A Brief Look at the Indian Polity

April 10, 2014

India, officially the Republic of India, is the seventh largest country by area, second most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the largest democracy in the world. It is a federal constitutional republic, governed under a parliamentary system, consisting of 28 States and 7 Union Territories.

Parliamentary system of Government

India has a parliamentary form of government. In this form of government the Parliament is the most important organ. People elect their representatives to be members of the Parliament and these representatives legislate and control the executive on behalf of the people.

The Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament i.e. Lok Sabha. They remain at the helm of affairs so long as they enjoy the confidence of Lok Sabha. Lok Sabha may dislodge them from power by expressing a no confidence against the Prime Minister and his Council of Ministers. Thus, Parliament occupies a central position in the parliamentary system.

Composition of the Parliament

The Constitution of India, which came into force on 26th January 1950, provides for a bicameral Parliament consisting of Rajya Sabha, also known as upper House or the Council of States, and Lok Sabha, also known as Lower House or the House of the People.

The President of India is an integral part of the Parliament, although he is not a member of either House. As an integral part of the Parliament, the President has been assigned certain powers and functions.

The President of India

The President of India is elected by an electoral college consisting of the elected members of both Houses of Parliament and the elected members of the Legislative Assemblies (Popular Houses) of the States. Though the President is a constituent part of Parliament, he does not sit or participate in the discussions in either of the two Houses. There are certain constitutional functions which he has to perform with respect to Parliament. The President summons and prorogues the two Houses from time to time. He/she also has the power to dissolve the Lok Sabha. His/her assent is essential for a Bill passed by both Houses of Parliament. When the Parliament is not in Session and he is satisfied that circumstances exist which render it necessary for him to take immediate action, the President can promulgate Ordinances having the same force and effect as laws passed by Parliament.

Rajya Sabha

The Rajya Sabha is to consist of not more than 250 members. Of these, 12 are nominated by the President on the basis of their excellence in literature, science, art and social service. The remaining seats are allocated to the various States and Union Territories, roughly in proportion to their population. 

The representatives of each State are elected by the elected members of the Legislative Assembly of the State in accordance with the system of proportional representation by means of single transferable vote. The minimum age for membership of Rajya Sabha is 30 years.

Every member of Rajya Sabha enjoys a safe tenure of six years. One-third of its members retire after every two years. This ensures continuance of the House. Rajya Sabha is not subject to dissolution. 

The Vice-President of India is the ex-officio of the Rajya Sabha. He/she presides over its meetings. In his/her absence the Deputy Chairman, who is elected by its members from amongst themselves, presides over the meeting of the House.

Lok Sabha

Unlike Rajya Sabha, Lok Sabha is not a permanent body. It is the body of representatives of the people elected on the basis of adult suffrage (all Indian citizens of 18 years of age and above are eligible to vote). The maximum strength of the House envisaged by the Constitution is 552, out of which 530 members are directly elected from the States, while 20 members are elected from the Union Territories, and not more than two members of the Anglo-Indian community may be nominated by the President of India if, in his/her opinion, that community is not adequately represented in the House.

A certain number of seats have been reserved for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in the Lok Sabha. Some constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes and only persons belonging to these communities can contest from these reserved constituencies. However, all the voters of the reserved constituency vote irrespective of their caste/tribe.

The total elective membership of the House is distributed among the States in such a way that the ratio between the number of seats allotted to each State and the population of the State is, so far as practicable, the same for all States. The representatives are elected for a period of 5 years, and their qualifying age is 25 years.

The presiding officer of the Lok Sabha is known as Speaker, who is elected by the members of the House. In his/her absence, a Deputy Speaker, who is also elected by the members of the House, presides over the meetings.

Functions of the Parliament

The main function of both the Houses is to make laws. Every Bill (Draft of the law to be passed) has to be passed by both the Houses and assented to by the President of India before it becomes law. The subjects over which Parliament can legislate are the subjects mentioned under the Union List in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution of India. These subjects are: Defence, Foreign Affairs, Railways, Transport and Communications, Currency and Coinage, Banking, Income Tax, Customs, Excise Duties, Atomic Energy, Census etc.

Besides passing laws, Parliament safeguards interests of citizens and exercise control over administration through resolutions, questions addressed by members to Ministers, and motions of adjournment.

The Parliament has three sessions every year:

  • Budget session: February to May
  • Monsoon session: July to September
  • Winter session: November to December

Multi Party System

For a long time now, governance through coalition of several political parties has more or less become the order of the day. In the current (15th) Lok Sabha, forty political parties have their presence. The present ruling Coalition (United Progressive Alliance or UPA) consists of 11 political parties and is supported from outside by 9 parties (these parties are not part of the coalition, but extended support to the UPA government). The major party in this Coalition is the Congress Party.  

The main opposition in the Parliament is also a coalition of political parties called National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The major political party of this Coalition is Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Some political parties did not join either of these Coalitions.

Lok Sabha Elections 2014

Lok Sabha elections have already started. Anxiety has also gripped various groups of people -  from ordinary citizens to business community. The choice available from the two biggest national parties – Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – seems to be more globalization or more globalization.

The economic reforms initiated by the Congress government in the 1990s have been carried on by the successive governments. The emphasis of these governments is not on redistribution of the country’s wealth among its citizens or their genuine empowerment via common ownership of production, but on the opposite – recovery of “the economy”, which means positioning international funds and corporations to exploit markets and extract profit the best way they can. The government policies are facilitating corporate takeovers of food, agriculture, resources, land, public infrastructure and water. In the name of “development” successive governments have abused and forcefully removed some of the nation’s poorest people from their own lands in order to give them to private investors. So “development” means displacement of the owners of the land, and giving this land to profiteering companies linked with resource extraction and processing. Parts of agriculture have already been placed in the hands of powerful agribusiness companies. The effects include seed patenting and seed monopolies, increasing levels of cancer due to contamination, destruction of rural economies, farmer suicides and water run offs from depleted soil leading to climate change and severe water resource depletion. In the mainstream media and among many leading politicians and economists, this constitutes growth and development. But it is neither. It’s plunder. Such government policies have culminated in disempowerment and increasing hardship of masses and the concentration of ever more wealth and power in the hands of the relative few. 

However, neoliberal policies and privatization have resulted in massive corruption (Eg. CWG and 2G scams), as politicians and bureaucrats received kickbacks from the corporate they favoured. In other cases, even if there were no kickbacks, lack of adequate regulation allowed corporate to make windfall profits, while public sector banks have offered them generous loans.

The corruption and corporate plunder under the present UPA government are more widely recognized. Today the new corporate-backed superman of “good governance” is supposed to be Narendra Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat. Let’s examine the claims being made on behalf of Gujarat under Modi by those who are suggesting that Modi-fying India is panacea for all the ills of the corruption and failures of the Congress regime.

Modi’s party, the Hindu nationalist BJP, promoted the phrase “India shining” in 2004 in an attempt to hoodwink the electorate that all was well in India as a result of its neoliberal economic policies. That electioneering slogan was as bogus as the “Gujarat shining”, given that Modi’s record on development in Gujarat is not all it appears to be.

Gujarat’s neoliberal development model has displayed all the distressing effects on people’s lives and the economy that has been felt in the rest of the country.

On the count of economic growth rate, Gujarat in the past five years was outstripped by Maharashtra, Haryana, Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Odisha. In terms of per capita income, in 2011, Gujarat ranked 6th among major states, and has higher per capita debt than Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The State’s debt increased from Rs. 45,301 crore in 2002 to Rs. 1,38,978 crore in 2013. NSSO data shows growth in employment for the period 1993-94 to 2004-05 was 2.69 percentage per annum, whereas for 2004-05 to 2009-10 it came down to zero. In 2011 Gujarat ranked 11th in the Human Development Index. When it came to crucial indicators like education and health, Gujarat has witnessed a decline in ranking to 9th and 10th positions respectively in a group of 19 major states. In the Global Hunger Index, Gujarat is part of the bottom 5 states in India. 80% of children below 4 years and 60% of pregnant women are anaemic in Gujarat.

Regarding corruption and corporate plunder, a CAG audit reveals that Modi’s government has done in Gujarat what Manmohan Singh’s did at the Center: extending undue benefits to corporations at huge costs to the public exchequer and loss of livelihoods.

So the “Modi model” is no different in its economic essentials from that of the Manmohan Singh’s model.

The corporations’ preference for the Modi model, argues Atul Sood in his book “Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat”, rests on his authoritarianism. We could qualify this to say that the Modi “magic” lies precisely in the mix of pro-corporate policies, authoritarian governance, and “consent” manufactured on a communal plank. It is this mixture that is specific form of communal-corporate fascism represented by Modi.

Conclusion

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, said, “Let me be frank: in the past, economists have underestimated the importance of inequality. They have focused on economic growth, on the size of the pie rather than its distribution. Today, we are more keenly aware of the damage done by inequality. Put simply, a severely skewed income distribution harms the pace and sustainability of growth over the longer term. It leads to an economy of exclusion, and a wasteland of discarded potential.”

Cesar Chavez, co-founder of National Farm Workers’ Association, US, said, “History will judge societies and governments – and their institutions – not by how big they are or how well they serve rich and powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.”          

 

Sources

Colin Todhunter, “Globalisation: A Vote In 2014 Will Be A Vote For India?” http://www.countercurrents.org/todhunter031013.htm

Devesh Kapur and Pratap Bhanu Mehta, “The Indian Parliament as an Institution of Accountability,” Democracy, Governance and Human Rights Programme Paper Number 23, January 2006, United Nations Research Institute For Social Development.

Kavita Krishnan, “Towards Lok Sabha 2014: Putting the Concerns of People’s Movements Back in the Frame.” http://www.countercurrents.org/krishnan240713.htm

Rohoni Hensman, “The Gujarat Model of Development; What Would It Do to the Indian Economy?” http://www.countercurrents.org/rh190314.htm

Sangma, P.A. “Functioning of Parliamentary Democracy in India.”

Yogendra Narain, An Introduction to Parliament of India, New Delhi: Rajya Sabha Secretariat, 2007.

“My conversation with a “Born Again Caste Believer”” by Rev. Dr. Prasuna

March 23, 2014

I found a profile of a man on Christian Matrimonial. His profile in brief:
Name:……Age…….Education…..Division: Nadar, Religion: Born Again
Place……Phone Number….

I called him and gave a profile of my friend and I asked him to call me back if he is interested in my friend’s profile.

He called me and said he is interested. His questions and my answers:

1.     How does she look like? Bulky, thin?

Ans: She is good looking

2.     Is she born again?

Ans: We don’t emphasize much on this aspect (Of course we need to), but she is a good Christian. 

3.     What division she belongs to?

Ans: (Got irritated)Adi Dravida Christian

 

His response immediately, you know….um….um…you said she is not a born again…..um… I will call you again.

I said okay bye.

 

After much stress and struggle within me, I called him back. I asked him (don’t know him personally, so it was easy):
1. Brother, want to talk to you, you said you are a BORN AGAIN?

Ans: Yes

2. That means you are a STRONG Christian?

Ans: Yes.

3.     But sorry to say, your profile does not convey that you are a Christian?

Ans: I have given that in the explanation below.

4.     Sorry brother, your first impression did not convey your religion!

5. You said, you are a BORN AGAIN? What do you mean by DIVISION?

Ans: You know….um….um…people sometimes…..

 

I said, “Brother, in Christ there is no division as such born again but you emphasize on division…..!. Think over it my brother.” Then I disconnected my mobile.

 

This happened a few days ago. People need to be BORN AGAIN from the SIN of CASTE surely!

Dalit Christians – The Victims of Casteism

March 14, 2014

Casteism has become pervasive in the Indian society and also in Christian churches and organisations. It has entered into the marrow and bones of a sizeable number of people, irrespective of their socio-economic and educational status and religious affiliation.

I. What is Casteism?

Casteism means prejudice or discrimination based on caste. It is a loyalty to one’s caste. In general, it may be defined as a phenomenon by virtue of which persons belonging to a certain caste group are either discriminated against or shown favour regardless of their merits and demerits, just on the basis of their caste.

Casteism exhibits a number of characteristics such as:

  1. Casteism signifies blind caste or sub-caste loyalty. It either ignores or does not care for the interests of other castes.
  2. For a casteist person “My caste man/woman and my caste only” is the principle.
  3. Casteism goes against the spirit of democracy.
  4. Casteism submits or subordinates one’s sense of justice, fair play and humanity to the interests of his/her own caste.
  5. Casteism creates caste solidarity to the extent that: a. one caste seeks to dominate over others; b. higher castes exploit the lower castes.

Factors that contribute to the growth and spread of casteism

  1. Sense of caste prestige

Sense of caste prestige constitutes an important cause of casteism. People belonging to a particular caste try to enhance the prestige of their caste. In so doing they do not hesitate to employ undesirable and harmful methods. 

  1. Endogamy

Endogamy signifies marriage within one’s own caste. Since people practice endogamy, it is quite natural that they develop a deep sense of belonging to one another within the same caste. This obviously promotes casteism.

  1. Urbanisation

Due to urbanization, people migrate from rural areas to urban areas in search of employment. There they encounter an impersonal world and feel insecure. This insecurity drives them to stay in a cluster formed on the basis of caste. They form associations through which they protect their caste interests. All these lead to casteism.

