Perspectief 2018-41

Perspectief 60 The Rishi People and the Catholic Church 1 An historical perspective Sergio Targa sj. I feel honoured to have the chance to talk about the Rishi people of Bangladesh. As a matter of fact, I am proud that most of my close Bangladeshi friends are Rishi, and proudly so. I do believe that the Rishi, who are depreciatively known in Bangladesh as Muchi, are an extraordinary people who managed to survive despite centuries if not millennia of oppression and slavery. A minority within a minor- ity, the Rishi remain a marginalised group in today’s Bangladesh as well. Identified as an untouchable group because of their traditional dealings with dead cows and their hides, the Rishi people belong to the fifth caste, the one which does not exist, according to the Manava Dharma Shastra. 2 And in fact their existence has been denied and ostracised. Their being human beings have been consistently hidden beneath the hypocrisy of a caste system thought out and con- ceived of as a divine institution. The Manava Dharma Shastra speaks of all so called untouchable groups, in the following way: But the dwellings of 'Fierce' Untouchables and 'Dog-cookers' should be outside the village; they must use discarded bowls, and dogs and donkeys should be their wealth. Their clothing should be the clothes of the dead, and their food should be in broken dishes; their ornaments should be made of black iron, and they should wander constantly. A man who carries out his duties should not seek contact with them; they should do business with one another and marry with those who are like them. Their food, dependent upon others, should be given to them in a broken dish, and they should not walk about in villages and cities at night. They may move about by day to do their work, recognizable by distinctive marks in accordance with the king's decrees; and they should carry out the corpses of people who have no rela- tives... 3