DALITS OF TAMILNADU
AND THE EMERGENCE OF DALIT THEOLOGY
is an ordained pastor of the ALC Church. He is a full time activist and
helps Theological Students of TTS, Madurai to do Dalit theology in his spare
Thank you for giving me an
opportunity to share some of the Indian Dalit concerns with you. First of
all I would like to emphasize that whatever I am going to share with you is
my personal experience in India and the experience of our Dalit Liberation
Movement (DLM) for which I am working. I am not sharing anything with you
which has appeared in Indian volumes of books, or periodicals, or
Very recently the problems of Dalits in India have become known worldwide.
But, for the last so many decades their problems were not considered very
seriously. Why? The answer is very simple. They were unnoticed all these
years. When the word India is pronounced, the first name that would come to
our mind is Shri Mohandhas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who got independence
to India by way of Ahimsa. The world praises him for his achievement of
winning Independence without any revolution and even without
shedding a drop of blood. But the world does not know that 27% of the total
population of India which consists of Dalits have been refused their rights,
their culture destroyed and their history buried after independence came to
India. They are still living a life of deaf, dumb and disabled. The Dalits'
feelings were also hushed up by the Churches in India. The National
Christian Council of India and larger ecumenical bodies like CCA and WCC
have only been expressing some concern. The main reason for this is due to
the fact that the Indian Churches are ruled by Caste Christians. When a
Dalit Christian from India put forward the problems that are being faced by
them in India in a WCC meet, a caste Christian who was then working there
told the gathering that the Dalit problem is very simple and this should not
be brought to WCC level. It proves that except the Dalits no other can
understand or will try to understand a Dalit's problem. The wounded person
only knows the pain. Even today Indian Dalits are treated worse than
animals. Their rights are denied to them.
If I have to put before you the statistics, it is like this:
In 1986, 563 Dalits were murdered, 726 Dalit women raped, 1032 arson took
place and 1406 Dalits were seriously hurt. In 1987, 495 Dalits were
murdered, 674 Dalit women raped, 812 arson took place and 1503 Dalits were
seriously hurt. In 1988, 579 Dalits were murdered, 779 Dalit women raped,
745 arson took place and 1733 Dalits were seriously hurt. In 1989, 533
Dalits were murdered, 829 Dalit women raped, 699 arson took place and 1926
Dalits were seriously hurt. In 1990, 553 Dalits were murdered, 788 raped,
553 arson took place and 1570 Dalits were seriously hurt.
Till May 1993 this year, 31 Dalits were murdered, 67 Dalit women raped, 12
arson took place and 121 Dalits seriously hurt.
You would have noted from these statistics the cruelty being faced by Dalits
each year. Why I am sharing all these with you? Not to gain sympathy! But
your attention should be drawn to the Dalits and you should tell the people
of the world that the fight for the human rights of the Dalits is a
justified one. Dalits alone cannot fight with the caste Hindus in India for
achieving fruitful results. Those who are ready to come out to join hands
with the Dalits, they should do so without any hesitation.
The word "Dalit" comes from Sanskrit.
The meaning - distressed, crushed and downtrodden people. Various people
have given various names to Dalits. For example, Mahatma Gandhi named them "Harijans".
Britishers called them "Scheduled Caste". In Vedas, they are described as "Panjamar",
"Sandalan" and "Avvarna". But these most unfortunate people
who were called by various names have named themselves as
"Dalits". Today the name Dalit has united all the people of various
segments, (deemed untouchable and severely oppressed with religious
legitimation) together. In India there are about 468 segments of Dalit
people. Although these groups have different culture, they are all united in
one banner - "Dalit". They have now started functioning with speed and
The History of Dalits
Dalits are the ancient people. We can say
that they only introduced culture in India. In the recently concluded "World
Human Rights Conference" at Vienna, our Central Minister Shri Manmohan Singh
said that we do not have Adhivasis in India. But this is not true. Dalits
are the Adhivasis of India. The Indus Valley Civilization and Mesapotomia
Civilization are in fact the civilization of Dalits. Only after the Dalits
the Aryans and Dravidians settled in India. But today the Dalits are
landless laborers. More than 3000 years ago Dalits ruled India. They were
the owners of all property. If a King wins a battle in the neighboring
country, he makes the loser King and his people as slaves and snatches all
their properties. Here also, the Aryans and Dravidians snatched away all
properties of the Dalits and made them slaves. Aryans after snatching of all
the properties of the Dalits, kept them aside branding them as out-caste.