  1. Social distance

Social relations of individuals are conditioned by one’s caste norms and values. Social distance between castes is maintained through restrictions of inter-caste marriage, inter-dining etc.

II. The Impact of Casteism on Dalits

Caste, an age old social hierarchy, enjoys sanction of Hindu religion. It stratifies and discriminates more than 20 crore Dalits in India. The purity and pollution concept, based on Varna theory and geared up by four fold creation theory of Hinduism – as defined in Rig Veda[1] – bred casteism and untouchability that dehumanises Dalits to undergo social exclusion, occupational segregation, economic and political power deprivation.[2] The Varnashramadharma formulates where Dalits should reside, their occupation, access to resources and powers, whom to marry and where to be buried. It denies Dalits the right to touch and to be touched and forces to remain as “untouchables”[3], to live mainly as manual scavengers, sweepers, gutter/drainage cleaners, cobblers, cremators, drum beaters for the funerals of dominant castes.[4]

Thus, Dalits are the deprived, dispossessed and dehumanised section of Indian society. They are deprived of human dignity and rights and privileges that are being enjoyed by nonDalits, dispossessed of access to and control over resources, and dehumanised by being outcasted and made untouchables. Further, in terms of culture, Dalits are also deprived of their own way of thinking, behaving and living. The perception about themselves and the society is imposed upon them by the dominant castes.

It is this individual and collective social and historical experience of exclusion, oppression and exploitation which stimulates Dalit movements and also Dalit discourses.

A. Socio-Economic Condition of Dalits

Casteism creates barriers for the upward social mobility of Dalits by depriving them of education, property and power. Caste system is not just a religious system, but also a socio-economic system much worse than slavery. Ambedkar mentions six principles of caste system:

  1. Graded inequality between different castes;
  2. Complete disarmament of the Shudras and the Untouchables;
  3. Complete ban on the education of the Shudras and the Untouchables;
  4. Total exclusion of the Shudras and the Untouchables from places of power;
  5. Prohibition on Shudras and the Untouchables acquiring property;
  6. Total subjugation and suppression of women.

The children of the Dalits are not allowed to avail educational facilities available to the upper caste children. With the onset of privatisation of education, and dwindling of government funds for public education and as a consequence deterioration of academic standards in government educational institutions, the misery of Dalits is intensified, as they can not afford education in private educational institutions due to poverty.

The plight of the Dalits’ economic position has been the issue of landlessness. In an agricultural society like India, land is an important consideration. The landed high caste has deprived Dalits of owning land or property of any kind. This is to ensure continuous supply of permanent labour force. Landless and dependent, Dalits lead an economic unfree and impoverished life.

According to the Government of India report in 2004, the literacy rate of Dalits is only 54.70%, 77.01% still remain landless agricultural labourers, 51% are sweepers and only 16% are in government employment that too in lower and middle positions only, 21.4% Dalit villages only have electricity, 19.5% have to walk for miles for drinking water facility, 42.8% have houses, 36.25% in rural areas live under below poverty line.[5]

B. Untouchability Practices

Despite the abolition of untouchability by the Constitution of India, and despite the passage of numerous legislations classifying untouchability in any sphere as a cognizable offence, the heinous practice lives on and takes on new expressions.

Dalits face humiliation and harassment by a range of social exclusion practices. They are segregated from mainstream life. They are forced to dwell outside villages and denied access to water resources, natural resources, restaurants and burial grounds.

A study in 2006 by a Human Rights organisation[6] has brought out the existence of more than 124 forms of visible and invisible untouchability practices in the socio, economic and political life of Dalits. Some of them are:

  1. Discrimination in Government Services:
    1. 37.8% of the villages  – Dalits to sit separately in government school
    2. 27.6% of villages        - Dalits prevented from entering police stations
    3. 25.7% of villages        – Dalits prevented to public retail shops
    4. 33% of villages        – Public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes
    5. 23.5% of Dalit hamlets – mails not delivered to their homes
    6. 14.4% of villages      – Dalits not permitted to enter local government buildings
    7.  12% of villages  – Dalits denied access or forced to form separate lines at polling booths
    8. 48.4% of villages – Denied access to water sources
  1. Access to Market
    1. 35% of villages – Dalits barred access to local markets
    2. 47% of village cooperatives – Dalits prevented from selling milk
    3. 25% of villages – Dalits prevented from buying milk
  1. In Work
    1. 25% of villages – Dalits paid lower wages, worked longer hours, delayed payment, suffer verbal and physical abuse
    2.  37% of villages – wages paid from distance to avoid physical contact
  1. In Religion and Rites
    1. 64% of villages – Dalits restricted from entering temples
    2. 50% of villages – Dalits denied access to cremation grounds
  1. In Private Sphere
    1. 73% of villages – Dalits are not allowed to enter nonDalit homes
    2. 70% of villages – no inter-dining
    3. 35.8% of villages – Dalits denied entry for village shops

C. Reservation

Since Dalits neither own land or other resources, nor are they educated enough to look for government and nongovernment jobs, the only recourse that is left open for them is social mobility through reservation.

Reservation is one of the ways of including the excluded. Ambedkar understood the devastating consequences of exclusion of Dalits in the areas of education, employment and power. So he demanded for the rights to representation in proportion to their population in educational institutions, public services and legislative bodies. One of the consequences of such a demand was the incorporation of the provision of reservation in educational institutions, jobs and legislatures as articulated in the Article 330 of the Constitution of India.

D. Atrocities against Dalits

Crimes committed often against Dalits reiterate the fact that their rights are more often violated. Since the upper caste people are the law makers, enforcers of law and the ones who occupy the seats of justice, rights are continuously denied to Dalits.

When Dalits are subjected to atrocities, they can take recourse to Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act of 1989 and Protection of Civil Rights Act 1955 as amended in 1976. Due to the inherently oppressive and exploitative caste system, Dalits do not get justice.  So they can at least take recourse to legal provisions. But the same is not the case for Dalit Christians, since they are not considered as SCs. So they are exposed to oppression, exploitation and atrocities in the hands of high caste people.

III. Reason for Dalits to Embrace Christianity

From the historical experience of oppression and dehumanisation, and from years of reformatory work for emancipation of Dalits, Ambedkar came to the fundamental conclusion that the road to social mobility was closed for Dalits within the Hindu fold and voiced opinion that the path of political participation was sealed for the untouchables forever. He was convinced that economic opportunities had been snatched from Dalits from the very beginning of the establishment of caste system. Ambedkar strongly believed that only religious route is left open for the downtrodden of Indian society. Therefore, he advocated and urged Dalits to take the path of conversions. Arguing about the need for conversions to attain equal status Ambedkar stated, “To get human treatment, convert yourselves, convert for getting organised, convert for becoming strong, convert for securing equality, convert for getting liberty, convert so that your domestic life may be happy.” He said, “Choose any religion which gives you EQUALITY OF STATUS AND TREATMENT.” Dalits were looking for social liberation, dignity, identity and equality as human beings. 

With that desire and hope, Ambedkar and five lakh Dalits converted to Buddhism in 1956. V.T. Rajashekar argues that Ambedkar’s conversion efforts had sent shock waves throughout the country. Hindu revivalist organisations and other Hindu leaders were very much worried as they understood the adverse consequences of untouchables fleeing the Hindu fold. The upper castes were well aware of the fact that the untouchables are the ones who carry the burden of this oppressive hierarchical caste social order. Though they have been cast out of the society, it is they who constitute the work force, the labouring classes and the backbone of the Brahmanical social order. If they move out of the structure, then the entire edifice will crumble. They were, in fact, fundamentally frightened to forgo such cheap, free, obedient and ever loyal work force. 

This motive may be seen in the amendment proposed by K.M. Munshi, an ardent Brahmin leader, to the Report prepared by the Advisory Committee on Minorities that was submitted to the Constituent Assembly in August 1947: “To (a) delete Scheduled Castes from the list of the minorities, (b) include the following addition, “I-A: The section of the Hindu Community referred to as Scheduled Castes as defined 1 of the Government of India Act 1935, shall have the same rights and benefits, which are herein provided for minorities specified in the Schedule to para 1.”” The inner motive for the amendment is best expressed by the words of Munshi himself. He said, “Any safeguard as a minority, so far as the Schedule Castes are concerned, will possibly prevent their complete absorption in the Hindu fold.” He stated, “Harijans are part and parcel of the Hindu community. Safeguards are given to them till they are completely absorbed in the community.” This amendment has become fatal to the scheduled caste people who became Christians and Muslims. They were denied the same privileges enjoyed by the scheduled caste people who were not Christians and Muslims. In a way, this has restrained the conversions to Christianity and Islam. 

The efforts of High caste Hindus to contain the flow of religious conversions of Dalits have given birth to the Presidential order called the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950, and the Anti-Conversion laws.

The Constitutional Order reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in paragraph 2 (of Article 341), no person who professes a religion different from Hinduism shall be deemed to be a member of a scheduled caste.” This Presidential SC/ST Order 1950 was amended in 1956 to include Dalit Sikhs and in 1990 to include Dalit Buddhists in the list. However, Dalits who converted to Christianity and to Islam are excluded from the list. Since they are not included in the Presidential SC/ST Order, they are ineligible to enjoy the benefits of affirmative action of the government such as reservation in education, employment and political power, and Prevention of Atrocities (SC/ST) Act of 1989

Anti-conversion laws have been passed in 7 Indian states: Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Rajastan. Jharkhand is also expected to pass such anti-conversion law. These laws prohibit conversion on following terms: No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religion to another by use of “force” or by “inducement” or any “fraudulent” means, nor shall any person abet any such conversion.

These anti conversion laws help to keep the most maligned and powerless members of the Indian society – the Dalits or “untouchables” – performing the most menial, degrading, and dangerous jobs in India, with no prospect of upward mobility.

Conversion to Christianity

For Dalits the idea of converting to another religion is a means of fighting the caste system. Their concern is NOT what would happen to their soul after death, but to have their human dignity and honour as anybody else. Ambedkar said, “Because we have the misfortune of calling ourselves Hindus we are treated thus. If we were members of another faith none would dare treat us so. Choose any religion which gives you equality of status and treatment. We shall repair the mistakes now. I had the misfortune of being born with the stigma of an untouchable. However, it is not my fault, but I will not die a Hindu, for this is in my power.” Therefore, the main reason for Dalits to convert to another religion, including Christianity, is for dignity, equality and justice.

Christianity preached that there is no discrimination and everyone who belongs to this religion is considered equal with other Christians. Because all those who believed in Jesus Christ become the children of God. Thus, it preached brotherhood of all believers in Jesus Christ. Dalits who were seeking to get an equal status in society found a ray of hope in this new religion. In an attempt to forgo their standing of the lowest strata, Dalits renounced Hindu religion and embraced Christianity. Thus, Dalits used Christianity as a way of liberation from the bondage of Hindu caste system to the new religion that promised equality, and human dignity, value and rights as anybody else. 

It is estimated that out of the 2.4 crore Christians in India, comprising 2.3% of the total population, nearly 70%, that is, 1.68 crore are Dalits.

A. Christian Dalits’ Comprehension of Christian Faith

How do Dalit Christians perceive their faith? What does it mean to them?

Dalits’ existential status, their indescribable living conditions and the consequent struggle for survival deeply affected their perception of the Christian faith. The reason to convert also shaped their understanding of Christianity. That’s why they have adopted a holistic perception of this new religion.

Christian preaching and teaching based on the western Christian theology has little or no meaning to Dalits. Dalit theology is different from the Western Christian theology, which is generally followed in Christian churches and organisations in India. According to James Massey, “Western Christian theology is based on the classical Greek dualism between this world and the other-world, between matter and spirit. In contrast, Dalit theology is deeply rooted in this world, in the this-worldly experiences and sufferings of the Dalits, and, rather than promising the Dalits a place in heaven, it inspires them to struggle for transforming this world to bring justice for the Dalits” 

Sin

Christian Dalits’ perception of sin is mostly socio-ethical in nature. So, sin means things like stealing, inequality, injustice, ill-treatment etc.  In this sense, sin is not so much perceived in a “spiritual” sense and thus, “original sin” and “bondage of sin” are of no great concern to them. Instead, sin carries a strong social or corporate and justice dimension to it.

Jesus and His Death

Dalits identify with Jesus and his experiences. Like them, Jesus was born in a desperately poor family. Like them, he also experienced alienation and rejection. They see a “Dalit” in Jesus and his experiences. That’s why to see the death of Christ and relate it to them as an idea of substitution for their sins is very difficult for them. James Massey says, “We (Dalits) don’t need anybody to die for us. We all die every day. How does the death of Christ substitute our killings every day? It doesn’t. It does not relate to us. But solidarity does. Solidarity is salvation for us.” 

Therefore, for the Dalits Jesus suffers ALONGSIDE them, and not specifically FOR them. Jesus experienced sufferings, alienation and death, in a sense became a Dalit, in order to liberate the poor, oppressed and marginalised. 

Since Jesus spent the whole of his life working for the liberation of the poor, marginalised and oppressed, as a believer in this Jesus it is a natural expression of one’s faith commitment to be involved in the movement for Dalit liberation.

