Carrying Dalit Christians Cross?
TO corrupt George Orwell’s famous aphorism: “all Indian Christians are equal, but some are more equal than others”. By embracing Christianity, the Dalits have not found themselves emancipated from economic and social inequalities. Conversions have neither offered the Dalits a way of escape from the bondage of caste nor have they fostered the social transformationof the Dalit Christians. They still live under the same conditions of discrimination, exploitation and oppression.
By embracing Christianity the Dalits have not found themselves Emancipated from economic and social inequities. On the other hand they even find themselves to be victims of double discrimination in their new religion.
The Church has sinned more than others in perpetuating social injustices against Dalit Christians. Casteism is rampant in the Church. Caste discrimination takes many forms among Indian Christians In rural areas they cannot own or rent houses, however well-placed they may be. Separate places are marked out for them in the parish churches and burial grounds.
Inter-caste marriages are frowned upon and caste tags are still appended to the Christian names of high caste people. Casteism is rampant among the clergy and the religious. For example, it is known that less than 4 percent of the Catholic parishes are entrusted to Dalit priests in South India itself..
Charity begins at home. But, the home (Church) where it begins, the Dalits Christians do not belong. According to a study, all the landed properties of churches in India put together, the church is the second biggest landlord in the country, next only to the Government. In addition, the Church institutions and Church or Christians-led NGOs receive foreign financial support amounting to over Rs. 2500 crores per year. There is no transparency with regard to these funds as well the massive income accruing from the elite schools, colleges and hospitals and also shopping complexes built all over the major cities in the country. The poor Dalit Christian does not even get the crumbs, leave alone participation in Church matters.
The Indian Church leaders – be it Catholic, Protestant or the ‘born-agains’- have miserably failed to take care of the 20-million Dalits converted to Christianity. Besides, indiscriminate conversions have ruined the spirit of Christianity into savagery. Christianity is a path paved with suffering and service. Christ said: “If any one wants to follow me, let him take up the Cross and follow me.” But, the Indian Church leaders want the Government to carry the Cross of Dalit Christians.
Indian Church leaders have “tamed the 20 million Dalit Christians and reduced them to eternal slaves of organised Church bodies. On the one hand, the Church demands reservation for Dalit Christians from the government while on the other, it opposes and refuses to provide them reservation in the Church structure.”
Thus, the Church’s call for re-distribution of national resources in favour of Dalit Christians will be heeded only when its own resources are re-allocated and used with a clear partiality for Dalits in its own fold.
The Church’s fearless stand for justice will no longer let it remain silent about the discrimination within the Church – a matter of shame to its members and an embarrassment to its friends.
Time has come for Dalit Christians to refuse to be used as cannon fodder or pawns in the hands of their so-called enlightened leaders who have grown fat and powerful and enjoy better standards of living and greater prestige than the poor and ordinary Dalit Christians. The eyes of these Dalit Christian warriors are turned westward even more than during the Pax Britannica, and they draw their inspiration not so much from the poverty, inequality and indignities faced by the Dalit Christians within the Church but from the next seminar in Geneva or other western capitals. There is a vested interest in keeping the Dalit Christians as they are in the Church.They shall always be with us so that their leaders can have a jolly good time sermonizing on the plight of these unfortunate ones!
Dalit Christians, comprising almost 80% of the Indian Christian population, should stand united and fight for their rights in the Church until they are equals in the Christian fraternity first before seeking equal treatment from the government. It would be futile to expect others to give them support with a real change of heart. This goal can be achieved by following intelligently Ambedkar’s exhortation: “educate, organize and agitate.
Lastly, Dalit Christians’ plight calls for a deeper analysis of the problem so that Christian leaders do not throw stones at the caste system prevailing in Hinduism or the Hindutva Brigade but look to something more meaningful and constructive.
Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue(BIRD)
e-mail: benjaminpn@hotmail. com
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