted feelings of caste discrimination in the forewalls of Church, Father William writes at one place in response to a letter written by Vincent M. Concessao, Archbishop of Delhi, “I am a Dalit priest, not a beggar. I am not begging you for the parish. I am not the Manglorian priest so that you will care for me. I don’t require your permission and position (parish) to preach the Gospel. Jesus is my master and not you. I am Jesus’ slave and not yours. Even without parish what I have achieved, I am fully satisfied with. I am a Dalit priest so it is my duty to safeguard the dignity of Dalit Catholics…” He goes on saying, “Why, I [local Dalit Priest] am not assigned pastoral ministry consecutively for four years but you have assigned pastoral ministry to other priests of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese though no one has gone for long retreat”. You have written in your letter that you cannot assign me a parish because of my shortcomings which are fabricated, as neither of my shortcomings has been proved by you…”
The book reveals the inside world of Church, clash of egos and raises questions about the style of functioning of the grand institution and clearly depicts the injustice meted out to Dalit people and priests. The book exposes many things and breaks many myths. Father William raises a big question on the financial mismanagement of certain influential officials in the Church.
When he writes about Dominique Emmanuel, another priest, that “Please tell Fr. Dominique to put on the website of the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. He had income and expenditure for dubbing the movie into other languages. The same income and expenditure must be displayed on the website. When the movie was produced, the name of Sadbhavana was added. Why it was so? Chetanalaya was the only producer. I heard that Fr. Dominic Emmanuel was telling others that Sadbhavana had contributed the money towards the production of movie…”
It does not seem farther from the truth that there is greater need to put proper accounting checks on the income and expenditure of the Church. Similarly, at one place in the book he gives an interesting instance which became the basis for the title of the book. It goes like this: “I am an unwanted priest because I am a local Dalit priest”, Archbishop of Delhi Catholic Archdiocese told Fr Premdass. One day I was having heated argument with one of the inmate priests at clergy house. As argument went on, the priest called me an unwanted priest.
The book compels Hindu society to think about the Dalit brothers who in order to get the social respect and equal treatment opt for Christianity. The Dalit converts think that they are liberated. But, here too, they don’t get any reprieve. As, discrimination in the Church system is very subtle. The situation for a dalit priest like Father William becomes worse and it becomes almost impossible for him to stay in the mainstream of priesthood.
Father William has dared to write something that not many would even dare to say or confess even in their dreams. He accepts the harsh reality of conversion and the dilemma before a dalit brother. He writes, “Mostly dalit Hindus were and are poor because they were and are exploited by upper caste Hindus and they were and are doing labourer jobs and menial work. After the conversion, dalit Catholics were and are exploited by the authorities of Catholics Churches. Hindu Dalit’s condition did not improve but remained the same. They were not allowed to come up by the upper caste people in the society (Hindu). The dalit Catholic’s economic condition also was and is not good and their standard of living was and is very poor even after becoming Catholics in Delhi diocese and in North India…”
The book also points out some other types of discrimination such as dominance of South Indians on the Church system. South Indians are cared more by Delhi diocese and they have plum positions in Catholic institutions while local people and dalits don’t get their rights and they are more or less like slaves for their Catholic masters.
The problem lies at several levels. Though the form and strength of the Indian Church very much derives from large population of Dalits and Triblals who have reposed their faith in Jesus but the structure of the Church has remained elitist and pro-upper caste. This needs to change and this is precisely why a wave of confrontation has started taking shape. The book mentions the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) which advocates the cause of Dalit Christians strongly. Father William Premdass Chaudhary has chosen an ideal platform to answer several questions surrounding him.This book, which is an autobiography of Father William Premdass Chaudhary, will help the religious believers, religious institutions, government, bureaucracy, judiciary, academicians, researchers and media professionals in understanding the various problems of Dalits and Tribals within the Church and the darkness lurking behind the white robe. This will help in understanding the politics of conversion too. And, it will certainly educate all that only economic development of Dalits and Tribals, and not mere Conversion, can bring real social change in India.
The reviwer is President of Poor Christian Liberation Movement. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org