Print edition : February 25, 2011

'Eppadium' (Anyhow), the most recent novel of Fr Mark Stephen. -

WIELDING the pen with power and determination to smash the injustice and discrimination against Dalit Christians and other oppressed masses is part of the priestly duties of Fr Mark Stephen.

When he was the parish priest of Ongur, a predominantly Dalit Christian village in the Chengalpattu diocese, during 1984-1990, he followed with utmost concern the humiliations meted out to the oppressed people by the upper castes within the Christian community in several villages. Close observation and evaluation of the situation prevailing in certain villages, including Thachur and K.K. Pudur, led him to conclude that the discriminatory practices could be curbed only by building a powerful mass movement. As one who had never concealed his sympathies for the downtrodden, he took part in the Dalit Christian Movement and supported the cause of the oppressed sections within the fold of Christianity.

His experiences in Ongur forced the writer in him to record the events in the form of a novel titled Yaathirai (Pilgrimage). He completed the work after his transfer from the village and it was published in 1992. The novel highlighted the paramount need for a people's movement to end the atrocities against Dalit Christians, such as denial of their rights in the administration of the church and in the conduct of festivals, and to a place in the cemetery to bury their dead.

In the epilogue, the author appeals to readers to decide for themselves on which side they should stand the oppressed or the oppressors.

Much ahead of Yaathirai, Fr Mark penned his first novel, Suvargal (Walls), focussing on the discrimination of Dalits even in burial grounds. The need to demolish the walls that divide the tombs of Dalit Christians and upper-caste Christians in cemeteries in different places, including Tiruchi, was the theme of the novel. The story was set in an imaginary village.

Eppadium (Anyhow) is his most recent work. The novel deals with the unpleasant situation prevailing in Vembar, a coastal village in Tuticorin district, where Christian populations belonging to Nadar, Paravar and Dalit castes run their own schools and administer separate parishes. Without hypocrisy, the author takes the bull by the horns. He narrates the insults heaped on Dalit Christians in the village through the denial of any role in the parish administration.

S. Dorairaj

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