Christian Dalits: Adopted but untouchable – T.C.G. Menon

Author Icon“The best way for dalit Christians is to return to their original religion of Hinduism and live as proud Hindus in their own right. We have overcome most of the discrepancies caused in our society by the Muslim invasions and British rule during the last sixty years. Since it is not the fault of Hinduism that dalits suffered discrimination in the past, it is time they studied and practiced Hinduism with an open mind.” – T.C.G. Menon

Christian missionary in IndiaIt is an irrefutable fact that Christian missionaries have been using all kinds of fraudulent means to convert the hapless dalits to Christianity, the purpose of which is to change the demography of India and bring it under foreign (read western) rule once again. Despite the tall claims of missionaries, Christianity has not redeemed some 20 million dalit Christians from social discrimination and untouchability. Infact, it has only added to their misery. Dalits were persuaded to accept faith in Jesus Christ in order to regain their purported ‘lost humanity’ and to be considered as ‘God’s children’. In reality, as Christians the dalits continue to live miserable lives in society and in the church.

The Church in India is a dalit Church, because 70% of India’s almost 25 million Christians are so-called dalits. Although they comprise the majority in all these Churches, their place and influence is minimal, 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. Initially, they were converted to Christianity with false promises and given sufficient amounts of money and household materials for their worldly comfort. Once they came fully under the control of the Church, the authorities stopped all facilities and began asking them to contribute money and service every month, as much as 10% of their total income.

Christian GraveyardPractically every church takes up some sort of collection during the service. This is known as “tithing”. In the Catholic Church, tithes are taken during Masses that take place on Holy Days of Obligation (every Sunday and Catholic holiday such as Christmas and Easter). You may be unsure about where the money goes or why people give in the first place.

If a family fails to give the prescribed amount to the Church, no church service will be done for the dead in that family, and they will not get a place for burial at the time of death. In every church, separate burial grounds are maintained, one for rich people and one for the poor. Rich Christians reserve a place in the burial ground by giving money and construct a tomb there. For poor, the dead are buried in the same place where another body was buried. If there is no place, the old dead body is dug out and thrown in an unused well in the church compound. This being the situation, it is ridiculous that Christians preach that Christians would ascend to heaven in their entire bodies, if they believe only in Jesus. This is a hoax played on the gullible laity.

Jan HusThe present predicament of dalits in India is complex and confusing, and the way forward in the dalit struggle is by no means clear. However, there are a few eye-openers for Christian dalits which are that conversion to Christianity has not really enhanced their lives in any significant way, despite hopes and promises to the contrary. Most Christian dalits thus have a dual social and psychological identity, Christian as well as dalit, and have to live with the tensions built into that dual identity. A second trend is an increasing assertion of dalit identity as a positive thing, a source of pride rather than of shame.

In this, they rightly challenge pervasive cultural norms. An expression of this assertiveness is dalit theology; another is a harsh critique of missionary and Indian Church leaders who, in their efforts to “Indianise” the Church, equate “Indian” culture with Brahmanic instead of dalit culture. One reason why dalit Christians resist efforts to “Indianize” the theology and liturgy of the Church is because they are fed up with the Brahmanic culture to escape which they converted in the first place! There are persistent efforts to “raise the caste issue” and exorcise the demon of caste discrimination (which is “legion” and takes many forms) within the Churches themselves. Until this is done, the Churches cannot embody much “good news” for their own dalit members, let alone for other dalits.

Goa InquisitionSome Christian dalits are staunch advocates of the dalit strategies described above and work hard to implement them. But there is no clear evidence that any strategy or combination of strategies is predominant so far. It does appear, however, that over the past two decades Christian dalits are working closely with other dalits to achieve common aims and objectives. Yet “Dalit Solidarity” is an end difficult to achieve. This is because ‘Dalit Solidarity’ is an impractical goal so long as they are led by the Church for which dalits are only pawns in a political power game.

