Fr. Antony Raj was born into a poor Dalit family in Meenthulli, Tirunvelveli District. He studied at Manapad and Palayamkottai before joining the Society in 1963. In the light of his own experience of discrimination, he wanted to know the Dalit people’s predicament. He did sociology at St. Xavier’s College, Trivandrum, and later went on to do his doctoral studies at Loyola University, Chicago, USA.
Returning to the Province in 1987, he started working from IDEAS, Madurai, and to enable the Dalits to fight for their rights, he founded the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement (DCLM) in the 1990s which grew into a powerful instrument able to fight for the dignity and equality of the Dalits within the church. Opposition grew, especially from the hierarchy, and he had to move from IDEAS to Vilangudi, then to Perungudi and finally settle down in the present Mandela Nagar, Madurai, in 1999 where he built Dr. Ambedkar Cultural Academy (DACA). Feeling for the poor Dalit girls with nothing much to eat at home, he started Vidivelli Girls’ Home for school-going girls. His Self-Help Group project has been educating the villagers in awareness, human rights, and possibilities of starting small businesses. He registered Jesuit Madurai Downtrodden People’s Welfare Trust (MJDPWT) and carried out all these good works. He also served as Chairman of the Central Board for Workers’ Education, Ministry of Labor, and Adviser to the Adi Dravida Welfare Department, Government of Tamil Nadu. Whenever there was a problem or threat to the Dalit and the oppressed communities he was there to stand with them and fight for their rights.
On May 3rd, he was admitted in the COVID ICU of Vadamalayan Hospital, Madurai, where he passed away on May 10th. His mortal remains were laid to rest in front of the DACA main building facing the statue of Dr. Ambedkar. May his liberated soul now rest in peace.
Francis P. Xavier, SJ