Dalit Visions of the Church

January 9, 2012 by  
Filed under Dalit, National, newsletter-india

DeenabandhuIndia, January 08, 2012: Metropolitan Dr Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, Bishop of the Malankara Jacobite Orthodox Church in India rightly pointed out that “Churches that practice or remain silent on caste discrimination cannot ascribe themselves the status of holiness”, in the four days long International Seminar on “Dalit Visions of the Church” held at SCEPTRE Centre, Kolkata during December 13 to 17, 2011. The Seminar was organised by the Just and Inclusive Communities programme unit of WCC, NCCI Commission on Dalits, SCEPTRE and Bishop’s College, Kolkata.  “Communities of the discriminated excluded and silenced are the ones who formed the first Jesus community,” affirmed Rev. Dr Deenabandhu Manchala, WCC Programme Executive for Just and Inclusive Communities. “Their identities and experiences must continue to guide churches so that their preferences and actions remain authentic and credible.”
There was an interface of Indigenous Peoples’ Perspectives with Dalit Visions of the Church.  Dr. Wati Longchar, a prominent Asian indigenous theologian and a facilitator at the meeting highlighted the importance of dialogue in indigenous theology. He pointed out that “with both its own varied and variant expressions, and the whole variety of global and theological issues, indigenous peoples’ reflections are of particular significance”.
Rev. Philip Vinod Peacock, Dalit theologian and a facilitator of the consultation, called for the theological necessity of “dismantling dominant perspectives of ecclesiology”. He called attention to the fact that “such (dominant) perspectives need to be replaced with subaltern agency, as the church in India has historically been an emancipatory space for Dalit liberation.”
Theologians who participated in the consultation stressed the need to think of mission as transformative tool for the cultures of discrimination and exclusion. The seminar was attended by theologians from Myanmar, Taiwan, Norway, USA and India.

The sessions exclusively arranged for the discussion of “Dalit visions of India” was begun with the paper presented by Rev. Dr. Deenabandhu Manchala. He suggested that the Dalits should shrug off the fear about the power of casteism.
Mr. Bezwada Wilson presented a paper on the struggles of the manual scavengers in India, who are predominantly Dalits. The narration was  autobiographic in character and hence touched the audience.  Mrs. Asha Kowtal in her presentation highlighted the responsibility of the church in ‘handholding’ the Dalits and the necessity of reducing the gap between the church’s activities and the efforts of NGOs regarding the upliftment of the Dalits. Rev. Dr. Evangeline Rajkumar criticised the failure of the church even to perceive and understand the victimisation of people. Church should be ready to understand the language of the victimised. Rev Dr Daniel Premkumar spoke about the Diakonia ministry from the Dalit perspective. Ms. Angel Merlin and Rev Dr Prabhakar also presented papers.

The second and third days were kept apart for Group discussions. The three groups were assigned to discuss different aspects of the Dalit Visions of the church. The coordination of this group work was done by Rev. Philip Vinod Peacock.
There was a joint concluding session in which Metropolitan Dr Geevarghese Mor Coorilos delivered the main talk. A joint Communiqué, articulated by the Dalit and Indigenous theologians was presented in the concluding meeting.
The organisers are working on the ideas and papers presented in the seminar, which will eventually come out as a publication.

– rev. sunil raj philip

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