The founding father of Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti, Father Dr. Jose Kananaikil , died on Friday, January 12, 2008. He was 83. His body was laid to rest in XTTI Cemetery, Digha, Patna, on Sunday, Jan 14. A large number of Dalit leaders, social activists and members of civil society paid their last respects to their motivator and guide. The Archbishop of Patna, Most Rev. William D’ Souza, and Jesuit Provincial Superior Fr. Jose Vadasserry SJ lead the funeral rites of Fr. Jose Kananaikal in the presence of a large gathering of people.
The Dalits of Bihar hailed him as a protector and a ‘messiah’. José loved a really simple life, fighting for the rights of the Dalits. He identified himself with the suffering Dalit brothers and sisters and struggled to restore their dignity as human beings in an atmosphere heavy with discrimination and defeatism.
His loss is felt by the thousands of men and women from several hundred Dalit habitations spread over Bihar. He leaves behind his life’s work encapsulated within the Bihar Dalit Vikas Samiti (BDVS), which he founded in 1982 and directed till 2007. Founded on three basic principles – Dalit identity, Dalit unity, and Dalit development, BDVS was and continues to be an out and out committed organization for the empowerment of Dalits. Though he was hailed as the messiah of the Dalits, Jose lived a humble and committed life till the end. Jose could sit for hours and listen patiently to the struggles of his people.
Jose was born in Kundanoor in Kerala on 25th of May in 1934 in a devout catholic family of 5 brothers and two sisters. After passing the S.S.L.C. in 1951, Jose worked in some government jobs. Jose entered the Society of Jesus in 1955. He was ordained a priest in 1963. He did his M.A in Indian Philosophy and Religion in the University of Pune.
He joined the newly formed community of Navdeepti Sadan in Patna and also did his field work. His desire to work for the Dalits was very strong and though he lost all his hard-earned field work when he lost all the papers, (which fell from his motor cycle somewhere on the road) he never gave up. He did his M.A. in Sociology from the University of Chicago and also did his Ph.D. there in Sociology. On his return from USA, he joined the Indian Social Institute in New Delhi and served as the HOD, Programme for Scheduled Castes and Director of Publication for two decades. He started a Hindi magazine- ‘Hum Dalit’ a voice of the voiceless.
Then he founded the BIHAR DALIT VIKAS SAMITI in Barh in 1982 which really brought the thousands of Dalits in Bihar to unite and work for their own dignity. Many agencies took up helping Jose to make the organization a success. He started centres in various places in Bihar and opened up the leadership potentialities of the Dalits.
Jose retired from active participation in BDVS in 2007 and handed over the responsibility to others. Slowly his health also deteriorated and he moved to XTTI where he had been well looked after. Father Jose Kananaikil peacefully closed his eyes in death on Friday, the 12th of January at the new house called Xavier Bhawan on Digha-Ashiana road at 7.45 pm. He had been suffering for the last many years but the end was peaceful.
As a sanyasi, Jose did not leave behind any natural family, but has as his heirs thousands of Dalits in Bihar, whose lives he empowered. It is these Dalit brethren who, inspired by his memory will continue their united struggle for social justice and dignity.