CAST IDENTITY WITHIN THE CHURCH
There are 200 million dalits in India who form 20% of the total Indian population. These are the people whose very touch is considered polluting and who are treated as untouchables by upper caste.
Conversion to Christianity has not redeemed 19 million Dalit Christians from social discrimination and untouchability. It has only added to their misery. Conversion disqualifies a dalit Christian a whole lot of constitutionally guaranteed protection and privileges. The dalits accepted the new faith in Jesus Christ with some hope that they would regain their lost humanity and they would be considered as Gods children. But in reality, it is only a dream. As Christians, we continue to suffer and live all human misery both in the society and in the church.
The church in India is a dalit church, because 70% of Indias 25 million Christians are dalits. Although dalits form the majority in all these churches, yet their place and influence in these churches is minimal or even insignificant. Their presence is totally eclipsed by the power of the upper-caste Christians who are only 30% of the Christian population. This is all the more true in the case of the Catholic Church where such discrimination is strongly felt.
In the Catholic Church, the dalits form the majority, almost 70%: but it is the higher caste-people, only 30% of church population, who control the Church by pre-emptying the key position. The majority of the catholic bishops and clergy, the religious and lay leaders, come from the upper caste. One can say that this 30%, the upper caste, occupy the 90% of the administration and leadership of the church. Thus the dalits are pushed aside and reduced to insignificance in their own homeland. Today this trend has become a major matter for concern in the church and must be dealt with.
The Dalit Christians suffer
the same socio educational and economic disabilities like the Dalits of
the other faith. The change of Religion does not change their social,economical
and educational status. It is evident that the Dalit Christians are subject
to atrocities, violence and disabilities solely because they suffer the
sigma of the Untouchability. Most of the Dalits whether they are
the Hindus or the Christians, they often live together side by side,
while the other Caste people, the Hindus or the Christians live seperately.
Whenever there is any killing or violence, the Caste people do not
discriminate between the Hindus and the Christians. Even the
Caste Christians do not treat the Dalit Christians as equals .
Though the Dalit Christians undergo the same unjust Caste discrimination
as the other relogious Dalits, the Chrisitan dalits are deprived of the
privileges of protection of Civil Rights Act and Prevention of Atrocities
Christians, Twice Discriminated
For centuries the Dalit Christians have been carrying the burden of oppression in common with the other Dalits: but now the Indian Government has brought in a distinction between one kind of Dalit and another, offering one treatment to Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist and a different treatment to Dalits who are Christian or Muslim. The Indian Constitution grants to the President of India power to designate certain disadvantaged groups referred to as the 'Scheduled Castes', who are now to receive special rights to compensate for the disadvantages they have been suffering in the past. The Indian Government has refused to include Christian Dalits in this list of the Scheduled Castes, thus denying the Christians the basic rights that are owed to them under the Constitution. The fact that the Government has designated Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist Dalits among the Scheduled Castes, and refused to do the same for Christian Dalits, shows that Christian Dalits are being penalised specifically as Christians.
Every one in India knows that the fate of a Dalit is the same whether a person is Hindu or Christian or Buddhist or Muslim. In general, the social and economical condition of a Dalit Christian is in no way better than that of a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist Dalit. Every Indian with truly human feelings will acknowledge this fact beyond any doubt. But the Indian Government and some Hindu fundamentalists refuse to recognise the miserable condition of the Dalit Christians. The Christian churches in India have been fighting against this unfair discrimination since 1947, since the independance of our country. Many commissions appointed by the Government of India have studied the actual situation of Dalit Christians in society and have concluded that the Dalit Christians suffer the same economic and social disabilities as the other Dalits. The commissions have highlighted the fact that the Dalit Christians are 'twice discriminated', both by the State and by the Church. The commissions recommended that the Governement include the Dalit Christians in the Scheduled Caste list, but the Government of India has not taken these recommendations seriously. For the last fifteen years, the Christian communities have been appealing to the Governement to consider the issue of the Dalit Christians and to include th em in the Scheduled Caste list in order to restore their legitimate rights as assured by the Constitution. Many non-violent rallies, demonstrations and hunger strikes have been carried out to insist that the Government render justice. On different occasions, many delegations of different churches have met successive Presidents of India, Prime Minsiters and other politicians to plead on behalf of the Dalit Christians. All politicians acknowledge the fact that injustice is being inflicted on the Dalit Christians.
These politicians have made sweet- coated promises to the Dalit Christians in order to win their votes; but, once in power, they have turned their back. The Dalit Christians are still deprived of their rights for the sole reason that they practise Christianity, which is said to be a foreign religion. Another lame and fallacious excuse offered by the politicians is that there is no system of caste in Christianity, hence the Dalit Christians cannot be suffering caste discrimination.
Although the Constitution of India states clearly that India is a secular state and every person has a right to practise any faith, neverthless the Dalit Christians suffer discrimination because of their faith. So far the Governemnt of India has not listened to the legitmate cry of her own children. Now we have the new fundamentalist Hindu Government, the B.J.P, which has categorically stated that their Government will not extend to the Dalit Christians the constitutional rights of 'reservations' (compensatory privileges). They have told the Christians not to approach them with this request. This is the current situation of the Dalit Christians who now have only two options. On the one hand, they can go back to Hinduism as the Government of India would wish. This way, the Dalit Christians would regain all their basic and constitional rights but they would lose their Christian identity and their constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of worship. On the other hand, they can remain as Christians and continue to pay a terrible price for their faith, consoled only by their Christian hope of life and happiness with God in the world to come.