So for Dalit Christians, Christian faith should contribute in improving their lives that are living in conditions worse than slavery. If Christian religion can not do so, then what is the use? So for them, religion has worth only if it helps them in their struggle for liberation from degrading and dehumanising conditions.   

IV. Discrimination against Dalit Christians

Dalits who embraced Christianity were motivated by the fact that they would be given an equal status, value, rights and dignity. But this charm of equality lasted till the day they tasted the reality. Christian churches and organisations have never lived up to their promise of equality. All those who believed in Jesus Christ becoming children of God and so having equal status, dignity, value and rights is limited to preaching, but in reality Dalits are continued to be discriminated and excluded in churches and Christian organisations due to their caste origins.

As Dalit Christians they face worse discrimination than the Dalit Hindus. Now they are subjected to multiple discriminations: discriminated by the church and Christian organisations, discriminated by the society, discriminated by the state, and discriminated by the Dalits of other faiths.

A. Discrimination of Dalit Christians in Churches

It is generally agreed that caste tends to survive conversion. Because of this Christian community has reproduced the caste structure prevalent in Hindu society. Although Christianity propagates equality and brotherhood, it practices caste discrimination within the Christian community. Caste discrimination is fully ingrained in the PRACTICES of Christianity. Therefore, the plight of Dalit Christians within Christianity is nowhere better than that in Hindu religion.

1. Historical Roots of Discrimination of Dalit Christians within the Church

Historical data abounds with the fact that there have been caste segregation and discrimination within the church right from its inception. Christianity made its presence in India in the 1st century itself with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ. The early missionaries from Syria, Portugal, Italy and Spain have converted mostly Brahmins, other dominant castes and fisher people. The gates of Christianity were open for others only in 17th and 18th centuries. Dalits started embracing Christianity in a large scale mainly after the arrival of Protestant missionaries from 1706 onwards who involved in educational, social and medical services among them.

Missionaries historically conformed to caste rules. They did not see it as diametrically opposed to the Christian faith. Moreover, for them, “winning souls” was more important than opposing caste. So they maintained the status quo. That’s why Ambedkar criticised the Christian missionaries that they “took so much pain to denounce idol worship, but did little to unseat the idol of caste.”

The lenient attitude of church towards caste is epitomised by the Letter of the Propagation of Faith, 1779 with regard to the distinctions of caste in the churches. In 1779 the congregation for the Propagation of Faith wrote: “The separation in the church and at the entrance of the church, also the distinction of cemeteries may actually be tolerated for fear of greater evil.” The Cathedral at Tiruchchirappalli in Tamil Nadu, built between 1839 and 1841 was provided with the customary caste bar. In some places Dalits had their own churches, and in other places they attended service standing outside the church. In common churches, the outcaste Christians (i.e. Dalit Christians) were seated in the side naves (“nave” is the place where laity is seated) or at the back and could take the Holy Communion only after the caste Christians. At the Synod of Pondicherry in 1844, the seating arrangement for different castes, and inequality and injustice to Dalit Christians were discussed. The Synod issued a statement regarding this. But the caste Christians accused the church authorities that they were trying to abolish the caste system, and boycotted the church till the old order was restored. 

The Vellalars of Vadakkankulam in Tamil Nadu refused to take the Holy Communion within the sight of Nadar Christians after the priest had demolished the wall, which had kept the two groups from seeing each other in the church. That means, in Christianity the sight of an outcaste Christian pollutes a caste Christian even in the worship service in the church, just as in Hindu religion, mere shadow of an untouchable pollutes a caste Hindu. Thus, it is not religion, but social origin that determines the interaction of persons.

From 1893 to 1900, high caste students refused to dine with the students from fisher community in St. Joseph’s College at Tiruchchirappalli, where former president Abdul Kalam studied. Sit in strikes and throwing of water snakes by caste Christians and acts violence against the Adi Dravidars had taken place to prevent them from entering the church at Tiruchchirappalli.

The memorandum submitted in 1929 by the Christian Depressed Classes of South India to the Indian Statutory Commission or what is popularly known as Simon Commission sums up the plight of Dalit Christians: “In spite of our Christian religion, which teaches us fundamental truths, the equality of man and man before God, the necessity of charity and love for neighbours and mutual sympathy and forbearance, we, the large number of Depressed Classes converts remain in the same social condition as the Hindu Depressed Classes. Through the operation of several factors, the more important of them being the strong caste-retaining-Hindu-mentality of the converts to Christianity, and the indifference, powerlessness and apathy of the Missionaries, we remain today what we were before we became Christians – untouchables – degraded by the laws of social position obtaining in the land, rejected by caste Christians, despised by caste Hindus and excluded by our own Hindu Depressed Class brethren.”

In Goa, mass conversions were carried out by Portuguese missionaries from the 16th century onwards. The Hindu converts retained their caste practices. The continued maintenance of the caste system among the Christians is attributed to the nature of mass conversions of entire villages, as a result of which existing social stratification was not affected. The missionaries did not do anything to stop the entry of caste system into the church. Thus, the original Hindu Brahmins became Christian Bamons, the Kshatriyas became Christian noblemen called Chardos, Vaishyas became Gauddos, Shudras became Sudirs, and the Dalits or untouchables became Mahars and Chamars. The Christian clergy were almost exclusively Bamons

When Christian missionaries began their work in India in the decades before Independence, their promise of equal treatment and opportunity for all castes became the prime reason for Dalits who found themselves at the socio-economic lowest rung of Hinduism’s hierarchy to embrace the missionary message, but nothing had worked out and the caste prejudices continued.

2. Contemporary Situation of Discrimination of Dalit Christians within the Church

Today caste continues to dominate in the Christian communities, churches and Christian organisations. The words of Ambedkar are very much true regarding the prevalence of caste and casteism among Christians. He said, “Christianity has not succeeded in dissolving the feeling of caste from among the converts of Christians. There are Brahmin Christians and non Brahmin Christians. Among non Brahmin Christians, there are, Maratha Christians, Mahar Christians, Mang Christians, Bhangi Christians, Pariah Christians, Mala Christians and Madiga Christians. They would not marry or inter-marry. They are as much caste ridden as the Hindus are.”

The prevalence of Brahmin Christians, Kamma Christians, Reddy Christians, Nadar Christians, Caste Christians, Mala Christians, Madiga Christians etc., is an indication of the continuance of caste system even after a person has given up Hinduism and embraced Christianity. In the Legal Case of S. Anbalagan Vs B. Devarajan & Ors, the Supreme Court of India observed: “The practice of caste, however irrational it may appear to our reason and however repugnant it may appear to our moral and social science, is so deep rooted in the Indian people that its mark does not seem to really disappear even after some generations after conversion. In Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu, there are several thousands of Christian families whose forefathers became Christians and who, though they profess the Christian religion, nonetheless observe the practice of caste. There are Christian Reddies, Christian Kammas, Christian Nadars, Christian Adi-Andhras, Christian Adi-Dravidas and so on. The practice of their caste is so rigorous that there are intermarriages with Hindus of the same caste, but not with Christians of another caste.”

What the prevalence of caste and casteism in Christian community, church and Christian organisations indicates is that Christians follow two kinds of value systems that are contrary to each other. The basis of one value system is Jesus Christ and his teachings, and the basis of the other value system is “caste”. The first value system is confined to preaching and teaching others, whereas the second value system governs one’s life, values and relationships. Christians agree to a theology or belief system of equality of all believers in Jesus Christ before God, and of love, which transcends all human-made barriers that divide human beings, that governs the Christian community. They not only believe this, but also preach and teach without any inhibition. But in actual practice, they live by a different value system based on caste identity. It is their caste identity, rather than Christian identity, that governs their life, values and relationships. The ideal of “casteless” church, which they affirm and talk about, is not practiced. Because the Christian faith is privatised and compartmentalised, and the integrity of Christian ethics and theology is compromised. 

Tamil Christians have a unique way of revealing their caste, and also of trying to find out another person’s caste. Every caste will hide behind a geographical identity or will represent itself through a prominent person in that group. Nadar Christians will say, “We are from Tirunelveli (or Nagercoil)” or “We are related to Brother D.G.S. Dhinakaran.” Even a young person who was born in Chennai will say, “I was born in Chennai, but we are originally from Tirunelveli.” Many Vellalar Christians will say, “We are from Palayamkottai.” The Maravar Christians will say,”We are from Ramnad.”

In Andhra Pradesh, usually the family name (or surname) or the denomination to which one belongs reveals the caste identity. Mala Christians mainly attend either CSI or Lutheran church, whereas Madiga Christians attend Baptist church. Most of the independent churches are started by nonDalit Christians. Reddy Christians prefer to attend a church that is led by a Reddy Christian. Similarly Kamma Christians prefer to attend a church headed by a Kamma Christian.

With the continuation of caste in Christian community, caste based discrimination is also a reality. Caste discrimination within the church marks the lives of Dalit Christians. Although Dalit Christians constitute more than 70% of total Christians and the Indian church is predominantly a Dalit church, they face discrimination and oppression, and suffer the shackles of untouchability practices at the hands of nonDalit Christians within the church and Christian organisations. Many nonDalit Christians still believe that Dalit Christians should be downtrodden and they just want to keep power in their own hands. One of the Church of South India (CSI) bishops from Vellore rightly pointed out at the World Council of Churches (WCC): “We feel we have more in common with Dalits of other faiths than with Christians of upper caste groups!” The Dalits feel alienated within the church because of the casteism.

a. Socio-Economic Situation of Dalit Christians

i. Social

The conversion of Dalits into Christianity has no effect on their social or dalit status. Earlier they were Hindu Dalits, now they are Christian Dalits. Apart from their identity as “Christians”, there has been no change in their social or economic status. Casteism in Christian community is an enduring reality in areas such as marriage, dining, education and leadership.

As in Hinduism, in Christianity too inter-caste marriage and inter-dining between Dalits and nonDalits are strictly prohibited, although stray incidents of inter-caste marriages take place out of love affairs among the educated youth. Some Christians would rather marry a Hindu who belongs to the same caste than a Christian of another caste. It is sad, but true.

Even at the level of nomenclature, discrimination is practiced against Dalit Christians. The church personnel in their conversations when they want to say anything derogatory or negative about Dalit Christians, they would use abbreviations, instead of referring to their caste. For instance, in Tamil Nadu they would say ‘pl’ to refer to Pallar and ‘pr’ to refer to Paraiyar. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, ‘ch’ is used for Chamars. Since Dalit Christians are dependent on nonDalit Christians, they do not openly oppose such practices.

ii. Education

A very worrisome place where one can find discrimination is at educational institutions. “Our children face educational discrimination because we are poor. In Jhansi, there are very good Christian schools. But while children from other castes are able to study there, poor Christian children are thrown out by sixth or seventh grade because we can not afford fees,” a Dalit Christian bemoaned. These schools are Christian institutions and the church refuses to take responsibility for this outrageous form of discrimination. James Massey says, “Take the case of elitist Christian schools. How many Dalit children have been admitted to them so far? These schools cater almost entirely to the ‘upper’ caste elites, Hindus and others. So, in this sense the churches we have are not the church of Christ. Christ tells us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Who are the neighbours of the leaders of the church? Are they the starving Dalits, who may share their Christian faith, or the rich industrialists who are sucking the blood of the poor and who send their children to elitist Christian schools in air-conditioned cars?”

Dalit Christians continue to be discriminated in educational institutions that belong to the church. They have brought out this fact by saying that the church at the most has made them A-B-C-D, that is, ayas, butlers, cooks and drivers. This is corroborated by the fact that a few Dalit Christians have secured any position in professional fields and in bureaucracy like caste Christians.   

iii. Economic

A myth is being perpetuated that the Dalits who converted to Christianity are better placed. But a cursory examination of Dalit Christian communities in different parts of India reveals the fact that even after conversion, Dalits remain poor and landless, and so under the thumb of landlords and money lenders. Conversion could not change this reality.

Although the church knows that Dalit Christians have been denied the constitutional privileges and safeguards that are given for Dalits, because they are Christians, it has wantonly neglected its cause. Because of this a great majority of Dalit Christians are illiterate and are living below poverty line. Instead of helping the poor and needy Dalit Christians, the church spends more money on conversions, which will help to firm its roots.

Welfare of Dalit Christians has never been an agenda for church, but a tool for the expansion of the church empire in India. The local church authorities, institutions and organisations have built up and accumulated financial and material resources and continue to get financial aid from donors and agencies all over the world, primarily with the appeal to help the underprivileged and the untouchable Dalits and poor people. But these have not really reached them – not their due share and not even a minimum share. A major reason for this is, Dalit Christians are not in leadership positions in these organisations. At the most, some Dalit Christians would be in maintenance jobs in these institutions. This surmounts to cheating and robbing of Dalit Christians of their right to social mobility within the fold of Christianity.

Most of the well established and premier institutions of the church and centres of higher learning are run under the tag of minority rights. But these institutions offer less opportunities and preferences to Dalit Christians in admissions and appointments. This amounts to an act of betrayal of the constitutional provisions provided to the minority communities. It can be concluded that in this regard, caste Christians act against Dalit Christians very much like the caste Hindus against Dalits, primarily because these institutions are managed by nonDalits.

