Archive for October, 2004

India’s untouchables, and America’s untouchables

Sunday, October 3rd, 2004

   Respect Life Homily — 27th Sunday OT C October 3, 2004
 India's Untouchables
Last Sunday, in Southern India, four of Mother Theresa’s Missionaries of Charity nuns went out to serve food to the poor people of the area, accompanied by three missionary brothers and 2 truck drivers. (*see CNA News story at the end of my homily)

Before they got to the village a group of 50 Hindu extremists attacked them, beating them over the head with rods and warning them not to enter the village.

One of the main reasons for the attack was because Mother Theresa’s sisters were on their way to feeding a group of people known in India as “untouchables.”

Untouchables are members of the fifth and lowest Hindu caste. There are currently over 160 million untouchables in India.

Hindus believe in reincarnation, they believe that the current life you are now living is either a reward or a punishment for the last life you lived. In other words, if you were born into a wealthy, upper class family it was because you lived a holy life in your past life, but if you are born into a poor, lower caste family it means you lived and died a big sinner the last time around.

Those who lived exceptionally wicked past lives are believed to reincarnate into the lowest and poorest caste, called the “untouchables.”

Since these people are being punished for their past sins, traditional Hindus believe untouchables shouldn’t be helped or even touched by people not of their own caste.

While the majority of Hindus wouldn’t go so far as to attack nuns who would seek to help these poor people, a recent article in National Geographic showed how many Indians today are still deeply prejudiced against these untouchables despite anti-discrimination laws protecting them.

While the Hindu religion certainly has many good and holy aspects to it in other areas, it should be clear to us Christians how wrong and harmful this particular aspect of their religion is.

Christ has taught us that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. We get only one life on this earth, and it is a preparation for eternal life in Heaven. While some are poor and others are rich in this life, rich and poor alike have an opportunity to be rich forever in the next life by following Christ’s commandment of love and forgiveness.

Today the Church celebrates Respect Life Sunday. While our culture and our class system is vastly different than that of India, we Americans unfortunately have our own version of untouchables. They are a group of humans that are literally not to be touched, not to be defended, not to be helped.

Our society with its unofficial religion of secularism has deemed these humans untouchable, not because of the untrue Hindu doctrine of Karma but because of the untrue secular doctrine of so-called “choice.” Should you or I try to do anything morally permissible to keep one of these untouchables from suffering pain and death, we will pay a severe price. Even to just stand peacefully but firmly in-between an untouchable and someone who means to harm him is a felony offense which carries stiff fines and prison sentences in our country.

Since 1973 over 40 million humans have been classified as untouchable by our Supreme Court. Less than 2% of these humans were the result of rape or incest, or were severely deformed, or were a serious threat to the mother’s health. 98% of those 40 million were deemed untouchable and allowed to die because they were considered an inconvenience to the people surrounding them.

It is a great scandal that in a nation full of Christians who have the light of the Gospel and should know better, we have a group of humans whose lives are not cherished and protected by our society.

While the people of India have a long way to go, the Indian government at least is beginning to acknowledge the injustice being done to their untouchables. The police chief of the region condemned last Sunday’s attacks on Mother Theresa’s nuns and has promised a full investigation. There are also laws in India which seek to protect untouchables from discrimination.

The news report said the attackers were carrying political signs supporting the Hindu extremist party. Imagine if you will living in India, and one of these Hindu extremists was running for political office. As part of his campaign promises, he vows to keep untouchables untouchable. He vows to pass laws which will stiffly fine people like the Missionaries of Charity for trying to help the untouchables.

Would anyone here among us even look at any other viewpoints this candidate has? Hopefully we would have the guts to say to their face “there’s no way I would ever vote for you given your stand on the untouchables. If you want my vote, you had better start protecting their rights and the rights of those who are trying to help them.”

Do you think Jesus is indifferent when Indian citizens blindly look the other way and vote these people into office? Is Jesus unfazed that the majority of Hindus do nothing to help these people and have no qualms of conscience over it?

Is Our Lord indifferent when American citizens and Catholics do the same regarding abortion?

On this respect life Sunday, may God help us all to take the beam out of our own eye, so that we can see clearly to help take the sliver that will be left out of the eye of our neighbors.



ROME, India, Sep. 28, 2004 (CNA ) – The state of Kerala in southern India was the scene Sunday of a new attack on Catholics. This time, the victims were sisters from Mother Teresa’’s Missionaries of Charity, who were beaten while they were serving food to the poor.

According to “”The Hindu”” newspaper, the nuns were assaulted with rods by Hindu extremists and warned not to enter the local villages.

Four nuns, three brothers and two drivers from the congregation were treated for wounds to the head. At present police have rounded up 14 Hindus involved in the attacks.

The EFE news agency reported that the attacks took place in Kerala’’s Kozhikode district, first when the sisters attempted to distribute food to “”untouchables,”” and second when the regional superior of the order arrived with seven other nuns to see what had occurred.
Some fifty individuals, carrying signs in support of extremist Hindu political parties, attacked the sisters and their companions.

Regional police chief Arvind Ranjan said, “”These are very serious acts,”” and he assured that police are investigating those responsible for the assaults.
Hindu extremists are responsible for a number of attacks and threats against Christians in different regions of India. They accuse the Missionaries of Charity of converting lower caste Hindus to Christianity. Some regions have passed laws prohibiting Hindus from converting to other faiths.

Nevertheless, the Missionaries of Charity have denied they are engaging in proselytism. They tend to “”Hindus, Muslims and Christians,”” without requiring that anybody convert to Catholicism.

Energetic condemnation
The Fides news agency published the official reaction of the Bishops Conference of India. “”We strongly condemn the attacks against the Missionaries of Charity which took place yesterday in Kerala. We are very concerned about the worsening of Hindu fundamentalist groups who seek a political role,”” said Fr. Babu Joseph Karakombil, spokesman for the Conference.

Fr. Karakombil added, “”We have received the solidarity expressed by civil organizations and institutions, and by numerous Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist religious groups.””