Now Dalit's problem is not simply
caste-oriented but it is race-oriented. This is a problem like that of
"Whites and Blacks".
Glossary: Panjamar (The Fifth i.e. outside the accepted four castes which
are supposed to have been evolved from God - Prajapati); Sandalan (coicked man); Avarna (those who are
colorless - without anyone of the four colors Varna).
To legitimise the oppression, the Aryans have used their Vedas. The Brahmins
of India have all along been telling that "Brahma" is God of Creation and
those born from his head are Brahmins, from his hands are "Shatriyas", from
his stomach are "Vaisyas" and from his legs are "Sutras". This way they have
created castes. And, those born apart from the above are "Panjamars" and "Avvarnas".
This way they have separated the Dalits. Hence, Dr Ambedkar said that unless
and until Hinduism is destroyed, casteism cannot be eradicated. He further
said that as long as the Hindu religion is not willing to abolish caste
segregation untouchability will be there and as long as one is a Hindu, one
will also support untouchability. In India every man and every woman is born
with a caste. Without a caste nobody is born. You will understand the extent
of casteism that has taken roots in India. Only this casteism sustains Hindu
Religion. Few inter-caste marriages or re-marriage of widows take place. In
1900s there was a system called "Sathi". "Sathi" means the wife will also
get into the funeral pyres of her husband will be burnt. This method was
observed to save casteism by Hindus. These are some of the reasons for the
entrenchment of casteism in India.
Yuwan-Suwan, a 12th century Chinese traveller to India has mentioned in his
tour diary that Dalits have been subjected to many cruelties by Hindus. In
those days Dalits were not permitted even to walk through the main streets
where Hindus lived. In case they have to walk through the streets of higher
caste people, they should have a bell tied to them so the bell rings while
walking warning caste Hindus to protect themselves from being polluted.
While walking, the Dalits should have a pot tied to their neck. In case they
have to spit then they should spit in
the pot tied around their necks. Besides all these, the Dalits had to tie a
branch of leaves on their backside of hips touching the street. This is
because that the road after his walk should be simultaneously cleaned by the
leaves he has tied on his hips. You will understand how cheaply Dalits were
treated in those days. Even today we see such kind of hardships being faced
by Dalits. Till now in many villages the Dalits are prohibited from wearing
footwear. They should not take water from the public wells. They should not
ride bicycles. In tea shops, separate glasses are kept for Dalits for taking
their tea. Last year we conducted a bicycle yatra (tour) from October 2-10
in Anna District demanding eradication of untouchability. This was conducted
by our Dalit Liberation Movement and we submitted a Memorandum to the
District Collector (The top bureaucrat who has powers above the top police
official) indicating elaborately the kind of atrocities that are taking
place in each of the villages of the said District. Do you know what kind of
an action was taken by the authorities? I was arrested on the mid night of
October 12, 1992 for instigating people for the riots. You will see from
this that untouchability has the full support of higher authorities and it
has become a legalized one, although laws have been enacted to abolish
untouchability and to make the practice as a crime!
The main backbone for growing casteism in India is Hindu religion. Dr
Ambedkar who opposed casteism was never considered a National leader, and in
fact he was branded as an enemy by Gandhi and other leaders. December 6, is
celebrated as Dr Ambedkar's Remembrance Day in most parts of India. To make
people forget that day, Babri masjid was demolished on December 6 by Hindus.
The Problems Being Faced by Dalits
Land - As I explained to you
are the Adhivasis (i.e. the real natives) of India. They were the owners of
all lands. Because of Aryan entry into India they were made landless
laborers. They were treated as slaves. Therefore, 99.9% of the Dalits are
till today leading their lives as landless laborers. You can easily identify
and divide a village in two parts - Land owners and landless laborers. All
landless laborers are Dalits. Therefore, the Dalits have to live with the
meager income from land owners. Whatever the land owners expect from Dalits,
they are compelled to do. Therefore, all sorts of menial work is given to
the Dalits. The work includes conveying death message of a Hindu family
member to surrounding villages by shouting in the streets, removal of dead
cattle, sheep and chickens, to lift night soil from the dry latrines on
their heads, digging graves in graveyards and watching over the funeral
pyres for the dead until cremation is completed..... Untouchability becomes
more effective because of all these jobs are considered as polluting. Dalits
cannot cultivate in the lands given to them by the Government and they
cannot take lands on lease from the temple. Because, if they do so, they are
likely to be killed and the police will take no action.