Like caste Hindus who consider the special provisions made to Dalits by the government of India as a wastage or at the most part of vote bank politics, the caste Christians too consider even minimum provisions being extended by the church to Dalit Christians as waste.

From the above, it becomes apparent that conversion of Dalits to Christianity does not result in altering their socio-economic conditions. Hence, the demand of Dalit Christians for reservation from the government of India is justified and it is their legitimate right.

iv. Power

Dalit Christians are also discriminated within the church hierarchy. They suffer to get access to power positions.[7] NonDalit Christians do not want to share power with Dalit Christians from ecclesiastical hierarchy to the administering of Christian institutions, mainly education and health. An obvious example is “Out of 156 Catholic Bishops in India 150 Bishops belong to the upper caste community. Only 6 belong to Dalit community. Out of 12500 Catholic priests, only 600 are from Dalit community. While 75% members are from Dalit community, the 25% upper caste Christians…have complete control over the Dalits, the untouchable Christians.”[8]

Among approximately 40,000 Christian educational and health institutions, majority beneficiaries are not from Scheduled Castes or Dalit Christians.[9] In the name of “merit and excellence in education”, these institutions cater and serve to the needs of mainly nonDalits and to a lesser percentage of elite Dalit Christians. This is the same situation that occurs in the Christian hospitals. Only those who can afford to pay for costly treatments are served in these hospitals. These institutions are managed largely by nonDalits and have become institutions for the welfare of the dominant caste and class, while the poorest of the poor are largely neglected.[10] 

Although almost all 22 dioceses of the Church of South India (CSI) are predominantly Dalit represented, majority are under the power dominance of nonDalit Christians. Of course, in some dioceses Dalits have wielded power positions. But largely they – both clergy and lay – are urban based, educated and elites. The grassroot level Dalit Christians, who form majority both among Catholics and Protestants, still remain excluded and oppressed.

It is strange that given the fact that the majority of Christians are Dalits, and they have little participation in the decision making bodies of the church. Elske van Gorkum gave an example of this: “You could see this even at the Global Ecumenical Conference on Justice for Dalits of the World Council of Churches in Bangkok in March 2009. There was not one Dalit among the delegates of the Church of North India (CNI) and the Church of South India (CSI). And this conference was entirely about Dalits!”

Thus, Dalit Christians are pushed aside and reduced to insignificance in the church, in spite of being majority. Since the power is in the hands of the nonDalit Christians, they keep Dalit Christians confined as a segregated group. The lack of Dalit Christian representation in the administrative and consultative bodies means lack of opportunity to present their cause at the decision making level. Thus, the experience of Dalit Christians is one of powerlessness.

That’s why Dalit Christians feel that the high caste leadership will not secure them their rights until they take leadership into their own hands within the church.

b. Untouchability Practices

A careful observation of caste practices within the church in India reveals that blatant discrimination like separate sitting arrangements in the place of worship for the Dalits and nonDalits, separate cemeteries continue unabated even today.

In some places it is still not possible to worship God together with the high castes. For example, Dalit Christians have to sit separate from high castes in the church, often on the floor. Furthermore, in these churches Dalit Christians have absolutely no liturgical participation whatsoever. They have to partake in the Holy Communion after the high caste Christians drink from the cup. Otherwise, high caste Christians would get polluted. For these reasons there are now a lot of separate churches for Dalit Christians, mostly in rural areas, so that they don’t have to be afraid of any discrimination when they want to worship God.

Untouchability is not only practiced among the living, but also among the dead. A wall dividing burial spaces of Dalit and nonDalit Christians in a cemetery in Tiruchchirappalli, a corporation in Tamil Nadu, is another standing example of discrimination prevalent in the Christian community.

Like Dalits of other faiths, Dalit Christians are also termed as impure, polluted and forced to carry out the filthy jobs namely manual scavenging, sweeping, gutter/swage cleaning, garbage removing, cobbling and cremating the dead bodies as a service to nonDalits.[11] This reality continues even today and Dalit Christians are forced to undertake the same old polluting jobs.[12]

Rev. Fr. Antony Raj, in his study Discrimination against Dalit Christians in Tamil Nadu (1989) lists out the following discriminatory practices which still continue to remain in many churches:

“Two chapels are constructed – one for the nonDalits and the other for the Dalits; in some parishes liturgical services are conducted separately; separate seating arrangements are made within the same chapel…Dalits are asked to take seats on the floor; the existence of two separate cemeteries; two separate funeral trucks to carry the dead bodies…Dalits are asked to receive communion only after nonDalits…Dalits are not invited to participate in the washing of feet ceremony during Maundy Thursdays…in cemeteries walls are raised to separate Dalit Christian graves from the upper caste ones.”[13]

B. Discrimination of Dalit Christians in the Society

Dalit Christians are unique in terms of the discrimination they face in the society. High caste Indians treat Dalit Christian as Dalits. For them a Dalit is a Dalit. But there is more to it than that. Christian Dalits are treated even worse than Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist Dalits. In the eyes of high caste people, Dalit Christians made the “mistake” of embracing a foreign religion, in addition to their “crime” of being born in an untouchable caste. The consequence of this is that Dalit Christians are twice discriminated: as Dalits, and as Christians. This becomes clear in the atrocities they have to face as Dalits, but also as Christians. For a great part this has to do with the resentment Indians feel for Christianity as a western religion. This resentment is apparent in the rebukes such as “Why do you come here for help? You go to your pastor?” and “You better go to England or America for help?” So Dalit Christians are treated with greater contempt.

However, the deeper cause for their contempt is something else. In sociological literature, there have been three schools with different views on Dalits. One held that Dalits were not part of the Hindu caste system and were called outcastes. The second held that Dalits were part of the Hindu caste system, though they shared differently in its traditions. The third view said Dalits were autonomous and had their own unique and separate traditions like tribals.

The second view suited the caste Hindus. Because they did not want Dalits to get away from their grip. The caste Hindus wanted them to remain in Hindu fold for four reasons:

1. For the sake of numbers in order to show that Hinduism is the dominant religion and Hindus are the dominant community in India. As a consequence India is predominantly a Hindu country. (Caste Hindus also consider tribals as Hindus. That’s how Hindus claim that the population of Hindus in India is about 80%). 

2. Dalits removed impurities by doing impure jobs such as scavenging, removing dead bodies etc, so that caste Hindus could remain pure.

3. Most of the Dalits supplied cheap or unpaid labour to the caste Hindus.

4. In the “one man one vote” political culture, retaining the Dalits vote bank was a necessity for the dominant castes and classes.

So, caste Hindus opposed conversions, not so much for religious reasons, but for socio-economic reasons. If the Dalits were delinked from Hinduism or caste system, then the dominant castes would be the losers. That’s why they attack Christian missionaries, evangelists and pastors in the name of Hindu religion. But on their part the caste Hindus did little, if at all, to halt exploitation, untouchability and degradation of the Dalits.

Caste Hindus opposed not only conversions of Dalits, but also their upward socio-economic mobility. Because if the Dalits upgrade their socio-economic status, the caste Hindus will lose workers to do impure jobs and also lose cheap or unpaid labour. Whenever Dalits tried to upgrade their status socially and economically, caste Hindus subjected them to untold atrocities. It is clear from the analysis of the atrocities that the better-off sections or upwardly mobile Dalits have been the target of upper caste atrocities all over the country. For example, Gujarat and Tsundur in Andhra Pradesh.

C. Discrimination of Dalit Christians by Fellow Dalits of Other Religions

Dalit Hindus also discriminate against Dalit Christians. This is done for several reasons.

  1. 1.  Dalit Hindus believe or made to believe that Dalit Christians are infidels since they rejected their “original” religion and have embraced a “foreign” religion.

2. Dalit Hindus believe that Dalit Christians receive support from the church and hence, should not be entitled for any provisions made by the government of India for Dalits.

 3. Dalits of other faiths fear if reservation is extended to Dalit Christians, their share will decrease.

D. Discrimination of Dalit Christians by the State

For centuries the Dalit Christians have been carrying the burden of oppression, exploitation and segregation in common with the Dalits of other faiths. But now the Indian government has brought a distinction between one kind of Dalits and another, offering one treatment to Dalits who are Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist, and an entirely different treatment to the Dalits who are Christian or Muslim.

When the Indian Constitution was drafted some special rights and privileges were extended to the social category, which was known as Scheduled Castes (SCs) in a bid to ensure equality and dignity. It was a compensation for the historical injustices and discrimination that the SCs were subjected to for many centuries. Further, it was seen as a way of equalising opportunities to those who were denied such opportunities. By making reservation available for them, it was hoped by the framers of the Constitution that such provisions would improve their lives and that SCs would gain both social and economic status. Though the entire Constitution addressed the issues of the weaker sections, some of the articles spelt out specific provisions.

Article 46 gives the rights of educational and economic benefits. Article 17 provides protection from caste related violence and atrocities. Article 15(4) provides reservation for SCs in educational institutions. Articles 330-334 provide reservation of seats in the state legislative assemblies and the Parliament. Articles 16(4), 335 and 320(4) recommended reservation in government services and posts. Social safeguards and protections were earmarked under the Protection of Civil Rights (PCR) Act 1976, The Untouchability (Offences) Act 1955, and the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act 1989.

The SCs of Christianity and Islam, by virtue of following religions other than Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism, are denied the above Constitutional privileges and rights. The implications of this discrimination are far reaching. The Dalit Christians are deprived of not only reservations, but also protection from atrocities of caste Hindus and caste Christians.

The argument for denying Constitutional rights and privileges, which are extended to Dalits of Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism, to Dalit Christians is that Christianity is an egalitarian religion and does not believe in caste. But Sikhism and Buddhism are also egalitarian religions and do not believe in caste. What is ignored in the argument of the government is, there exists in each religion a wide gap between belief and practices. Christianity, like Sikhism and Buddhism, has no caste, but Christians have caste. It is well known by now that a change of religion does not change caste status. No religion in India is free of casteism, irrespective of its egalitarian ideology or theology. Therefore, it is necessary that caste-based (SC) reservations are delinked from religion.

As of now, if a Dalit Christian reverts to Hinduism, he/she becomes eligible for reservations. This has made some Dalit Christians to revert to Hinduism. 

There is one other way in which the state discriminates the Dalit Christians, namely through the Anti-Conversion laws. These laws pose a threat to freedom of religion through their restriction of religious conversions and their damaging effect on religious minorities. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief states in her 2008 report on her mission to India that these laws raise serious human rights concerns. She is concerned that these laws are being used to belittle Christians and Muslims.

The government of India has been discriminating against Dalit Christians on the basis of religion, ignoring the undisputed evidences of their social, educational and economic backwardness which naturally qualify them for state protection and statutory rights. It is a sad commentary on the Indian policy that the state which claims to be secular disqualifies Dalit Christians from getting their rights and privileges on the basis of religious disqualification.

Due to this many Dalit Christians are forced to maintain dual identity because of their socio-economic status: “Dalit Hindu” identity in their official records in order to get the Constitutional benefits of reservation, and “Christian” identity in the society and church in order to retain their social status.

Despite the Official abolition of discrimination based on caste and religion through laws, the discrimination still continues, and even more so for the Dalit Christians. Instead of trying to end this, the government is making it worse.

III. Conclusion

Catholic and Protestant churches across the country celebrated 9th December 2012 as the “Dalit Liberation Sunday”. Catholic Bishop Conference of India (CBCI) and the National Council for Churches in India (NCCI) have suddenly become worried for their Dalit brothers and sisters. 

Slogans like “Break the barriers – Build the world of equality” for Dalit brothers and sisters look pleasant from the hindsight, but reality lies in stark contrast to the “words”.

When church and Christian organisations have not been able to create equitable order for 1.68 crore Dalit Christians within their own boundaries, they are only exposing their hypocrisy by conducting “Dalit Liberation Sundays” and shouting slogans like “Break the barriers – Build the world of equality”. The church and Christian organisations have to look into the mirror and see the reality that they have put the old wine of casteism into the new bottle of Christianity. Social discrimination and untouchability are still alive within the boundaries of church and Christian organisations. Denial of access to education, power and resources for the Dalit Christians is a reality in the church and its institutions. So the Church and Christian organisation have only increased the misery of Dalit Christians. In the struggle of Dalit Christians for liberation, John Webster says, “The church has proven to be weak, ineffective and often an instrument of caste oppression, even though it is predominantly Dalit in composition.”

So the Dalit Christians challenge Indian church and Christian organisations, their theological insights, caste based hierarchy, their self-centered mission of serving the concerns and interests of mostly nonDalits. Since Dalit Christians are also created in the image of God and are God’s children, they have every right to be treated equally and with dignity.

Church and Christian organisations have to rethink and restrategise their vision and mission compatible to the ground reality of the majority of their members. As James Massey suggests, “A radical mission outlook is the need of the hour for the Indian church to be authentic and prophetic with commitment to Christ who incarnated to take sides with the forsaken and functioned as liberator.”[14] Since most of the Dalit Christians are illiterate and poor, church and Christian organisations, with their pastoral care, have to concentrate on providing educational and economic assistance. Church and Christian organisations have to understand the dual identity of Dalit Christians, “Dalit and Christian”, and come out from their Brahminical way of looking at the issues. It is high time for the leadership of these Christian institutions to drop their divisive and discriminative caste, class, patriarchal mindset to enable Dalit Christians to enjoy their human dignity, value and rights in par with others in Christ.

