| JULY 23/AUGUST 14, 2015
An Unwanted Priest – the autobiography of Dalit priest Fr. William Premdass Chaudhary
New Delhi: Letters can be a great instrument to showcase the socio-political landscape of any society and culture and many people have used this as a great tool to express their feelings - both sorrow and happiness. Letters written by Dalit priest Father William Premdass Chaudhary have also been used to 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 autobiography 'An Unwanted Priest'. He has an inimitable style of writing; he describes life in the Church and presents insights hitherto unknown to most people. Father William Premdass Chaudhary does not mince words.
Analyzing the deep rooted feeling of caste discrimination within the four walls of the Church, Father William writes at one place in response to 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 a Mangalorean priest 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 a parish, what I have achieved, I am fully satisfied. I am a Dalit priest so it is my duty to safeguard the dignity of Dalit Catholics."
He further goes on saying, "Why, I (a 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 have 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. I am an unwanted priest because I am a local Dalit priest."
The book reveals the inside world of the Church, clash of egos, and raises questions on 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 Dominic Emmanuel, another priest, that "Please tell Fr. Dominic 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 put on the website. When the movie was produced, the name of the 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 the 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 Church. Similarly, at one place in the book he gives an interesting instance and that actually became basis for the title of the book which goes like this...
One day I was having a heated argument with one of the inmate priests at the clergy house. As the argument went on, the priest called me an unwanted priest.
The book also compels Hindu society to think about their 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 dream. 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 works. After conversion, Dalit Catholics were and are exploited by the authorities of Catholics Church. The Hindu Dalit's condition did not improve but remain the same. They were not allowed to come up by the upper caste people in society (Hindu). The Dalit Catholic's economical 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."
However, the book also points out some other type of discrimination such as dominance of South India on the Church system. South Indian, are cared more by Delhi archdiocese 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 is at several levels. Though the form and strength of the Indian Church very much derives from large population of Dalits and Tribals who have reposed their faith in Jesus, 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 about the Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM) that advocates the cause of Dalit Christians strongly. Father William Premdass Chaudhary has chosen a very ideal platform to answer several questions surrounding him.
The book “An Unwanted Priest: The Autobiography of a Dalit Catholic Priest” will help believers, religious institutions, government, bureaucracy, judiciary, academicians, researchers and media professionals in understanding the various problems of Dalits and Tribals and the darkness behind the white robe. This will help in understanding the politics of Conversion. And, it will certainly educate all that only economic development of Dalits and Tribals, and not mere Conversion, can bring social change in India.
ON THE BACK COVER OF THE BOOK:
Being a Dalit priest, born and brought up in a Hindu community, yet I decided to become a Catholic priest to spread the message and love of Christ to the people irrespective of religion, region and caste. For seven years, Hindu community, Catholics, my villagers, relatives, friends and my priest friends across the country were asking me a single question – why I was not being assigned a parish and why I was being write (sic) the book, which is the best way to explain them.
I sincerely thank them for their concern towards me. In a nutshell, I was not given a parish because I am a Dalit priest, as explained in the book. -Fr. William Premdass Chaudhary email@example.com
Church must resist fraudulent conversion says Dalit Christians
By Dibin Samuel, July 23, 2008
A national convention by the Dalit Christian community urged the Church leadership to stop fraudulent conversion activities in the country especially among poor Dalits and tribals.
The gathering organised by 'Poor Christian Liberation Movement' (PCLM) demanded that church restrain from pseudo methodologies of evangelism and use the foreign funds for the welfare and upliftment of the poor and needy.
In addition, the organisers even urged the Govt. of India to appoint ordinary Christians instead of bishops, priests and nuns in the government commissions.
A resolution adopted at the gathering stated that, “This assembly unanimously believes that evangelism cannot be a measurement of a society’s socio–economic development. Therefore, evangelism programme should be suspended for long years and funds should be saved and utilized for the welfare of Dalits and tribal Christians, including the deprived sections of society, to create awareness among them."
For this, the gathering urged the “Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) and the National Christian Council of India (NCCI) to set up a 1000 crore “Dalit Christian Development” fund to ensure integrated social and economic development in the country.”
Over three hundred delegates attending the gathering alleged that Christian leaders including the pastors and priests were monopolizing the church funds and property for their personal uses. This has led to the worsening conditions of neo converted Christians who live in a pitiable condition and deprived of the basic necessities.
