Discrimination Against the Dalit Christians

For the Dalit Christians, the first aim must be  to obtain from the Indian Government those basic  rights  that are owed to them under the Constitution. This is the first step to gaining  that minimum of economic freedom necessary for survival and reasonable progress in terms of equality  in society and in the church.      Dalit Christians must be able to earn a decent living in society, and to live in dignity within the church.

One of the State Commissions has pointed out that the Dalit Christians are  "twice discriminated against"  -   in society and in the church. This statement is true as far as it goes, but actually the Dalit Christians face  discrimination from multiple sources:


The Upper Caste Lay  Christians;


The Upper Caste Hindus;


The Dalit Hindus;


The State and Government;


The Clerical Authorities in the Church.

The caste system has penetrated deep into the Indian psyche.  There do exist some  honest individuals who do not practise discrimination by caste but there is hardly a section of society that is totally  free from this deplorable attitude.

While certain clerical authorities in the church have been remiss in this regard,  certain other authorities in the church have from time to time seen their way to raise a voice of   appeal and to condemn this denial of  rights to Dalits.  These appeals, however  ,have not been pressed with enough vigour and constancy to produce tangible results.  In many parts of the country, the Dalit faithful continue to be the victims of this baseless and irrational practice at the hands of their fellow Christians.

Even today Dalits are victims of being untouchable. It is the Indian expression of apartheid. Despite the Constitutional guarantee of abolishing untouchability, Dalits are victims of many violations. Bonded labour, child labour, prostitution and Devadasi (slave to god and men) come largely from Dalit communities. Dalits live in separate colonies, far away from the Caste Hindu localities. They do not have access to public wells to draw water or to public eating-places. Dalits have separate glasses for drinking tea or coffee at the village restaurants. They can not enter Hindu temples. Inter-caste marriages are forbidden both by religion and practice. Atrocities against Dalits, basically arise in the context of 'keeping Dalits' in their place within the social hierarchy, mediated by caste and untouchability.

The untouchability is the basis for atrocities and violence, denial of basic needs, land rights, legal discrimination, infringement of civil liberties, inferior or no people status, de-humanizing living and working conditions, impoverishment, malnourishment, bad health conditions, high levels of illiteracy and continuing social ostracism. 

Dalits are poor, deprived and socially backward. Poor means that they do not have access to enough food, health care, housing and/or clothing (which means that their physiological and safety needs are not fulfilled). They also do not have access to education and employment. With deprived we would like to underline the injustice they face in every days life. Officially, everybody in India has the same rights and duties, but the practice is different. Social backwardness, lack of access to food, education and health care keeps them in bondage of the upper castes. 

The oppression of Dalits has been going on for over 3000 years. They are segregated in all spheres of social life: places of worship, education, housing, land ownership, use of common wells, roads, busses, etc. They are the people who have to do the menial and degrading jobs. They are considered to be untouchable. In their daily life untouchability results in, among others, the following consequences (For more day to day examples also go through the press releases). 

In a lot of the upper caste (rich) families the servants are Dalits. After the servant has cleaned the rooms, pots and pans, one of the family members will sprinkle 'holy' water to purify all that has been touched by the servant. 
Dalits are not allowed to wear shoes; if they wear them, Dalits will have to take off their shoes at times they meet a higher caste person. 
In the rural areas, Dalits are not allowed to cycle through the village streets in which the higher caste people live. 
The Dalits mainly live in separate communities, outside the actual village. 
In general, Dalits are not allowed to sit at the bus stop; they have to stand and wait till upper caste people have entered the bus. Dalits are also not allowed to sit on the seats, even though they are vacant. 
After half a century of Independence even the educated among the Dalits are not free to get a house for rent of their choice to live in.
Most Hindus will avoid having a Dalit to prepare their food, because they fear becoming polluted.
The government has made reservations for Dalits, so that they can enter into jobs in the public sector, parliamentary State Assemblies and universities. This reservation, however, makes them even more vulnerable in the society. 
Mira Saroj: Daughter of a toddy tapper in Uttar Pradesh, she is enrolled at Delhi University but jumps in with manual labour at home when she is free from studies. 'Sadly, an educated Dalit women is almost a contradiction in terms', says Mira. (Outlook Magazine, November 16, 1998) 
'We may touch a cat, we may touch a dog, we may touch any other animal, but the touch of these human beings is pollution.' (G.K. Gokhale, in Jesus the Dalit by M.R. Arulraja, 1996. Volunteer Centre, 7-1-30/6, Ameerpet, Hyderabad - 16)