When we study the history of Christianity we find that Christian missionaries have no hesitation in dealing callously with people who oppose them. Millions of innocent women and children were killed most cruelly in Europe and Africa in the name of witch-hunting when they refused to convert. The witch-hunts waxed and waned for nearly three centuries, with great variations in time and space. The rate of witch hunting varied dramatically throughout Europe, ranging from a high of 26,000 deaths in Germany to a low of 4 in Ireland.

Secular JesusHindu dalits converted and are still converting because they do not know the history of Christianity. It is high time they enlighten themselves with facts. No upper caste Hindus could have committed the kind of atrocities that Christians have inflicted on ‘non-believers’ all over the world. In India, not only have they converted Hindus to Christianity with all kinds of false promises, they have spread surreptitious hate campaigns against Hinduism, so much so that the converted ones have started hating their natal religion.

This has vitiated family relationships and social mores. Yet Christians want Hindus to respect their Christian faith with no intentions of reciprocating. Dalits must realize that they are better off as Hindus, rather than feel lost by adopting an alien faith which is only a political religion.

Dalit ChristiansDuring British rule, Indian industry and agriculture collapsed and large numbers became jobless. Simultaneously, the requirement of labourers for leather work, butchering, or removal of rubbish, animal carcasses, and human excreta increased considerably. Naturally people had to do all kinds of jobs to earn a living, including jobs considered unhygienic. Some orthodox Brahmins and so-called upper castes practised untouchability, probably because of the unhygienic nature of the jobs some people engaged in.

In those days, orthodoxy was so prevalent among the priestly clan, Brahmins that were freedom fighters from these families were not allowed to dine with other family members and also not allowed to enter the temples. An example is my father who was arrested and put in jail for writing an article against British rule. But after Independence, all restrictions were lifted and he is considered a hero. Whenever anyone raises the subject of untouchability in Hindu society, we should counter by asking why foreigners used gloves while working and eat food with cutlery – they consider it unhygienic to eat with bare hands! Similarly some Hindus may have felt revulsion at some unhygienic people. Foreigners used this to divide Hindus and convert them to Christianity.

Chithira Thirunal Balarama VarmaDr. Ambedkar is blindly adored by many people. We have always seen pictures of Ambedkar in western attire. Why did he not ‘Indianise’ himself? Other Indian leaders always wore Indian attire. This shows that Ambedkar had a soft corner for the British and blindly believed what the British dished out on Hinduism. If he was concerned with the condition of dalits, why didn’t he pressurize the British to convert the service latrines to septic tank system?

The first movement for the entry of so-called low castes into temples was started by three freedom fighters in Kerala under the leadership of Gandhi. My father worked as a coordinator and sent day-to-day news to Gandhi.  The Maharaja of Travancore signed the historic Temple Entry Proclamation on November 12, 1936.*

Dr. Ambedkar’s name was not heard at that time. He and Nehru together adopted the Constitution that was the brain-child of the British, which has created a lot of problems for the common man of India. Our Independence was actually only a ‘transfer of power’. No major changes were made in our Constitution to suit Indians.

Sri Narayana GuruSri Krishna said in the Bhagvad Gita: “Those whose wisdom has been carried away by various desires, being prompted by their own nature, worship other deities adopting rules relating to each.” – Chapter 7, Verse 20.

But for Bhagwan Sri Krishna every devotee is noble: “Whatever celestial form a devotee (craving for some worldly object) chooses to worship with reverence, I stabilize the faith of that particular devotee in that form. The fruit gained by these people of small understanding, however is perishable.”

This prophecy has come true in the case of Christian dalits. Initially they got many benefits, but lost all benefits over a period of time and their condition has become worse than that of those who remained in Hinduism. All converts should read the Bhagvad Gita and return to Hinduism. Sri Narayana Guru, Sri Ayyankali, Guru Ravidas et al were good Hindu spiritual leaders, even though they were born in dalit families.