The “original” sin of the denial of Constitutional privileges, rights and safeguards for Dalit Christians was committed by the Christian leaders nominated to the Constituent Assembly which debated the issue. They all belonged to the elitist upper caste and never experienced or understood the sufferings of the Dalits. They were not prepared to accept the caste discrimination within the church. Hence they did not press for the inclusion of the Christian Dalits in the SCs list. Though the present day nonDalit leadership of the church supports the struggle of Dalit Christians against the state for their Constitutional rights, the same leadership is not adequately in favour of addressing the issue of casteism within the church.

The problems of Dalit Christians can not be solved by mere theological reflections and choicest verbal gestures. Various policies, administrative and structural changes have to be implemented to radically and rapidly change the structural inequalities. All these have to be seen in concrete action. In order this to happen, the clergy should also try to bring social awareness among the congregation members. Because they usually prefer prayer to social awareness, and thus go to a point in changing personal behaviour, but not in structural and institutional matters. As a result church becomes ineffective, at certain point, in initiating the process of social transformation.

In order to bring this social transformation, Dalit Christians should be proactive. Here Ambedkar’s dictum is very much relevant: “Educate, Agitate and Organise”. In his book “Religion and Dalit Liberation”, John Webster describes four strategies for freedom: 1. Acquisition of political power; 2. Economic independence; 3. Internal social reform; 4. Religious change.

Prayer: “As followers of your beloved son Jesus, we have failed to challenge attitudes, practices and structures that are contrary to the values of equality, justice and freedom that are integral to the gospel of Christ our Saviour. Through your abiding presence, give us the courage to persevere in our struggles for justice and equal rights. Amen!” 

 

Sources

Chunnu Prasad, Exclusion and Caste Based Discrimination on Dalit Christians in India.

Devasahayam, “Pollution, Poverty and Powerlessness,” in A. P. Nirmal (ed.,), A Reader in Dalit Theology.

Elze Sietzema-Riemer, Christain Dalits: A Research on Christian Dalits in India,

Franklin Caesar Thomas, Multiple Discrimination: Special Characteristics of the Situation of Dalit Christians, 2009.

Irudayam A., JayaShree  P.M and Joel G, “Dalit Women Speak Out,” NCDHR, 2006.

James Massey, Down Trodden, WCC Publications, Geneva, 2000.

John CB Webster, “From Indian Church to Indian Theology, An attempt at Theological Construction,” A.P. Nirmal (Ed.), A Reader in Dalit THeology.

Lourdusamy S., Towards Empowerment of Dalit Christians, 20

Mary John, Dalit Christian Liberation Movement in Dalit Movements in South India, Edited by Thangaraj, M, University of Madras, 2007.

Prabhakar, M.E. “The Search for a Dalit Theology,” in A Reader in Dalit Theology.

Prakash Louis, Caste-Based Discrimination & Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the Need for Reservations.

Ralph T. H. Griffiith, The Hymns of the Rigveda, Vol. II, Second ed. E.J. Lazarus and Co. Benares, 1897.

Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna, “Report Prepared for National Commission for Minorities, India,” Delhi, 2008.

Report of Sub-Group-I on Assessment of Prevailing Situation in respect of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for certain Socio-Economic Indicators, prepared and released by the Office of the Registrar General, Census, Government of India in November 2004.

Sakshi Human Rights Watch – Special Report, Hyderabad, India, 2006.

http://www.dalitchristian.com Html/arulappa.htm  -Problems and struggles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Ralph T.H. Griffiith, The Hymns of the Rigveda, tenth book, hymn 90,verse 12, Vol. II, Second ed. E.J. Lazarus and Co. Benares, 1897, p. 519.

[2] Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna, Report prepared for National Commission for Minorities, India, Delhi, 2008.

[3] M.E. Prabhakar in The Search for a Dalit Theology in A Reader in DT, p. 41

[4] Irudayam A., JayaShree  P.M and Joel G, Dalit women Speak out, NCDHR,2006, P22

 

[5] Report of Sub-Group-I on Assessment of Prevailing Situation in respect of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for certain Socio-Economic Indicators, prepared and released by the Office of the Registrar General, Census, Government of India in November 2004.

[6] Sakshi Human Rights watch – Special Report, Hyderabad, India, 2006.

[7] Mary John, Dalit Christian Liberation Movement in Dalit Movements in South India, Edited by Thangaraj, M, University of Madras, 2007, p.115

[8] http://www.dalitchristian.com Html/arulappa.htm  -Problems and struggles

[9] Franklin Caesar Thomas, Multiple Discrimination: Special characteristics of the situation of Dalit Christians,2009,p.2

[10] Franklin Caesar Thomas, Multiple Discrimination: Special characteristics of the situation of Dalit Christians,2009,p.2

[11] V.Devasahayam, Pollution, Poverty and Powerlessness, in A. P. Nirmal (ed.,) A Reader in Dalit Theology, p, 1-4

Also see, John CB Webster, From Indian Church to Indian Theology, An attempt at Theological construction, APN (Ed.,) A Reader in DT, p. 96

[12] Satish Deshpande and Geetika Bapna,’ Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities – A Status Report  for Minorities Commission of India’, 2008, p. 7-11 

[13] Lourdusamy S., Towards empowerment of Dalit Christians, 2005

[14] James Massey, Down Trodden, WCC Publications, Geneva, 2000 p.75.

2013 in review

March 2, 2014

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,300 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 38 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Fraud in the Andhra Pradesh Evangelical Graduates Fellowship (APEGF)

February 11, 2014

Fraud? In the Andhra Pradesh Evangelical Graduates Fellowship (APEGF)? No chance! I don’t believe!!

This is the general reaction or response of any person who was or is associated with APEGF or UESI-AP (Union of Evangelical Students of India-Andhra Pradesh). Because fraud in APEGF or UESI-AP (to which APEGF is linked) is unthinkable with the kind of reputation APEGF or UESI-AP had enjoyed.

Although this “glory” has departed already, most of the members of APEGF and UESI-AP still believe that the values of honesty, transparency, accountability and service are still being followed in the organisation. This is an “ostrich attitude”.

Though the signs of deterioration of the quality of leadership and fellowship are pretty obvious for everyone to see, the members have just chosen to ignore them just because they find that they can’t do anything about it. AT THE MOST, THEY JUST PRAY.

We tend to get into a mindset that we can escape from problems in life by keeping ourselves locked in a room and by not accepting, understanding or analysing the signals of life around us. By doing this, we expect the problems to be resolved on their own or by somebody other than us and presume that we are safe, secure and insulated from any damages or consequences. This is like Ostrich’s belief of saving itself from scary situations by keeping its small head covered inside a hole, leaving its huge body outside!!

The members of APEGF and UESI-AP have ignored the symptoms of deterioration of the quality of leadership and fellowship, and they have carried on with life and “ministry” – singing, praying, preaching, teaching and conducting retreats, camps and conferences – as if everything is alright or going to be set right ….. somehow! They have reposed their faith in the omnipotence of TIME – believing that it is going to use a magical formula to solve all the problems. I wonder whether it is called complacence, callousness, or just powerlessness.

The problem at times, of course, is trying to cure only the symptoms. The real problem, which lies deep down and is deep-rooted, is ignored. They just scratch at the surface, make up some explanations, propose some solutions they can’t even validate.

And then one day that deep-rooted problem they had hoped so dearly would somehow solve itself, gets out of the box, and slaps them across the face. And with all their accomplishments, competencies, arrogance, pride and confidence, they feel helpless. They wish to hide themselves, unable to fathom the why, how and how to of the problem.

This stage is reached by the members of APEGF and UESI-AP with the revelations of fraud within the organisation. Since the facts are pretty much open, the members are in a position where they do not want to accept the REALITY because of the cultivated image of the organisation, and at the same time unable to deny because the powerful evidences are before their eyes.

The rottenness at the local and state level of UESI-AP is slowly, but steadily, coming out of the closet for everyone to smell the stink. It has come to the notice of some that the treasurer of a local EGF used about Rs. 40,000 for his personal needs. Since this person was close to the then regional coordinator and a few powerful local and regional leaders, no one dared to question this leader openly.

In another case, a powerful state level leader, along with a few other leaders, took money from unemployed graduates and their friends with the assurance of providing jobs for them. Due to the cultivated image of leaders being spiritual, honest and truthful, and their dire need of a job, some of the unemployed members of UESI-AP and their friends paid money ranging, according to one account, from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 1,00,000. According to some, even the then regional secretary paid money to this “job provider” for a job for his sister. This “job scam” came to the public notice when the main person in this “scam” was kidnapped by three persons, who paid him money for jobs and felt cheated, and kept him in a hotel in Guntur in Andhra Pradesh, and all the four were taken into custody by the police after receiving a complaint about the kidnapping. This incident was shown in a TV channel. Later, they were shifted to Chilakaluripet, as the father of “one of kidnappers” filed a case there. But the main person in the “job scam” was released due to political influence and is now gone “underground” officially, although he is very much overground and is continuing to give leadership at local, regional and state level.

The associate of the main person in the “job scam” has been arrested in Nandigama, Andhra Pradesh and released on bail. This person is also a leader in UESI-AP.

To top them all is the fraud of FCRA Number (Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) in the name of APEGF (List of FCRA cancelled Organisations: http://vaniindia.org/FCRA.pdf). Any registered NGO, which wants to get foreign funds, should have an FCRA Number. It came to light that APEGF had FCRA Number and it was cancelled on 27th July 2012. This raises a few important questions:

  1. APEGF is not a registered organization. Then how could it have an FCRA Number? The only way that it could obtain the FCRA Number is by giving bribe to someone and registering APEGF ILLEGALLY as an independent NGO!
  2. If so, who registered it? An ordinary member can not venture to do it. Then who?
  3. When did APEGF apply for the FCRA Number?
  4. Who received foreign funds and how much?
  5. Did APEGF receive the letter from the central government informing about the cancellation of the FCRA Number?
  6. Was this fraud informed to the members of APEGF and UESI-AP?

 

These are only the tip of an iceberg. For most of the members “saving the souls” or “saving the sinners” is the “ministry”. But what about the “sin” that is amongst us? How can a “sinner” “save” another “sinner”? Isn’t it hypocrisy to highlight others as “sinners” by ignoring the “sin” among us?

Let’s not hide our face inside a hole, like an ostrich, and feel that we are spiritually sound. Remember that the whole body is being exposed, just like the body of the ostrich, which hides its face in a hole. Let’s face the situation, however rotten and stinky it is, with enough strength, courage, wisdom and honesty. The prickling mind is the beginning of the purification process, and like every creation process in this world, this will also be painful and one needs to sense that it is for beautiful times ahead.

It is always better to come out of ostrich’s attitude on our own and face life’s situations as they come with courage, honesty and wisdom. If we don’t face them, the life will present more shocking tremors to tackle!!!

Silence is Betrayal

February 2, 2014

“A time comes when silence is betrayal,” thundered Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the American Civil Rights Movement, on 4th April 1967. The truth of these words is beyond doubt, particularly with regards to the perpetuation of the deplorable state of dalits.

For centuries dalits have been socially, economically, politically and religiously crushed in India. Their dignity, value and rights are being trampled upon not only in the society, but also in churches and Christian organisations. Unfortunately some of the Christian religious institutions are carrying on with misguided, painful and shaming sanctions for the already struggling and suffering dalits. By carrying out such sanctions against dalits, these churches and Christian organisations are consistently toeing the line of Hidutvawadis with regards to their attitude towards and perception of the oppressed and marginalised dalits.

What do such attitude and perception suggest? If we read the article written by Ram Puniyani, who was a professor in biomedical engineering at the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, titled “Modi’s Caste and Hindutva Political Strategies”, we wonder whether the author is writing about RSS or a Christian organisation. This is what Puniyani writes in his article:

Hindutva, the RSS politics, is essentially an ideology based on a caste pyramid, where the different castes have a well defined place. The caste system gets its strength through subordinating the dominated castes. Dominated castes (i.e. dalits-OBCs) assuming Hindu identity, over and above their caste identity, is the fulcrum of strength of Hindutva politics.

Caste has been the major phenomenon, with which the Hindutva politics had to engage with. The beginning of RSS was more as a reaction to low castes coming up in the society…. With independence and the coming into being of Indian Constitution the march of dalits towards equality took the next step aided by the affirmative action provided by Indian Constitution. They did start the journey for their own share sky. The changes in social scenario by 1980s led to a situation whereby upper castes felt that this undeserving section is being treated like ‘son-in-laws’ of the Governments in matters of education and jobs. They felt that their ‘deserving’ children are not able to get their due share of admissions and jobs. The result was anti-dalit violence in Ahmedabad in 1980s. Later the anti OBC violence in mid 1980s, opposing the promotion of OBCs in jobs was witnessed….

