Known as the messiah and liberator of Bihar Dalits, Father Dr. Jose Kananaikil is no more. He was 83. He has been ailing from old age sickness for the past five years. The death came at 7.45PM, Friday Jan12. His body was laid to rest in XTTI Cemetery, Digha, Patna, on Sunday, Jan14. A large number of dalit leaders, social activists and leaders paid their last respect to their motivator and guide. Most Rev. William D’ Souza, And Provincial Superior Fr. Jose Vadasserry lead the funeral rites of Fr. Jose Kananaikal in the presence of a large gathering of people.
Fr. Jose belonged to the Patna Province of the Jesuit Missionary Society. As a sanyasi, he did not leave behind any natural family, but has driven to sorrow thousands and thousands of Dalits in Bihar, whose lives he empowered through the famous NGO, Bihar Dalit Vikas samiti (BDVS), which he founded in 1992 and directed till 2007. Founded on three basic principles – Dalit identity, Dalit unity, and Dalit development, BDVS was and continues to be an out committed organization for empowerment of Dalits. It was through BDVS that he organized lakhs of Dalits in Bihar, giving them education, self sustenance projects, social and political consciousness as equal citizens of India, enabling them to live with dignity and experience the power of citizenship.
Born in Kerala in 1936, he was educated till senior secondary level in his home district Trichur. Thereafter he felt a call to work in a Chrisitian mission in north India, and so joined the Jesuit Mission in Bihar in 1955. During his general and religious studies in Bihar, he came into close contact with Dalits in rural Bihar and experienced the pangs and pain of being the so-called ‘uncountable’. Thereafter, he decided to dedicate his life exclusively for the liberation and development of Dalits. To fulfill this desire, he chose to study about Dalits. After his ordination to priesthood in 1970, he did his post graduation and doctorate in Sociology from the University of Chicago, USA. He was appointed in 1987 to head the department of Dalits in the Jesuit-run national institute of research and publication, the Indian Social Institute, New Delhi.
While in Delhi, he kept visiting Bihar often and interacted with Dalit youth. Already in 1982, he had prepared a small band of Dalit youth who would work for the development of the Dalit community. Fr. Jose was a great motivator of these youth. His dream of a just society - a society in which the Dalits can live with justice, equality and dignity found immediate resonance in the youth who were feeling oppressed under the caste-ridden, feudal village system in Bihar.
Turning their aspiration for a better future, he started a movement for dalit empowerment following the three fold path of Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar – education, organization and struggle. It was to give organizational support to this movement that he founded the BVDS. He motivated the youth to establish grassroots Dalit organizations in Dalit hamlets across many districts in Bihar.
He organized massive Dalit convention called DALIT DIWAS, every year to celebrate Dalit dignity and assertion of their identity. Through these conventions the Dalits voiced publically their urgency to be liberated and to have equal rights and dignity.
He published “Ham Dalit” magazine from Indian Social Institute, New Delhi, to share the voice of Dalits with the general public. He led many campaigns across many districts in Bihar to ‘educate, organize, and struggle’ for dignity, rights and socio-economic development. One such campaign was jati todo, manav jodo’ (break caste humans).
He initiated many mass educational programs in many districts in Bihar to enhance educational attainment of Dalit children. He introduced the concept of thrift and micro-credit among Dalits as a means of economic empowerment. He imparted leadership training to a large number of Dalit youth who would lead the community in the path of socio-economic empowerment.
Not only the BDVS family, but also thousands of other Dalits in Bihar have lost a liberator. Indeed, Bihar has lost a leader of social liberation and development. But the fire he triggered in their hearts will continue to goad them to work for a more just and egalitarian Bihar society.