“Dalits and Adivasis have a painful history of exclusion from the education system for three millennia and reclaiming that space by a process of inclusion is the need of the hour”, stated Rt. Rev. George Stephen, the Chairperson of the Dalit and Adivasi Concerns Department of the CSI Synod and the Bishop in Madras. He was inaugurating the consultation on the problems faced by the Dalit and Adivasi students titled ‘Education, not Edu’Caste’ion: from Exclusion to Inclusion’ at CSI LITE Centre in Chennai on 4th and 5th of September 2017. The Bishop exhorted that the Church has the responsibility to carry forward the great mission of inclusion of Dalits and Tribals initiated by the missionaries in Indian education field.
Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, the Director of the Dalit and Adivasi Concerns Department, explained the background of the consultation drawing the attention of the delegates to the increasing discrimination and exclusion faced by the students of the marginalised communities resulting in the suicides of many a student. A new form of untouchability is prevailing in the field of education, especially in higher education. Dalit Christian students, who are deprived of the reservation, face a more severe exclusion. The intervention of the Church is an urgent need of the hour regarding this issue, even though the institutions of the Church are already taking certain measures to help the underprivileged students. This consultation will be aiming at getting feedback from the dioceses and institutions of the Church of South India on this issue, will gather the positive steps those are already taken by the Church and will probe the possibility of the effective interventions to combat the exclusion and discrimination.
Dr. Sunderababu, who is a politics scholar and an activist, presented the theoretical framework for the consultation. He told that the Church’s gospel is of inclusion and the process, which has begun by this consultation thus becomes part of the spreading of the gospel. The Dalit and Tribal students face expulsion too, over and above marginalisation and exclusion. He reminded the delegates that the education system is also market- driven and if we want to spread the gospel we have to address the challenges posed by this market too.
The theological approach to the issue was presented by Rev. Immanuel Nehemiah from the Karnataka Central Diocese. The Session was chaired by Dr. S. J. Earnest. He suggested that by washing the feet Jesus was symbolically begging the pardon of the neglected and oppressed ones on behalf of the society. It is important to the Church to confess that there are lot more to do for the underprivileged students by her.
Mr. Simon V. S., a Doctoral Students from the Madhya Kerala Diocese, presented the perspective of a student. The hindrances made by the bureaucrats in distributing the scholarships and other constitutional provisions for the eligible Dalit and Tribal students, various types of discriminations which are propelled by the teachers from the ‘dominant castes’, financial worries, body shaming and systemic branding they have to face, and the political oppression are portrayed by Mr. Simon.
The morning devotion and the Bible Study were led by Ms. Vedha Kani, a Doctoral Student of New Testament at United Theological College in Bangalore. She told that the liberation from the discrimination and oppression is not the need of the oppressed and the discriminated alone; it is needed by all if we really want to be the liberated Christians. The Church is called by God to go out into the community and lead the community to liberation.
Three teachers presented their view point based on the facts and experiences they have in this issue. Dr. Dhinakaran (Department of Economics, Pope's College, Sawyerpuram, Tamilnadu), Mrs. Pricella Hemalatha (Headmistress, CSI Higher Sec. School, Kotagiri), and Mrs. Rachel, Principal, MS. Degree College, Gooty- RD, Andhra Pradesh) were in the panel, which was moderated by Mrs. Jiji Melvyn from the Malabar Diocese. Dr. Dhinakaran encouraged the Dalit and Adivasi students and wanted to see that they are showing more endurance. Suicide is not at all a solution. The church should be giving support to these students to overcome the psychological pressure they are forced to bear because of the caste- based discrimination. Mrs. Pricella presented her views with the help of facts and figures and reiterated that the institutions of the Church should be taking a lead role to combat discrimination and exclusion. Mrs. Rachel suggested that the students should be motivated and encouraged to fight the inequality within the system.
Rev. Iniyan Joshua from the Trichy- Tanjore Diocese presented a pastor’s view on the issue. He told that the Church should empower, encourage and enlighten her own members to come forward against caste-based discriminations.
The delegates actively participated in the group discussions, which were the main focus of the consultation. Suggestions, pointers, challenges, explanations, data, real- life stories, and questions came up as the result of these discussions and deliberations. These elements will be utilised to get feedback from the Dioceses and the institutions of CSI and an action plan will be formulated as the process develops in the forthcoming months.
The conference came to a close on the second day by the prayer and benediction by Rt. Rev. Jayaraj George Stephen.
Rev. Sunil Raj Philip,
CSI Synod Dept. of Dalit & Adivasi Concerns