Meanwhile RSS planned for social engineering by which the dalits were co-opted into Hindutva politics and at places put in the forefront like in Babri demolition and also in the anti Muslim violence in Gujarat in particular. The anti minority violence plays the role of bringing religious identity to the fore. In case of dalits through communal violence ‘Hindu identity’ came in as the overshadowing one, overshadowing the caste identity. After every case of anti minority violence, the Hindu identity became bigger for dalits….

At another level there is a conscious ploy through floating organizations like Samajik Samrasta Manch (Social Assimilation Platform), which talks of caste harmony while retaining caste inequality…. While Ambedkar painfully drew attention to the plight of dalits and struggled for justice for them, RSS has subtly and openly opposed the affirmative action for dalits and never raised its voice against atrocities on dalits. Agenda of communal politics is a cleaver ploy. At one level it opposes all affirmative action for the dominated castes, at another level it co-opts them, and at yet another level it talks of harmony between different castes.” (Bold letters mine)

Three important things are evident in the RSS’ Hindutva politics:

  1. Opposes all affirmative actions recommended by the Indian Constitution for the dominated castes (particularly SCs) such as reservations in education and employment.
  2. Co-opts dominated castes in the implementation of its “mission” and uses their money and might for this purpose. In this process it also inculcates in the minds of dalits and other oppressed caste peoples that the “Hindu” religious identity is more important than their caste identity.        
  3. Talks about caste harmony, while perpetuating caste inequality in leadership, marriages, use of resources, inter-caste relationships etc.

Some of the Christian organisations, on the one hand, by pressurising dalit Christians to relinquish their caste identity (i.e. Scheduled Caste) for the sake of religious identity (i.e. Christian Religion) and to give up their Constitutionally provided “benefits” while never raising their voice against the injustice done to the dalit Christians in the Indian Constitution and against the atrocities on dalit Christians, and on the other hand by giving an impression that dalit Christians are part of their “family”, using their money and might for the implementation of their “mission” while denying leadership, are implementing the RSS’ Hindutva politics.  

All too often we complain about injustice and prejudice against Christians in our work places, localities, and society at large. But we hardly say anything and do nothing as the dignity, value and rights of dalit Christians are trampled on (take a look around, it’s happening in your midst) in front of our very eyes in our churches and Christian organisations. The deplorable psychological persecution and segregation of dalit Christians is going on unhindered in our religious institutions, and unchecked by Christian “believers”, who dare not speak against it. This silence of the Christian “believers” in these churches and Christian organisations is appalling! Even when pressed by the demands of their conscience and God’s kingdom values of justice, mercy and equality, these “believers” do not easily assume the task of voicing out their opposition to the policies of their churches and organisations that perpetuate injustice, segregation, corruption, nepotism, hedonism, fascism, casteism and regionalism.

Martin Luther King bemoaned, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” The appalling silence of the “good and spiritual” Christians is alive and worsening today in all corners of Christian communities and society.

Why have so many “good and spiritual” Christians abandoned their God of justice by not voicing loudly their disgust against the unjust and discriminatory policies and practices of churches and Christian organisations? The prevailing appalling silence of the so-called “Christian believers” leads one to believe that they have turned their backs against God and fellow human beings.  

The mute witnesses of injustice and evil, which are present in their midst, are as much involved in it as those who help to perpetuate it. Those who accept evil without protesting against it are really cooperating with it. One must stand up against injustice and for those who are treated unjustly. We must feel passionate about freedom and justice. When we feel strongly, we must act in the ways that we know how. We must use our strengths as individuals to make our churches and organisations better, and we must act as the conscience of them. “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends (and fellow Christian believers).”

Why do “good and spiritual” Christians remain silent?

  1. Apathy

The concern of most of the Christian believers is limited to “saving/winning souls”. Naturally social justice does not fit in their spirituality, and Christian calling and vocation. Even if they have concern for the victims of injustice, it is expressed ONLY in prayer and not in ACTION. Such prayers, which are not followed by actions, for the dalits amount to indifference to the plight of the oppressed and the marginalised. It is also injustice when we don’t help those, who are suffering in our midst, although we have the ability to help.

Apathy towards victims of injustice is also apparent in the words such as, “That’s someone else’s responsibility, not mine.” Someone smarter or richer or more powerful. Other people, not me. But God has entrusted this work of fighting injustice to His people – to you and to me. That’s why Martin Luther King was so vocal about the “appalling silence of the good people”.

So don’t turn your back to the injustice in your midst. Don’t turn away. Don’t wait and hope for someone else to come along. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

One of the greatest stumbling blocks to justice for dalits is the “Christian believer” who is more devoted to “order” than to justice, who prefers a negative peace (i.e. the absence of tension) to a positive peace (i.e. the presence of justice), who constantly says, “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direction.” Ultimately, this person does not do anything to help the cause of dalits, except giving some lame excuses and trying to find some faults either with persons who are raising their voices against the discrimination or with the way the protest against the discrimination is being carried out. By sitting in his/her comfortable place, he/she expects those on the ground to carry out their protest according to his/her whims and fancies. The underlying truth is, he/she is not empathetic to the agony, humiliation and sufferings of dalits.  

For the change we want to see in the churches and Christians organisations, empathy is more important than reason. Justice comes from character, not competence.

What is needed?

  1. Indignation

Anger and indignation play an important role in the response to injustice. When one feels indignation, one can not keep silent. Indignation assures protest and action. Jesus’ righteous indignation at the institutionalised corruption in the Jerusalem temple moved him to action (Mk. 11.15-17).  

It is hard to find the tradition of dissent and vigorous debate in churches and Christian organisations. It appears that the extremely silent “good and spiritual believers” like to be doormats for the powerful leaders. I wish Christians would remember that faith in the God of justice through our Lord Jesus Christ, and being a disciple of Jesus make it our duty to challenge the unjust policies of the government and of churches and Christian organisations. Indifference to injustice does not belong to the spirituality of Jesus Christ and the prophets who were called by God to preach His protest message to His people and their leaders who perpetuated injustice and discrimination.

What is frustrating is the popular amnesia, the collective will to accept the sterilised form and neglect the righteous indignation that demands coordinated action in the face of all injustice and all forms of abusive power.

Every time I am lukewarmly supportive, rather than being a passionate believer in social justice, I tell the world that I don’t care about others, and I certainly don’t care about myself. If anyone of us truly believes and values the concept of freedom and justice for all, it starts from understanding that the most precious gift we give others is the brotherhood or sisterhood that is inextricably tied to humanity. If someone is not indignant at the segregation of dalits in churches and Christian organisations, his/her very existence is less than authentic, less than human!

In order to be indignant at the institutionalised terror of casteism and segregation, we as a community of a just God must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from statistics or quantity-oriented community to person-oriented or quality or fellowship-oriented society.

  1. Protest

From the “fight against corruption” in India to Arab Spring in the MiddleEast and elsewhere to Occupy Wall Street in the US – all over the globe people are revolting against the old systems of exploitation and oppression. As a result of such revolutions new systems of justice and equality are slowly emerging. The shirtless and barefoot people are raising up as never before. “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”

So we need to go out into the hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, casteism, classism, regionalism and segregation. With this commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust policies and thereby speed up the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough places plain.” 

We must continue to raise our voices against the injustice, if the perpetrators of injustice persist in their perverse ways. We must match actions with words by seeking every possible creative means to protest.

As we counsel young men and women concerning unjust policies of our churches and organisations, we must clarify to them our religious institutions’ role in promoting the RSS’ Hindutva politics, and challenge them with the alternative of conscientious objection to such politics. We must not only object to unjust policies and laws in our religious institutions, but also discourage others from following them. One who breaks an unjust law that his/ her conscience and Christian calling and vocation tell him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the consequences of such violation in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

So these are the times of real choices and not false ones. Every Christian of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his/her convictions, but we must all protest against the injustice done to dalit Christians. We are all called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside. But that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho to Jerusalem road was transformed so that the travellers on this road will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway.

So the aim should be to change the evil systems and structures that perpetuate discrimination and oppression within the churches and Christian organisations.

  1. Freedom from Fear

Never forget that freedom is not something that is voluntarily given by the oppressor. It is something demanded by the oppressed. If we want to see justice done to the dalit Christians in the churches and Christian organisations, we need to struggle for it. We need to confront the oppressor, the powers. In order to do that, freedom from fear is crucial. Inner freedom that makes us confront the oppressor, even if it means risking our name, position, wealth, friends and life. It is a sad fact, because of comfort, complacency, and a morbid fear of being branded as a “rebel”, we tend to adjust to injustice.

Martin Luther King once said, “You may be 38years old… And one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…you refuse to do it because you want to live longer….You are afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticised or that you will lose your popularity,or you are afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you are just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.”

So freedom from fear is the necessary freedom to get justice for the discriminated dalit brothers and sisters.

  1. Speak out the Truth to the Powers

Perhaps the more difficult but no less necessary task is to speak to those who have been designated as our leaders. However, we can not sit back and watch injustice. We must speak out.

Sometimes we refrain from speaking out to those in power and authority because we assume that “speaking out” is a sign of disobedience to them, and as a consequence allow these powers to abuse their power by perpetuating evil and injustice.

“Speaking out” can also happen through writing, through the way we live (being consistent in our values and actions), and by pointing out injustice in everyday situations we see it.

Some of us, who have already begun to break the silence, have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony. But we must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision. We must also rejoice as well, because for the first time in the history of a Christian organisation that a significant number of its members have chosen to move beyond expressing lip sympathy to the plight and discrimination of dalit Christians to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and Christian calling and vocation.

When some of us have moved to break the betrayal of our own silences and to speak from the burning of our hearts, many “good and spiritual” Christians questioned us about the wisdom of our path. At the heart of their concerns this query has often loomed large and loud: Why are you speaking about discrimination of dalit Christians in the Christian organisation? Why are you joining the voices of dissent? By your dissent, aren’t you helping the cause of the enemies of Christians? Though the intention of their questions is very much evident, their questions suggest that they do not know their Christian calling and vocation, and the world in which they live.    

It should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the Christian integrity and life today can ignore the perpetuation of segregation of Christian dalits in Churches and Christian organisations. If the soul of Jesus’ community in India becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: SEGREGATION OF DALIT CHRISTIANS. It can never be saved so long as it devalues the dignity, worth, rights, Christian calling and commitment of dalit Christians and destroys their deepest hopes. So those of us who are concerned for a healthy community of Christ are led down the path of protest and dissent, working for the health of the community of a just God.

It’s a commission to work harder for “the brotherhood of man”. We must be true to our conviction that we share with all, the calling to be the children of the living God. Beyond the calling of caste, creed, language and region is this calling and vocation of sonship and brotherhood, and this conviction that the Father is deeply concerned especially for His suffering and helpless marginalised children. The GOODNEWS is meant for all people, including the marginalised ones.

So it is the privilege and the burden of all God’s children who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than casteism and regionalism, and which go beyond self defined positions of our churches and Christian organisations. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of casteism, for no human document can make these children of God any less our brothers and sisters.

A prophet of God calls the people of God to account, reminding them of their moral responsibility to oppose immoral policies and actions in their communities. Amos, Micah, Isaiah, Jeremiah called kings and plutocrats to account, SPEAKING THE TRUTH TO POWER. The role of the prophet requires not only to comfort the afflicted, but to afflict the comfortable.  

In the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. He went there because he did not notice the HUMANITY of the man he was passing at his gate. And it is about humanity!

The challenge is to be a human being and to behave as a human being. Only then do we treat others as human beings, not as things or even less than human beings. When we see Lazarus at the gate, do not pass him by. Since Lazarus is also created in the image of God, he can not be treated as a thing. 

Conclusion

We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of NOW. In this unfolding mystery of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity.

So we must move from indecision to action – action for a new world, a new community.

James Russell Lowell stated:

Once to every man and nation

Comes the moment to decide,

In the strife of truth and falsehood,

For the good or evil side;

Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,

Off’ring each the bloom or blight,

And the choice goes by forever

Twixt that darkness and that light.

Though the cause of evil prosper,

Yet ‘tis truth alone is strong;

Though her portion be the scaffold,
And upon the throne be wrong;

Yet that scaffold sways the future,

And behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow

Keeping watch above his own.

Martin Niemoller believed that the Germans – in particular the leaders of the protestant churches – had been complicit through their silence to the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people. He spoke publicly about broader complicity in the Holocaust and guilt for what had happened to the Jews. In his book he wrote, “Thus, whenever I chance to meet a Jew known to me before, then, as a Christian, I can not but tell him, “Dear friend, I stand in front of you. But we can not get together, for there is guilt between us. I have sinned and my people have sinned against thy people and against thyself.”

Niemoller wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me

So it’s time to raise up, unify and use our voices. Our silence is hurting dalit Christians.

From the State of Dependence and Powerlessness to the State of Independence and Power: The Healing Story of the Two Blind Beggars (Matthew 20.29-34)

December 24, 2013

We live in an anaesthetic society. The culture that we have adopted has made us insensitive to the pain, agony and suffering around us. News about a “30 year old woman gangraped by four” or about “the destruction of about 5000 sq km of paddy crops by the cyclone Phailin” or about death of children, women and men due to wars, famine and accidents no longer moves us. We read news about death and destruction, pain and suffering, and hunger and poverty with little or no feeling. We walk past beggars sitting or lying by the roadside with hungry stomachs and expectant gaze as if they are nonexistent, and walk into malls and restaurants. 

