In early 1990s Jesuit Madurai Province opted for the dalits. A concrete expression of our option was spelt out by way of taking up the northern part of underdeveloped Tamilnadu, where there are more than 80% dalits live in a pitiable condition. Initally four rural dalit parishes namely Ongur, Malligapuram, Palliagaram and Pappanallur were entrusted to the Jesuits by Most Rev. Casimir Gnanadickam S.J. the then Archbishop of Madras Mylapore. The pastors, unswerving commitment to God and to His people had initiated the process of development for the new mission.
Back ground information:
Jeuits mission in Chengalpattu area dates back to time of st.John De Britto. In 1684, he writes to Father General about Uthiramerur, a small town near chengalpattu and the fruitful apostaolate of Jesuits in Madurai Mission. In 1700 the Jesuits in Carnatic mission take charge of this place and work here having puliyur, a small village near Uthiramerur, as the Centre. In 1711 two french Jesuits, Fr.Decurio and Fr.Motieu give witness to Christ by their life, whose cemetry is in Karuveppampoondi, near Uthiramerur.With the suppression of the society in 1773, Jesuit presence in this area declined. Centuries later, once again, in 1974, Jesuits began their apostolate near uthiramerur area taking up Ongur and Malligapuram parishes for socio-pastoral activities.
To the overall development of the Dalits- the opporessed and the marginalized group of people, multipronged strategies were envisaged and utilized. Now Chennai mission has got the first ever superior now the mission is spearheading with a master plan.
1. Formal education at Kuppayanallur village along with hostel facilites for both boys and girls.It is situated about 90 km south west of Chennai, near Uthiramerur town of Kancheepuram district,.
2. Various training programmes such as Leadership training, political awareness, awareness about human rights and social conscientization programmes for various groups at pathai centre, vallam, Chengalpattu;
3. Legal aids are provided in Dalit Human Resource centre at Chengalpet.
4. A Technical training centre for unemployed youth in Ranipet.
5. Evening study centres are run by the mission in more than 100 villages.
A scientic study reveals that more than 80% catholic population are Dalits in Chengalpet region. Dalits are landless poor, economically exploited and deprived, politically powerless, educationally backward, socially discriminated and excluded outcastes. They are the marginalised section of the Indian society and stratifed in the lowest rung in the ladder of social hierarchy. Dalits are the victims of dehumanising caste system and unjust social order and lead a miserable life. They are robbed of human dignity, personhood and self-identity. And in the catholic church the dalits are twice discriminated, with the predominiant clergy and religious belonging to higher casts. Dalits live with the stigma of untouchablity, which is based on the false belief system of purity and pollution and .
Formal education at Kuppayanallur
Loyola School is a rural co-education Tamil medium school run by the Jesuits preferentially for the education of the dalit children particularly of the four Jesuit parishes. But now the school caters to the children from more than 20 villages. The school has only a brief history of 11 years. But it has made an impression of excellence in education, sports and games and cultural activities in Civil district of Kancheepuram. The students bring out their extra-ordinary talents in sports and games, and cultural competitions.
Loyola school was upgraded from the parish primary school in Ongur, a close-by village, to a middle school, then a high school and finally to a Higher Secondary School. Our first batch of 59 SSLC Students wrote their public exam in 1997 and secured 71% pass, subsequently in the year 2007 the school records the highest 95.4% pass. Though the school is recognized by Tamilnadu government, the Government does not give grant. Hence we find it very difficult to pay the well qualified 33 staff members inclusive of 7 Jesuits and 3 office clerks. Today, there are about 770 children, who hail from in and around 20 villages. Almost 70 % of them are dalit students.
As explained earlier, the catholic dalits are twice discriminated in India. Just because they are catholics, Government of India denies the privileges and concessions which the non-christian Dalits enjoy. Hence, the catholic dalits suffer all sorts of caste atrocities and stigma, and yet loose all the privileges of government of India.
In order to concentrate on the education of the catholics, we have two separate hostels for boys and girls. In the girl\’s hostel, called Gracy Home, we have about 150 girls. In the boys Hostel called Loyola Illam we can maximum accomodate upto 100. Because of the quality education offered at a low cost, now there is a huge rush for the hostel. Yet, we have to turn down the request because of lack dormirtory in the hostel.
With the quality education being offered by the reputed Jesuits the number poor students come to the school. Though the number of the students in the schools increasing, we could not acommodate more boys in the hostel. Because we donot have enough space for accomodation of boys.
3. Good Samaritian Project:
Started 10 years back, Our Good Samaritian Project is part of our Loyola School. It is a sponsorship programme run by an agency in the U.S.A known as Christian Foundation for Children and Aging (CFCA). Today we have in all 230 destitute dalit boys and girls; 80 primary school children and 150 high school and Higher secondary school children.
The primary school children have a Home in Ongur and the High School children stay with the hostel children in Kuppayanallur. Each child gets Rs. 350 per month. In addition they get note books, school fees, school uniforms and special dress for Christmas. The project is a great help for the hapless children as well as for our institution.
We do not directly deal with CFCA; we have to go through our central office in Trichy, Ponmalaipatti, run by TMSSS.
4. Neighbourhood Ministry:
The staff of the school have been going out to the villages in the neighbourhood to conduct 22 supervised evening study centres for the past several years. It enables the students to benefit by the Jesuit education to some extent.
6. Job Oriented Courses:
In our rural area unemployment among X and XII passed youth and school dropouts is rampant. This situation created an urgent need to introduce some job oriented skills and courses for students such as two wheeler mechanic, tailoring, embroidery, type writing, drawing and painting, band and music.
To give more skill training courses and thorough formation, COMIDE, a Salesian agency in Brussells working in collaboration with the government of Belgium accepted our proposal to start new courses.
7. St. Arulanandar Community College:
Thus St.Arulanandar Community College in Loyola campus absorbed the already existing skills training and opened new courses like office automation, office assistant course, electrical and electronics and computer. These courses provide a lot of hope and confidence among the youth as they give better employment opportunities in export companies, industry and office administration. Several youth trained by the college are already employed and the institution also contacts companies for job placement.
8. Our Donors:
We acknowledge with gratitude that we have received substantial financial aid from donor agencies like Manos Unidas, Misereor / IGSSS / NEG, Caritas and COMIDE, and from several benefactors and benefactresses, mainly for constructing various buildings of our institution.
In spite of our several problems and difficulties, we go ahead cheerfully sharing our life with the underprivileged dalit people and work towards empowering them with knowledge and skill, to be able to live with human dignity and hope for a bright tomorrow.
We heavily lean on this rock, Loyola College, and the support we get is appreciated whole-heartedly.