Fr. William Premdass Chaudhary, a Catholic priest of the Archdiocese of Delhi said, "In last two decades many poor Christians have gone back to Hinduism due to maltreatment by the Church."
Mr. P B Lomeo, a Christian activist and editor of a church newspaper supported the argument asserting, not one of the 40,000 educational institutions run by the Church gives admission to the children of Dalit Christians.
According to Mr. Jawahar Singh, President of Gertor India Foundation, majority of janitors and sewage cleaners working in dilapidated areas are Dalit and tribal Christians. Their children do not even complete their primary education, he said.
In his address, the National President R.L. Francis said that the church leadership is interested only in increasing the numbers and is hardly bothered about their living conditions. The biggest proof of this was that a large chunk of foreign funds were being utilized either for purchasing land or for their luxurious lifestyles.
Bishops are monopolizing the Church estates and treating it as their own property and are indulging in its sale–purchase without the consent of the community, he alleged.
Concerned over the future of Christian children in India, human rights activist Joseph Gathia said, the Supreme Court must redefine minority educational institutions, who do not admit Christian's children in their schools. Gathia even stood opposed to the caste base reservation for the Christian community, as it would institutionalise discrimination in Christianity.
Copies of the resolution have also been sent to Pope, the World Council of Churches, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi.
Conversion debate for sure has been the most controversial issue in the country. Beatings, abuses, deaths, kidnappings, and several other barbarous acts have been carried out in the name of 'Proselytization'.
Ramesh Gowda, a BJP member from Bangalore speaking to Christian Today said: "Churches are getting funds from abroad and using it to force the gullible poor. Money, jobs, gifts and others are offered to those who convert to Christianity. Does Bible inculcate these?"
"Forceful conversion and allurement must stop. If the church leadership in India fail to restructure their way of evangelism, anticipate more of these violent attacks," he opined.
Pain being a Dalit priest in Delhi Catholic Archdiocese
By R.L. Francis, November 20, 2008
The leaders of the Indian Church are being accused of not giving equal status and opportunity to Dalits in the Catholic Church to this day. The scheduled castes and tribals fought against religion, an unjust society, and unequal economic distribution, and accepted Christianity, only to later realize that in Christianity also there was/is no equal justice and place for them.
Dalit and Tribal Catholics are sad for not having a dignified life in the Catholic Church. Upper caste Catholics are having a full hold and control on the Catholic Church. Almost all priests, bishops and cardinals come from the upper castes and select leaders for different associations from their own castes.
There are very few Dalit priests and nuns in the Catholic Church. Converted Dalit Catholics had great hopes from Dalit priests and nuns in all the dioceses, so when Dalit priests and nuns are harassed and persecuted by Bishops and superiors, the converted Dalits become sad and lose hope of gaining equality and justice in the Church. In fact, in order to have full hold on the Catholic Church, upper caste Bishops and priests deny equal place and opportunity to the Dalit priests, nuns and lay persons in the Church.
Fr. William Premdass Chaudhary is the only local Dalit priest in the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. On 30 July 2006, his family members and villagers held a dharna at the Bishop's house to protest the discrimination against Fr. William Premdass by Archbishop Vincent M. Concessao. His brother Laxmi Chand gave a memorandum to the Archbishop and appealed to him not to mistreat his brother on the basis of region and caste.
Mr. Laxmi Chand reminded the Archbishop about the pain and trouble they had suffered in order to make his brother, Fr. William, a catholic priest for Delhi Diocese. Most of the family members and villagers are Hindu, so they had opposition within the family and in the village. Mr. Laxmi Chand lives in Gurgaon, Haryana. He said that his brother completed 11 years of priestly study in order to become a priest for Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. It was hoped that he would be able to work for deprived people in society.
Mr. Laxmi Chand told Archbishop Vincent Concessao via the memorandum that the family sacrificed Fr. William to work selflessly in the church and spread the message of love of Christ. The family was shocked when it came to know that their brother was being ill-treated on the basis of caste and region, and that the Archbishop was against local Dalit Catholics and encouraged regionalism and casteism in the Archdiocese.