The culture of individualism, consumerism and hedonism has made us not only insensitive to the cries, pain and suffering of the person next to us, but also blind, heartless and cruel. The very expression of disgust on our face when we see a person wearing rags and worn out sandals, and with dirty face and filthy hands says it all ……… this person does not belong here!

Although there is development in the areas such as science and technology, and economy, there is not much personality and social development. Development, on the one hand, has sent spacecrafts into space, and produced billionaires like Ambanis and Mittals with their private planes and palaces. On the other hand, many remain hungry and homeless, who are treated as the scum of the society. They are derided, chased, beaten and left in the heat of the day and the cold of the night to die with an empty stomach and empty life. Shifa Naseer portrays this paradox vividly in her poem “Beggar”:

He sat there on the road

Watching the people bustling past him

The world seemed in motion

But he himself sat still!

Watching and observing the faces of strangers

Of cars new and old!

 

He sat there on the pathway

Wearing rags and overalls.

He observed people’s shoes

Some were gleaming new and some worn out.

He looked at his own pair

And counted three holes in it.

He laughed and then sighed!

This was his life after all

What he was and is

He never had a choice in this!

His fate was sealed long before he knew.

 

He sat there on the road

Looking and observing his filthy hands

Covered in dust, he scratched his head!

His stomach growled with hunger

But he ignored it.

Looking around, he saw a lady in red

She was frowning and her face was tense

She looked tired and fed up.

He turned his gaze to an old man

Walking with a stick in his hand.

He had a smile on his face.

Such contrast there is in life.

It is cruel

But also beautiful…

 

For the beggar life has no meaning at all.

It is something for others to ponder on.

He is just a beggar

Still on the roadside

With an empty stomach

And an empty life…

 

We see the ruling class making a song and dance about the market and technology as a great liberating force for everyone. The reality is, no technology or economics can empower the suppressed in a hierarchical society unless they are driven by the ethics of inclusiveness as the measure of human progress, and the society adopts a culture of interdependence, solidarity, sharing and compassion. Inclusive development can not take place unless inclusive values and visions become the driving force of polity and society. That’s why, when we talk of material and economic development, we should ask first who are the change agents and what are their values and visions. For, development does not bring development in a similar way to everyone – many are left behind or hardly affected or even turned into victims of development.

Also development does not naturally or automatically ensue in personality and social development, in the sense of development in attitude, perspective, behaviour, and social relationships. That’s why the way beggars and the poor are regarded or treated in today’s “developed” society is in no way different from that of the “underdeveloped” 1st century AD society.      

The Story of the Two Blind Beggars

At the time of Jesus Palestine was undergoing a period of rapid social transition. A number of natural calamities, like famine of 25 AD, and the epidemic of 29 AD, combined with the problem in the distribution of goods or uneven distribution of wealth, and the commercial activity of the Pax Romana had led to changes in the social structure of Palestine. A tiny fraction of the population owned a vast proportion of land and resources, and the majority had to be satisfied with moderate means or with very little. Those connected with the family of Herod (i.e. those who have political connections) rose through social ranks and became wealthy.

The social structural changes had dislocated some from their social situation. The rootlessness that was caused by the structural changes resulted in a number of beggars. We do not know whether the two beggars in Mt. 20.30 were also the victims of the social structural changes, or became like that due to their blindness, because physical ailments often accompany poverty and powerlessness.

Silenced Voice and Powerlessness

The two blind beggars, being shunned by the society, sat by the roadside outside Jericho, as this was one of the roads taken by the pilgrims to Jerusalem. Apart from the two beggars and Jesus, there is a third actor in the story: “a large crowd” (Mt. 20.29). They are a nameless, faceless mass. We do not know whether they had to do anything with the status of the two blind beggars. But one thing is sure – the crowd regarded the two blind men as beggars. They had established the norm which categorised them as such.

The crowd tried to silence the voice of the two beggars when the latter, knowing that Jesus was passing by, shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David” (Mt. 20.30). Instead of helping them to come out of their dependent state, the crowd tried to thwart their own attempt to redeem themselves. The crowd’s effort to silence the blind beggars reflects their wish to keep them as beggars – blind and dependent. If the beggars were healed, they might become independent and shake off their powerlessness. This would upset the status quo in the society.

In a similar way powerful institutions – government, judiciary, law enforcement agencies, educational institutions, and religious institutions – serve to keep people in their designated slots. These institutions normally suppress the voice of the poor and the marginalised, and facilitate the rich and powerful to be spokespersons of the entire society, to set norms for the society, and to maintain the status quo.

Speech and Power

The crowd tried to suppress the beggars’ voice by “sternly ordering them to be quiet” (Mt. 20. 31). By stifling their voice, the crowd tried to obstruct their healing. The people had an interest in obstructing their healing, because it would mean sharing power with beggars and being surrounded by more people who speak out and demand for their rights, if they were healed.

Those, who are living at the center of the society where they have access to power and resources, will go to any extent to stop those, who are living on the margins of the society, from reaching the center. Because it would mean sharing power and resources. That’s why the crowd tried to obstruct the two blind men from speaking out their pain and need with Jesus Christ, and in turn from being healed by him.

If the poor and the marginalised succumb to the pressures of the rich and the powerful, and remain silent without seeking ways and means to come out of their imposed state of dependence and powerlessness, they continue to live on the fringes of society and thus without access to the center of power and resources. 

But the blind beggars could not be restrained by the crowd. They “shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David” (Mt. 20.31). They gain their voice through their knowledge that Jesus was the Messiah and the “Messiah time” had arrived.

The crowd might have been surprised that the two beggars had more knowledge about Jesus than they did. The people were following Jesus because they knew that he was a healer: “So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee, Decapo lis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan” (Mt. 4.24-25). Whereas the beggars addressed Jesus with a Christological title, “Son of David” (Mt. 20.30, 31), because they knew that it was “Messiah time”, the time when “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them” (Mt. 11.2-5 cf. Lk. 7.22-23). Because of their belief that Jesus was the Messiah, the blind beggars cried to him for mercy.  

The blind beggars did not speak in vain. Jesus said, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mt. 20.32). The beggars had been heard. Their response was brief and unambiguous: “Lord, let our eyes be opened” (Mt. 20.33). In other words, they said, “We want to be whole. We want access to public life. If we get our eyes, we will quit begging. We want our dependency and powerlessness to end.”

In Matthew’s Gospel, we do not find Jesus saying anything as a response to the beggars’ answer. Whereas in the Story of the blind Bartimaeus Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well” (Mk. 10.52; Lk. 18.42). The Greek word for “has made well” is sōdzō. This is the same word that is used for “to save”. That means, his faith had redeemed him from the condition of powerlessness and dependence. Here faith is an act of hope which refuses to settle for the status quo. Faith is to refuse to accept the imposed place and condition that keeps one in dependence and powerlessness. In asserting the faith, the beggar performed an act of subversion.

The key in the act of redemption from the state of dependence and powerlessness to the state of freedom and power was Jesus, the object of faith. Jesus’ presence evoked the hope and gave the beggars the power and the occasion to speak (Mt. 20.30; Mk. 10.47). In spite of the resistant crowd, the beggars received sight by Jesus’ act of compassion (Mt. 20.34). 

Compassion and the Stifled Voices

The quality, compassion, separates Jesus from the crowd. Compassion overcomes social apathy and indifference. It identifies with those in situations of dependence and powerlessness. It is an important divine quality.

Compassion does not mean feeling sorry for people and their situations. It does not mean pity. In fact, the Latin etymology of the word, com pati, means “to suffer with”: to actively participate and share in the suffering of others. It is the capacity to identify with the suffering. Compassion is to live according to the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.” We have to feel and take responsibility for the wellbeing of others, whoever they are.

Compassion is considered in almost all the major religious traditions as among the greatest of virtues. When asked by a Gentile to explain the entirety of the Torah while standing on one foot, the Jewish Rabbi Hillel responded, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow human being. The rest is just commentary. Now go and learn.” Buddha said, “Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others.  Thus, it is called compassion. It is called compassion because it shelters and embraces the distressed.”

Compassion is the primary characteristic of the incarnation. God in Jesus Christ identified with human beings, particularly the poor, the sick and the marginalized. God became vulnerable. In the story of Jesus healing the leper, Jesus expressed compassion by touching him and healing him (Mk. 1.40; Lk. 5.13). By touching the leper, Jesus was challenging the dehumanizing culture that had deviously deprived certain groups of people of human dignity, value and rights, and marginalized them. He brought a social ethic of human dignity and value into the world where the poor and the marginalized were regarded as despicable, dishonoured and ugly, and treated with contempt. Jesus embodies the very essence of compassion and relational care. Through the Parable of the Compassionate Samaritan, he challenges his followers to forsake human-made- barriers such as ethnicity, caste, class and creed and their own comforts and to act compassionately towards others, particularly those in need and distress (Lk. 10.25-37). This parable exposes any religion with “mania for creeds (or doctrines) and an anemia for compassion.” The poor, weak, vulnerable and marginalised become a test for the authenticity of one’s religion and faith in God.

The teachings of Jesus and his followers always stressed that compassion was not only central to spiritual life, it was, in fact, the true test of spirituality. Paul instructs the followers of Jesus Christ to clothe themselves with “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” (Col. 3.12). These virtues belong to the new nature of a believer in Jesus Christ.

The two blind beggars, after being healed by Jesus’ act of compassion, followed Jesus, not the crowd (Mt. 20.34). They became followers of Jesus and his culture of compassion, instead of followers of the crowd and their culture of indifference, oppression and hedonism.

Conclusion

A key issue in healing, salvation and liberation is power. The key transaction in the healing of the two blind beggars is the transaction of power. This power transfers people from the state of dependence and powerlessness to the state of independence and power.

The question of power has been kept off the table in recent times by a spirituality that emphasises a personal, psychological quest for peace, happiness and comfort. However, the Story of the Two Blind Beggars insists that raising the power issue and jeopardising the power monopoly of the “crowd” are essential to the process of healing. In the Christian ministry, the issues of who has power and how it is held or monopolised are crucial. Unless these are exposed and dealt, those who are kept powerless will not be healed. They will remain beggars.   

The poor and the marginalized gain power when they start speaking. We face the crisis of speech in our time. This crisis is caused by the silence of those who are on the margins of society. So what is needed is that the stifled voices of the poor and the marginalized should speak. Life is transformed when the powerless get speech. It is the speech of the Israelites under bondage that diametrically changed its history (Ex. 2.23-25).

By crucifying Jesus Christ, the religious and political leaders tried to destroy his voice and language. However, God by raising Jesus redeemed the voice and language of the victim of the religio-political forces. 

It is the presence of the compassionate God, “the God with us”, that gives speech to the poor and the marginalized. The blind beggars, rather than be silenced, cried out in pain and hope for the messianic reality. It is the presence of Jesus, the Messiah, that gave the blind beggars the power.

We – all of us – are blind beggars, with genuine hurts and handicaps. We – all of us – are part of the crowd too. We try to silence the poor, weak and vulnerable, and thus perpetuate their powerlessness and dependence. Because they are a threat to our position and power.

The issue before us is whether we will overcome our own vested interests and learn the healing process revealed in the Story of the Two Blind Beggars. Without that process, the poor and the marginalized will remain powerless. But power and possibility are offered wherever Jesus Christ is the Messiah and his gospel is preached.

 

Sources

Walter Brueggemann, Theological Education: Healing the Blind Beggar.

Braj Ranjan Mani, The Crisis and Challenge of Dalit Bahujans

Heartless and Rapacious Capitalism

December 19, 2013

Capitalism, as a socio-economic system practiced today, adheres overzealously to its tenets, which are: (1) private property, (2) self interest, (3) competition, (4) market-based, (5) economic freedom, (6) consumer sovereignty, (7) laissez faire.

American economist Milton Friedman, a zealot of the free market economy, said that markets work best when unfettered of rules, regulations, heavy taxes, and trade barriers. He opposed social or any market-interfering democracy. As Adam Smith said in The Wealth of Nations (1776), the invisible hand of the free market guides people to act in the public interest by following their own interest. In other words, let the poor collect the crumbs whenever they fall from the table of those who control markets. So the dictum: Let the poor be at the mercy of the rich. May this socio-economic order remain forever!

Friedman believed in the limited government, whose sole function is to “preserve law and order (as well as) enforce private contracts, (safeguard private property and) foster competitive markets.” He opposed an egalitarian society, government providing essential services, workers free from bosses, citizens from dictatorship and countries from colonialism. He preached that public wealth should be in private hands, accumulation of profits unrestrained and social services curtailed or ended. He opposed subsidies, import quotas and tariffs.

Thus, the zealots of free market economy such as Friedman perversely promoted economic freedom as a be-all-and-end-all, and profit-making as essence of democracy.