The best way for dalit Christians is to return to their original religion of Hinduism and live as proud Hindus in their own right. We have overcome most of the discrepancies caused in our society by the Muslim invasions and British rule during the last sixty years. Since it is not the fault of Hinduism that dalits suffered discrimination in the past, it is time they studied and practised Hinduism with an open mind.

I conclude with some common instances of discrimination in the Churches:

  • Construction of two chapels, one for non-dalits and one for dalits;
  • In some parishes liturgical services are conducted separately;
  • Separate seating arrangements within the same chapel. Dalits are usually seated at the two aisles. Even if there are benches or chairs, dalits are required to be seated on the floor;
  • Separate cemeteries and separate hearses to carry the dead (Hindus have common ghats for burning the dead for  all castes);
  • Separate queues to ‘receive the sacred body of Christ’. In some places, dalits are required to receive communion only after the non-dalits (almost every mandir provides free food / ‘Annadanam’ as ‘prasadam’ to devotees irrespective of caste; they sit together in rows and partake the food; there is no separate counter for dalits for booking different offerings to the deities);
  • Dalit boys are not allowed to be altar boys and lectors at the sacred liturgy (some north Indian temples allow any devotee to enter the sanctum sanctorum to pray or offer pujas; in south Indian temples only the head priest and his assistant are allowed to do so);
  • Dalits are not invited to participate in the washing of feet ceremony on Maundy Thursday;
  • For fear of claims to equal participation in the celebration of the feast of the parish patron saint, Parish Councils decide not to collect financial contribution from dalits;
  • The feast of the village patron saint is celebrated separately. – Vijayvaani, 17 Sept. 2012

» T.C.G. Menon is retired from the Railways and actively supports Hindu causes. He can be contacted at tcgmenon@hotmail.com

* The Temple Entry Proclamation issued by Maharaja Shri Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma and his Dewan Sir C. P. Ramaswami Iyer in 1936 abolished the ban on low-caste people or avarnas from entering Hindu Temples in the state of Travancore (now part of Kerala, India).[1]

The edict is as follows:

“Profoundly convinced of the truth and validity of our religion, believing that it is based on divine guidance and on all-comprehending toleration, knowing that in its practice it has throughout the centuries, adapted itself to the needs of changing times, solicitous that none of our Hindu subjects should, by reason of birth or caste or community, be denied the consolation and the solace of the Hindu faith, we have decided and hereby declare, ordain and command that, subject to such rules and conditions as may be laid down and imposed by us for preserving their proper atmosphere and maintaining their rituals and observances, there should henceforth be no restriction placed on any Hindu by birth or religion on entering or worshipping at temples controlled by us and our Government.”

Today, the Temple Entry proclamation day is considered as social reformation day by the Government of Kerala. – from Wikipedia for Temple Entry Proclamation

3 Responses

  1. Mr Menon, your criticism of Dr Ambedkar is unwarranted and uncalled for. You need to read whole of Dr Ambedkar’s works to understand as to why he wore western attire. Please, do not jump to the conclusions from small things. We believe Dr Ambedkar more.

    • And we believe Dr Ambedkar less.

      Not only did he wear western attire, he reportedly was still in the pay of the British when he was made president of the Constitutional Assembly of India.

      According to Arun Shourie in Worshipping False Gods, Ambedkar contributed absolutely nothing to the Indian independence.

      And of course he married a brahmin woman in 1948.

      Why do Hindu-hating anti-caste leaders always marry brahmin women? E. V. Ramasamy Naicker also married a brahmin lady.

      Aren’t caste women good enough for these anti-brahmin caste leaders?

  2. A moving Proclamation from His Highness, and befitting the royal house of Travancore. It should be added here that Prince Rama Varma, the Carnatic musician who conducts an annual festival for his ancestor, the famed Swathithirunal, the composer maharahaja, is also something of a social activist. A few years ago he brought the female singer Parasala Ponnamma to sing at the Navaratri festival.

    He thus broke a 300 year old tradition where women were not allowed to either perform or be present at the festival grounds of the palace.

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