Fr. William Premdass was appointed at Faridabad and Rewari in Haryana, and Defence Colony, Delhi Cantonment, Mayur Vihar Phase-III and Pitampura churches in Delhi; but he was not allowed to work freely by the Archbishop who constantly interfered in his work. Mr. Laxmi Chand alleged that the Archbishop was discriminating against local Dalit Catholics and local Dalit priests on the basis of language, region, race, colour and caste. Catholic Archdiocese never consulted local Dalits and priests while taking important decision; the Archbishop has different rules and regulations for North Indian and South Indian priests, which is against the policy of the church and Christianity.
Fr. William Premdass' family denied any intent to insult or dishonour Rev. Bishop Vincent Concessao. But as the family had sacrificed a brother in the name of Jesus Christ, they were grieved to find that within the church he was being forced to live a life of insult and humiliation. After loyally serving the church for over 15 years, he was facing injustice and partiality at the hands of the authorities. The family has claimed that the Archbishop is putting conditions of long retreat before assigning the parish to Fr. William, though there are no conditions for other priests who have not gone on long retreat and are holding important positions in Church.
There are 14000 priests in the Catholic Church, but only 600 are Dalits. There are 160 Bishops but only 6 are Dalit. Dalits comprise 70% of the total population of the Catholic Church. But a few upper caste Bishops and priests rule and control the church and use church property for their own ends. Church leaders are increasing their kingdom while converting Hindu Dalits to Christianity; they are creating divisions and tensions in Indian society through their activities in India.
In fact, Indian Churches are being controlled and ruled by the southern, particularly Portuguese, churches. Portuguese missionaries and people could not influence and control Indian politics, but they had full control over the Catholic Church. Vasco Da Gama was sent to India by the Pope to control the Indian Catholic Church. Before the Portuguese missionaries arrived in India, they were already old Catholics and Syrian Catholics in India, especially in South India.
Portuguese missionaries made them their slaves by force while the British were ruling and controlling India. The upper caste Catholics of Kerala and Tamil Nadu obeyed and worked along with Portuguese missionaries. Even though the British left India, the Pope had influence and control over the Catholic Church.
Independent India gave the people freedom on religion. Foreign missionaries had left enough wealth, movable and immovable property in the Catholic Church, and this wealth now fell under the control of upper caste bishops, priests and leaders. In order to increase the population of the church, the upper caste bishops, priests and missionaries started to convert Hindu Dalits and poor people to Christianity. They received foreign aid to increase church population, and this in turn increased the church vote bank. This gave the upper caste bishops, priests and church leaders the protection of Indian politicians. As they received help and protection from politicians, Indian missionaries took advantage in converting Hindu Dalits to Christianity.
Recently many persons died in Kandhamal district in Orissa. Many churches, institutions and houses were burnt and there was a heavy loss of wealth and life. These were Schedule Caste people, belonging to Pana caste, who are converts. Church leaders are fighting and demanding the State Government give people of Pana Caste the status of Schedule Tribe so that they may not lose quota after conversion.
This is the real hurdle for conversion before the church leaders. For many decades church leaders were/are trying to remove this root hurdle for converting Hindu Dalits by forcing the Government to give them the status of Schedule Tribe. This struggle has built up tensions in the region.
Actually church leaders are not interested in the development of converted Catholics; they only want to increase numbers. They are eyeing 16 crore Hindus. The church leaders are playing a double game. If people of Pana caste are given Schedule Tribe status, they will retain quota/reservation after accepting Christianity and the Church need not to give them anything, and conversions may continue. Church leaders are running a conversion shop.
The Indian Catholic Church must follow the rules and regulations (Canon Law) of the Catholic Church. The Vatican appoints the Indian Bishops. Usually Catholic Bishops give less importance to the local community and that's why their interference in the work of local priest brings suffering to local priests.
In the year 2000, Fr. Anthony Fernandez SJ, was harassed, persecuted and asked to leave the society because he raised his voice against conversions and refused to change the religion of the local community; he also challenged various rights of Bishops. Fr. Henry of Jhansi Diocese was insulted and persecuted because he took the side of local poor Christians.
Today many priests are facing punishment and posting in neglected places for being Dalits and speaking up for their own people. "Poor Christian Liberation Movement" (PCLM) is a leading organisation working for Dalit Christians and demanding equality and respect for Dalit priests and nuns. In the words of Jesus Christ, we should be like salt. If the salt has no taste, it will have no use and will be thrown outside like dust and trampled upon.
The author is President, Poor Christian Liberation Movement