Critique of Capitalistic Socio-Economic System

What is apparent in the capitalistic system is, there is no democracy and no government of the people, by the people and for the people. Government is not obligated to fulfil its minimum constitutionally-mandated function to protect the rights of all people, to promote the welfare and shared prosperity of all people and to provide equal opportunities for all people. Capitalistic system promotes a government of corporations (or the rich), by corporations and for corporations.

When the zealots of the capitalism “continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world”, they are essentially expressing “a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralised workings of the prevailing economic system”, and ignoring the real fact of their greed and indifference towards the poverty-stricken majority. In the pursuit of profits, capitalists explore the globe in search of dirt-low wages and as little regulation as possible, and ignore their moral and ethical responsibilities. With the concentration of wealth in a select few, the gap between the poor majority and the wealthy few is widening alarmingly. It is the bigger picture, the wellbeing of society as a whole, where capitalism is failing miserably. With the overemphasis on the foundational tenets, capitalism has become heartless, rapacious, fearsome and boundless as the primary factor of planetary deterioration.

Pope Francis says, “Just as the commandment “Thou shall not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shall not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape…It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new. Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it. The excluded are not the “exploited” but the outcast, the “leftovers”.”

The Pope continues, “To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

The capitalistic socio-economic system is unjust at its root. The toleration of evil, which is injustice, tends to expand its destructive influence and to undermine any social and political system. If every action has its consequences, an evil embedded in the structures of a society has a constant potential for disintegration and death. It is evil crystallised in socio-economic structures, which can not be the basis of hope for a better future.

Gas Distributors and Plunder

October 19, 2013
Today 14.2 Kg LPG cylinder was delivered to us. We were charged Rs. 1096 by the Banjara Gas Service, Srinagar Colony, Yousufguda, Hyderabad. When we asked why we were charged so much, they said that the extra amount will be credited to ouraccount when we submit the Aadhaar Card. Subsidised price is Rs. 412. However, recently both the Supreme Court of India and the petroleum minister Veerappa Moily told that Aadhaar Card was not mandatory for getting subsidised LPG cylinder (Aadhaar not a must for LPG subsidy till court nod: Moily;http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/aadhaar-not-a-must-for-lpg-subsidy-till-court-nod-moily/article5217892.ece) . Then why did the above mentioned gas distributors charged us the market price?

Why is the present government is allowing billionaires like Ambani to plunder common people of India through its non-governance? There is no clear cut decision on this matter. Because of this, gas distributors such as the above mentioned one are plundering common people openly.

Aadhaar not a must for LPG subsidy till court nod: Moily
The Supreme Court has ruled that Aadhaar could not be made mandatory for people to get government services

Is Marriage and Family Life Becoming a Pretty Rainbow?

September 27, 2013

A rainbow appears on a rainy day. It is very beautiful to look at. But after a short time it disappears. Is marriage and family life becoming like a pretty rainbow in terms of survival? Beautiful at the beginning, but doesn’t last long! Or has it become beautiful only to look at from a distance or in one’s dreams? The obnoxious increase in divorce rate in India seems to indicate this. In 2010 there has been an increase of 70% in divorce cases. Those who seek separation are mostly of 25-30 age group.

Gods are invoked during the performance of marriages, but later family courts are involved to revoke marriages that have hit the relationship roadblocks. With marriages having a short lifespan these days and couples unwilling to persist with a marriage that has been going through rough waters, there is a lot of pressure on family courts to deal with divorce applications expeditiously. In order to meet the demand, more family courts are set up in some Indian cities.

Indian family is going through a lot of strain and challenges due to the impact of globalization and western lifestyle and value system. Movies and media also have major influence on youth to live in an unrealistic world and to dream of the artificial “marriage and family life” watched in movies. As a result, young couples are not prepared either to face or to accept the REALITY after their marriage. Moreover, family values and priorities are changing, with an increasing emphasis on individualistic, materialistic and self-oriented goals over family wellbeing. Also time has become a casualty due to higher demands of work/job. The desire to maintain higher social status is encouraging some to choose money over time. These are robbing the family time. There are people living under the same roof, but hardly have time to connect with one another. This has resulted in a new form of “homelessness”. The question “Is there a home in this house?” is increasingly becoming a befitting one in many families.

Some of the reasons for the strain on the relationship between spouses are:

1. Change in Gender Roles

Not so long ago husband was the bread earner and wife the homemaker. It’s no longer so. Globalisation and economic liberalisation have generated more employment, especially for women. They have also made it imperative for both husband and wife to earn in order to cater to family needs due to rising cost of living and children education, and other expenses. In many households, both husband and wife have full time jobs, and commute an hour or more each way to work.

Moreover, the concept of permanent employment and fixed working hours is fast disappearing. Due to “hire and fire” policy in private companies and the resulting fear of losing job, people are forced to spend about 12 hours every day at office. Office work is also encroaching family space, as more and more employees are forced to do their office work at home. In addition to that, superiors call their subordinates as and when the work demands. Increasing competition in the talent supply market has led to a “performance-driven” culture. This creates an enormous amount of pressure to perform. Men and women find it difficult to say “no”, especially to their superiors, and usually end up over-burdening themselves.

In a way the understanding of an “employee” has changed drastically. Previously employees had fixed working hours, rights and were treated humanely. But now-a-days “employee” is treated as a means to produce profit, but not as a being of intrinsic human dignity, value and rights. In other words, employees are reduced to mere “things” or “machines”. This is nothing but “thingification” of persons. The present day working culture of corporate companies creates asymmetrical socio-economic power relations with those at the top enjoying power and luxury, and those whose labour is indispensable to produce profit becoming mere “productive voiceless machines”.

When both husband and wife are employed, a lot of problems are likely to arise with regards to household work. Unless there is proper cooperation and understanding between spouses, it might lead to ego clashes. With the stress of occupational life, managing responsibilities at home by wife alone take a toll on her physical, mental and emotional health. So the working women expect their husbands to share in the household work. They expect cooperation and adjustment from them. This demands a radical restructuring of traditional marriage relationship between spouses and their functions. From the dominant-submissive relationship, marriage has to transform into a relationship of equal partners. Household work should be shared by spouses according to the need. Understanding and cooperation is the key. While women have become assertive, many men have not learnt to adapt to the new demands and situation.

Never ending work and indifferent attitude of their husbands lead women to physical, mental and emotional exhaustion. This puts a lot of strain on the marital relationship, which might result in frequent marital conflicts.

2. Professional Jealousy

Attitudinal problems arise because most men prefer being the bread earners and expect their spouses to do the housework. Men tend to do less housework than women, even if their wives are employed.

But the situation gets worse if women start to earn more than their husbands. Not many men are comfortable with a woman who is more successful than them. Jealousy may creep into marital relationship. Women are equally at fault because not all highly paid women can adjust with a low paid husband. They find it hard to respect a man who earns less than them!

Women need to value and respect husbands who earn less than them, and men need to put aside their egos when faced with a woman who earns more. Cooperation, adjustment, respect and understanding between spouses are necessary in a changed scenario in family. This results in narrowing the gap between the couple with two different personalities and backgrounds.

3. Assertion of Independence

With economic independence at a very young age of 21 or 22, assertion of freedom and the need for personal space, characterised by ambition and fast pace of life, have created new pressures on marriage. For many career-oriented girls and boys, their career, success and money are more important and get priority over family. Priority of job over relationship and of money over time with family is a present day phenomenon. Their financial freedom and priorities may encourage them to assert their independence, and not to see things from spouse’s point of view or for that matter, from the point of view of family welfare.

In addition to this, today’s Indian woman has a mind of her own and asserts her independence which unsettles the “traditional” Indian husband. Obviously, it results in ego clashes. With intolerance soaring, there is decreasing capacity for adjustment. So even small differences get magnified. Words like “I hate you”, “I can’t stand you” have become common. “Me” and “you” are replacing “we” and “us”. In many ways, these are the stresses of changing times and arise from work stress and changing culture. Psychological tiredness is one of the new realities.

This psychological tiredness and economic independence motivate couples to choose out of a “bad” marriage, particularly when they have no children. Because the present day work environment provides for employees more time and a closer interaction at the work place and liberal views about “freedom” or “independence” which is devoid of responsible living, extra marital relationships, including sexual relationships, have become a common disease, especially in the context of failed or failing marriage.

The assertion of independence that does not take family welfare into consideration, decreasing capacity for adjustment and confidence of securing alternate relationship and of satisfying carnal desires, quickly give rise to the emergence of a feeling of incompatibility. The so-called temperamental differences get highlighted. So the couple are tempted to conclude that they are incompatible to each other.

The chronic self absorption, termed as independence or individuality, leaves people with little time and patience to think about spouse and children. Often times we may want to connect with our spouses and to have a deep and meaningful relationship, but we want it on our own terms. Laura Pappano, a journalist, says, “We have moved from a society in which the group was more important than the individual to one in which the central figure is the self…From the ashes of duty we have risen to claim not merely a healthy dose of freedom but individual supremacy…We want success, power and recognition. We want to be able to buy or command caring, respect, and attention. And today so many of us feel deserving of the service and luxuries once accorded a privileged few. We may live in a more egalitarian society, but we have become puffed full of our own self-worth.”

She says that the concept of self-sacrifice is no longer a significant part of our modern cultural makeup and is often seen as weakness, not strength. More and more people are evaluating their marital relationships in terms of cost-benefit. Today, instead of considering others, people are more likely to put their own needs first and ask, “What’s in it for me?”

Sustainable marital relationship requires a different outlook than a worldview based on self-interest. The worldview based on self-interest undermines our ability to gain what we aspire to: lasting fulfilment, security, satisfaction and happiness. Sustainable marital relationships must be built on love that is selfless, giving and serving. It seeks for the welfare of the spouse and family. This kind of marital relationship strengthens marriage commitment, and adds stability and willingness to help and support each other through both good times and bad times.

4. Incompatibility

Incompatibility is cited by the majority of young couples as the reason for filing for divorce. Incompatibility of personalities has existed even in the past, but what is new today is that the tolerance threshold seems to have slided down while the egos of individuals have risen remarkably.

Incompatibility may arise from a number of factors such as: differences in values and beliefs, differences in educational, socio-economic status, differences in lifestyle, differences in personality characteristics, including temperament differences, differences in sexual behaviours, and differences in likes, dislikes, tastes, hobbies etc. However, the fact is that no two persons can be totally compatible in temperament and behaviour, even siblings may not be. In marriage two individuals with often different backgrounds come together. The thinking, attitudes, mindsets and behavioural patterns cannot be expected to be similar or exactly matching. It naturally takes some time to know and understand each other. The understanding, resulting in compatibility in marriage, can thus develop only gradually, and if there is a desire to adjust with each other.

The essence of success in marriage is “understanding” which also means understanding each other’s needs. This demands adjustment and sacrifice. Adjustment requires closer interaction to complement each other for mutual satisfaction and the achievement of common objectives.

5. Affluenza

According to John De Graff, David Wann and Thomas H. Naylor, affluenza is “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” This is a disease that has infected the Indian society, particularly urban India. People want to buy more and more things. Greed causes stress. In order to satisfy this greed for material things, one has to work more time. So people have less time to spend with spouse and children because they work more. They work more because they want more to maintain a higher standard of living. But one thing most apparent is that in spite of possessing the things most desired, happiness and contentment still elude those infected with affluenza.

Greed for new things has a negative impact on human relationships. Along with “hire and fire” employment system, affluenza makes people not to be attached and committed deeply to anything. They do not value permanence. Due to this mindset people choose out of a marital relationship, if there is some inconvenience or conflict.

6. Sanctity of marriage   

In India, traditionally and from time immemorial, marriage has been hallowed as sacred. It is an institution established by God. Marriage is a commitment, not a contract, between two persons. This commitment is expressed through taking vows in the holy sanctuary before God and people. Once couple enters into the bond of marriage, the relationship is considered perpetual – till death does them apart. In other words, marriage is supposed to be for life and it has worked as a bulwark against social vulnerabilities. Marriage and family are considered to be the two pillars of any society.

In the present day Indian society, sanctity of marriage has taken a beating. People’s attitudes towards marriage itself are changing. As a result they do not work hard at it as before.

Conclusion

When two people get married, numerous drastic changes happen in their lives. For the most part these two individuals should become one. They eat together, sleep together, play together, talk together, walk together, and do things together. But the union goes deeper than purely physical activities. Their hopes, dreams and ambitions should blend and become one. For a marriage to truly last, both the partners should discover to think always, from now on, in terms of “we” and not “me.” Everything they do, every plan they devise and every decision they make should now consider what is for their mutual collective interest. When there is a difference of opinion and one partner thinks about self then there are more chances of separation. Factors such as poor communication, financial problems, a lack of commitment to the marriage, a dramatic change in priorities, and infidelity may be the major causes of divorce.

David H. Olson, professor emeritus in family social science at the University of Minnesota, suggests four ingredients that make up a strong marriage: communication with each other, skill to resolve conflict, closeness and feeling intimate, and being flexible. He says, “Those who have these four things are the ones who are going to make it in our society. The ones that don’t have them are going to be pretty frustrated and end up in divorce.”

The hope is that in this present day Indian culture, where permanence is not valued, couples may see more clearly that there are advantages in staying together “in sickness and in health, in joys and in sorrows, until death.”


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