Sister Poonam belongs to the Congregation of Jesus, which was established by Mary Ward. She is part of a movement of consecrated people who are also social activists. In India 70 per cent of Catholics are Dalits. Nuns and priests "must be prophetic voices in the Church and society,” and raise awareness about the marginalised, identify leaders and educate them.
Buxur (AsiaNews) – "Working in Bihar for the liberation of Dalits, once known as untouchables, is an expression of deep faith in action,” said Sister Poonam, who spoke to AsiaNews about her work on behalf of this group.
A member of the Congregation of Jesus (CJ), an order founded in the 17th century by the Venerable Mary Ward, Sr Poonam has worked together with priests and other nuns in the Indian state to help Dalits, who are still victims of various forms of discrimination.
"As in many parts of India, Dalits face different types of social, economic and political ostracisation and discrimination in Bihar. We are committed to helping these people to live a dignified life," she said.
The nun is a member of the Forum of Religious Women and Men for Justice and Peace, a movement of consecrated people who are also social activists working in solidarity with the poor.
The Forum brings together people to increase solidarity, extend mutual support, and renew the spiritual, moral and intellectual resources of people in need so that they can be a stimulus for Church and society.
In India, caste divisions (brahmins, warriors, merchants, farmers, outcasts) continue to permeate society despite their abolition under the country’s constitution. The Church too has forms of exclusion, which is why the bishops launched an action plan last year to improve the conditions of Dalits (70 per cent of India’s 27 million Catholics).
“Nun and priest activists are striving to be prophetic voices in the Church and society,” Sr Poonam said. “The Gospel itself invites us to respond to the growing dehumanisation and degradation of creation.”
“We are dedicated to the struggle of the poor and of those who are exploited in order to inspire them and create the path for the awakening of their minds and promote their liberation. In particular, we promote human rights and a dignified life for women, Dalits, tribal people, and children." Thus, "we stimulate a radical understanding of the Gospel and Church doctrine."
For the nun, the best way to raise awareness is to start with the education of the marginalised. "We identify local leaders and educate them,” she explained. “We help them organise and empower them, setting up committees for health, welfare, supervision, consumer protection and control of the prisons."
One way to express the desire for change is protest. "The anguish and frustration of communities left on the edges of society take the form of protest, especially when dominant castes use the caste hierarchy in power structures that continue to deny Dalit rights."
"We support our fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the Constitution, which the ruling classes oppose through various atrocities. Perhaps the only way to control these atrocities is through protest.”
Finally, for Sr Poonam, “Anger at what is happening and the desire to be on the side of the victims pushes people like me to join this struggle."