Critical Podium Dewanand Christianity
Casteism in Christianity
Sacrifice code wfor0414
Sacrifice date 25 march 2009
Casteism in Christianity
Casteism has been an age-old curse in Hinduism. With the advent of the
Christian missionaries in India under the patronage from the British rule
in the eighteenth century, a new chapter of proselytisation began. The
missionaries were able to use this weakness in Hinduism to convert those
who were worst hit by the caste prejudice. These missionaries concentrated
their ?charity? work mainly in the tribal areas. They told the tribals
that they were not Hindus, that their indigenous culture and religion
was different from Hinduism. They taught them that Christianity, an alien
religion was their own; that Jesus Christ who was born and lived in the
Middle-East was also a ?dalit? like them and that Christianity was a religion
without the caste bias and offered them socio-economic equality. In their
desire to lead a life of respect, thousands of tribals got converted to
Christianity assuming that they had found an answer to the wretched caste
system in Hinduism.
Little did they know that conversion to Christianity would not redeem
them from social discrimination and untouchability, because though Jesus
never advocated the caste system, Christianity in India was not free from
the caste bias. Christian outfits which criticized Hinduism for its caste
system, practised discrimination based on casteism in their Churches.
In spite of the fact that around 75% of the Christians are ?dalits? who
got converted to Christianity to lose their caste or ?outcaste? tag, Dalit
Christians within the Church were discriminated against and were denied
powers within the ecclesiastical structure.
In the churches or places of worship, which were generally laid out in
the shape of a cross, the Christians of upper caste have always humiliated
their Dalit fellow Christians by occupying the central part of the church,
while the Dalits were assigned to the wings. The Dalits were to take communion
only after the upper caste people had done so. In some Protestant churches,
there were separate cups for the Dalits at the eucharistic celebration.
In the Catholic churches, there were separate communion rails, separate
cemeteries in Madras dioceses like Trichy and Pondicherry. Such practices
were also found in the Protestant churches.
In the Indian Catholic Church, both in the hierarchy and in the structure,
Dalit Christians have no place at all. 75% members of the Indian Christian
community are from dalit community but the 25% of the Upper caste Christians
(clergy, religious and laity) have complete control over the dalit or
untouchable Christians. Out of 156 Catholic bishops in India, 150 bishops
belong to the upper caste community. Only 6 bishops belong to dalit community.
Out of 12,500 Catholic priests, only 600 are from dalit community. In
a country where job opportunities are scarce and highly competitive, most
of the job opportunities within church-run educational and other institutions
go in favor of the upper caste people, acting in collusion with the clergy.
The share of job opportunities available to the upper castes, and the
influence they enjoy in church-related institutions, is grossly disproportionate
to their numbers. It is tragic that vocations to the priesthood and to
the religious life were not promoted among possible Dalit candidates.
That is why 75% of the clergy and religious in the Catholic Church come
from that 25% of the catholic population who are of the upper caste.
K.K Pudur village in Maduranthugam Taluk, Chegalpattu District , 60 kilometers
from Madras, has a Catholic population of 2500. Of these, 1500 are Dalit
Catholics. The rest of the catholic population belong to the Reddy and
the Naidu upper caste. For the past 200 years, these upper caste Christians
have oppressed the Dalit Christians by not giving them their due place
in the Church and in the graveyard. On 7 May 1994, there was a violent
clash between the two classes of Catholics at K.K. Pudu as they were preparing
for the celebration of the patron feast of their patron, Saint Joseph.
The case was filed with the police and eighty-four people from both factions
were jailed and the church stayed closed for six months.
Rev. John Duraisamy, an editor of Sarvaviyabi, a Tamil Weekly from the
archdiocese of Pondicherry-Cuddalore published two cartoons consecutively
on 4 & 11th July 1999. These cartoons were an insult to the 240 million
dalits or the untouchables of India. The Archbishop of Pondicherry who
belonged to the same caste as the editor, was silent on the matter.
Archbishop George Zur, Apostolic Pro-Nuncio to India said while inaugurating
the CBCI (Catholic Bishops Conference of India) in 1991:
?Though Catholics of the lower caste and tribes form 60 per cent of Church
membership they have no place in decision-making. Scheduled caste converts
are treated as lower caste not only by high caste Hindus but by high caste
Christians too. 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.
Though Dalit Christians make 65 per cent? of the 10 million Christians
in the South, less than 4 per cent of the parishes are entrusted to Dalit
priests. There are no Dalits among 13 Catholic Bishops of Tamilnadu or
among the Vicars-general and rectors of seminaries and directors of social
Logically, the term ?Dalit Christians? is self-contradictory. How can
a person be a ?Dalit? when he is a Christian; for Christianity does not
recognise the caste system which is an evil prevalent only in the Hindu
society. When a person gets converted, he is no longer a Hindu and thus
does not fall into any category of the caste hierarchy. But unfortunately,
in India we do have this category of people who got converted to Christianity
in the vain hope of leading a respectable life. Now while the progressive
Hindu society is fast changing and the dalits are increasingly gaining
respect in the society and the state patronage in the form of reservations,
economic concessions, allotment of land, etc. , the ?dalits? who got converted
do not get any such benefits in Christianity.
Conversion to Christianity has only added to the misery of the dalits.
Many Dalit Christian leaders refer to the twice-alienated situation of
the Dalit Christians in India, namely, discrimination within the Church
and discrimination by the State as they are denied Scheduled Caste status
in the Constitution, and the related privileges which come with that status.
It is high time that the dalits realised the true designs of the church
that has alienated them from their indigenous religion and culture, which
is very much a part of the myriad hues of Hinduism. The hypocrisy of the
Indian Church, which does not practice what it preaches, has been exposed.
The Dalit Christians are welcome back to the Hindu fold, to get back their
due share, where the society, which is in a reformative mode, and the
state are making the best efforts to redress the wrongs that have been
done by their predecessors.
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