JESUIT CHENNAI MISSION is a recent initiative of the Jesuit Madurai Province, Tamilnadu State, India.
In the last decade, Tamilnadu State in India witnessed the upsurge of Dalits and Dalit Christians who have been pushed down to the lowest rung of the caste-based, stratified Indian society from time immemorial. Their struggle was against the evil practice of untouchability and caste-discrimination to which they were subjected in the Indian civil society and in the Church and to win back their deprived human dignity and rights. The people’s movement to break free from the centuries-old subordination and cycle of deprivation was indeed a moment of grace and conversion for the Madurai Jesuit Province, which after a serious introspection and soul searching about its own role and involvement in the historical injustice and discrimination against Dalits in its ministries, made a special option to reorient its mission to be at the service of the empowerment and liberation of Dalits. This was possible because the Madurai Jesuit Province had already made an attempt to organize its life and ministries in line with the option for the poor under the inspiration of General Congregation 32 that had concretized the mission of the Society of Jesus as service of Faith and promotion of Justice.
Hence, the general backwardness of the northern districts of Tamilnadu, coupled with the high concentration of Dalits and the lack of Jesuit presence there which was once a fertile field of evangelization by great Jesuit missionaries like St. John de Britto and other distinguished fathers of the old Madurai Mission, prompted the Madurai Province Congregation in 1993 to request Fr. General to initiate procedures to create a dependent region from the present Madurai Province in the northern part of Tamilnadu. Fr. General directed the Province to make a feasibility study of the question and promised to consider the proposal in the light of the feasibility study report.
A nine member Committee under the leadership of Fr. John Lourdu was appointed in September 1995 to make the feasibility study. The committee made an in-depth socio-economic study of the northern districts in Tamilnadu and Chittore district in Andhra Pradesh. The names of the districts, which came under this study, are listed below.
1. Kancheepuram – Tiruvallur
6. Pondicherry-Union Territory
11. Chittore(Andhra Pradesh)
12. Chennai City
The committee completed its task in early 1997. The Committee was convinced of the urgency of the need of Jesuit involvement in the integral development of Northern Tamilnadu
2. The Salient Features of Tamilnadu North Region
The total area of this region is 67720 Square Kilomiles and has a population of 28365365, which is 50.76% of the total population of Tamilnadu.
In almost all the northern districts male population tends to be higher than the female population at least by 1%.
While the % of Dalit population in the whole of Tamilnadu is 19.17, it is 22% in the northern districts. Actually 55% of the Dalit population in Tamilnadu lives in this region. The percentage of Dalit population is 26 in Kancheepuram district, 27 in Cuddalore district, and 30 each in Villupuram and Nilgiris.
Northern districts like Salem, Tiruvannamalai, Cuddalore and Nilgiris have a sizeable population of Scheduled Tribes.
The general literacy rate in Tamilnadu is 63.72%. However it is only 54.3 in the northern districts where the female literacy rate is generally 20 % lower than the male literacy rate. It is 25% lower than male literacy rate in Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri and Salem. The all Tamilnadu literacy rates of Dalits and Dalit women are 39.47% and 29.50 respectively. Since the general literacy rate is down by 10 % in the northern districts, the literacy rates of dalit men and women are bound to be lower in this region.
81.58 % of the dalit population and 87.10% of the Tribal population are agricultural labourers.
The catholic population in the northern region is 1.3 million, which is 40.86% out of the total catholic population of Tamilnadu (3.18 million). 70 to 75% of the Catholic population in the northern region is said to be dalit Catholics.
The field study, which was part of the Feasibility Study, revealed the following facts:
The average family income per month was less than Rs. 2000
Almost 80% have no savings
More than 72% are indebted
Women have very low social status
Almost 80% of the ‘upper’ castes believe that caste discrimination is good, caste is a blessing and created by God and a ‘low’ caste person should not aspire toward equality.
Backward Development Blocks in the Northern Districts
Kancheepuram: Minjur, Uttiramerur, Chittamur, Lathoor, R.K.Pet, Pallipatu and Walajabad.
Vellore: Arcot, Arakkonam, Gudiatham, Madhanur, K.V. Kuppam, Perambut, Thiruppathur and Vellore
Cuddallore: Mangalore, Nallur, Keerappalayam, Annagramam, Bhuvanagiri and Kurinjipadi.
Villupuram: Kalrayan Hills (Vellimalai), Kallakurichi, Thiagaduragam, Rishvandiyam, Thirunavalur and Thirukkovilur.
Thiruvannamalai: Chengam, Cheyyar, Jawadi Hills, Keelpennathur, Pudupalayam and Thellar.
Pondicherry: Nettambakkam, Mannadipet, Bagur and Karaikkal.
Dharmapuri: Harur, Hosur, Uthangarai, Pappireddipatty, Thally, Thenganikottai.
Salem: Omallur, Ayodyapattanam, Thalaivasal, Kolli hills, Namagiripet and Erumaipatti.
Erode: Thalvadi, Bhavanisagar, T.N. Palayam, Chennimalai, Anthiyur and Uthukuli.
The Major Challenges in the North Region of Tamilnadu
A serious study of the the socio-economic and cultural situation of the northern districts shows that they are more backward than the southern districts and presents the following major challenges:
1. In the north Tamilnadu we come across a large section of people who are landless agricultural coolies and their economic condition is low. They do not have any subsidiary sources of income either.
2. Educationally there is a tendency to drop out of school, in higher classes and children are forced to work in the fields and industries.
3. Youth unemployment is high with limited opportunities for skill formation. This leads to youth unrest and migration. Income generating activities are also few.
4. The people of the lower income group remain unorganized. They do not participate in common activities like grama sabha and cooperatives. Hence they are exploited.
5. Benefits of government welfare schemes have not reached them.
6. The health, housing and sanitary condition of these people are low leading to common diseases.
7. Indebtedness is high. They borrow for consumer needs.
8. The status of women is low
9. A large population of tribals live in this area.
10. Caste discrimination is acute here and the Dalit Christians have the experience of being twice marginalized and discriminated against.
Profile of Dalits in Northern Part of Tamilnadu State,India
Every one hour, 2dalits are under attack
Every day, 3 dalit women are raped
Every day, 2 dalits are killed
Every day, 2 huts belonging to dalits are burnt
State Adidravidar Welfare Department, 2001
As many as 191 villages in Tamilnadu State are prone to atrocities against villages and untouchability crimes. The cases registered under the prevention of Atrocities Act, has also shown an increase in the past two years. While about 312 cases have been registered in the first four months this year, 996 cases were filed last year. The “dimension and locus” of caste clashes in the state is clearly changing. An analysis of the caste conflicts this year by the PCR wing showed that the caste menace which was prevalent mostly in southern districts, has spread across north Tamilnadu, particularly Cuddalore, Villupuram, Dharmapuri and Thiruvallur.
State Adidravidar Welfare Department, 2001