In June 1992, two Dalit youths namely Ammavasai and Velu were killed because
they took on lease a piece of land from a temple in Chennakarampatti. They
were stabbed in a running bus while they were travelling and their
intestines were taken out in front of a few policemen also travelling in the
same bus. Therefore, the Dalits cannot even think of owning lands in India.
With regard to their wages for the labor, it is quite painful for me to
point out that they are paid the lowest wages which cannot even be
considered enough for mere survival. If they ask for hike in wages, they
will be brutally attacked or killed. In the year 1968 when the Dalits asked
for a slight increase in their wages in a village called Keelvenmani in
Tanjore District, about 48 Dalits were forcibly kept in a small house and it
was set fire to. You will be surprised to hear about how much increase they
demanded. It was half-a-litre paddy increase for each which would cost
around Re.1 in those days. The pitiest part of this incident was when a
Dalit woman who could not withstand to see her 6 months old baby being
burned along with her threw the baby outside and the caste Hindus instead of
showing mercy for the baby again threw it back into the fire. The Dalits of
India can never forget this incident in their life time.
The problem being faced by Dalit women land laborers are even more pathetic.
They are subjected to sexual abuse by the land owners. In case they refuse
such favors, they will not be allowed to stay in the villages. In Tamil Nadu,
the most sufferers of this kind of sexual abuse are still living in Anna
District, Erode and Kamarajar District, yielding without option to the best
of the land owners. Because of their total incapacity to resist a myth of
willing immorality has been created.
The liberation of Dalits is therefore closely linked with their landlessness
and imposed dependency co-related to the land problems.
A District is an administrative
unit comprising around 20 townships and about a 1000 villages - total
population approx 5 million.
The Political Conspiracy Against the Dalits
In 1932, Dr Ambedkar had an agreement
with the British Government. It was that the Dalits will have their rights
to choose their
leaders for the State Assembly and Parliament. For then only the Dalits
would be saved from the political oppression of caste Hindus and by
selecting leaders on their own. For only then they can depend upon them to
voice their demands and rights in the Assembly and Parliament. In the Round
Table Conference, Dr Ambedkar argued that for the upliftment of the Dalits
and to liberate them from caste Hindus a "Two Vote System" should be
allowed. On this, the British Government agreed to the Dalit demand for a
"Two Vote System". But, Gandhi intervened and told the public that the "Two
Vote System" will separate Dalits from Hindus and in case this system is
brought into force, he will go on indefinite fast until his death. Then
Gandhi was in Airvada Jail. After 5 days of his fast Gandhi's health
condition deteriorated and leaders like Rajaji, Nehru and Rajendra Prasad
approached Dr Ambedkar and told him that if Gandhi is dead, the Dalits will
be more affected and they will not be able to live in India. They requested
Dr Ambedkar to take back his demand for a "Two Vote System". Dr Ambedkar
signed Pune Agreement on 24th September 1932 giving up his demand for the
"Two Vote System". According to this agreement certain constituencies are
denoted as Reserved Constituencies' in which only a Dalit by origin can
contest but the entire population entitled for 70% caste Hindu votes will
vote for one of them. This means only docile Dalits willing to abide by the
untouchability custom will ever be voted in. Because of this agreement, the
Dalits' voices are not raised in Parliament and State Assemblies even today.
According to political atmosphere
prevailing in India today, only those with money power, high caste backing
and higher education can enter the parliament or Assembly as its members. A
person is elected according to the wishes of the majority caste in that
particular area. Till today no Dalit bold enough to press for the total
abolition of untouchability has been elected.
In Tamil Nadu, 44 MLAs were elected from the Reserved Constituencies. Even
then when many Dalits were killed in various parts of Tamil Nadu because of
caste atrocities not a single MLA of the "Reserved Constituency" raised
his/her voice in the Assembly on any of the above deaths. A further problem
is that the Dalit MLAs belong to various political parties. They are not
supposed to talk anything which is not authorized by the party. If the
Dalits approach the MLA of their constituency, he will say that he has not
been elected only for them as he has to represent the whole constituency.
But caste Hindus will never give up their political power. Number power and
money power are the main elements which are ruling India currently. When
Dalits raise their voices, they are arrested under TADA Act (A preventive
Detention Act under which one can be put in prison for up to 12 months
without recourse to court) and put into jails. This is how Dalit's rights
are crushed politically.
In India certain political parties prove their strength to the general
public by gathering its supporters in huge numbers (in lacs and lacs) and
conducting long processions. During these processions, usually Dalit huts
are burnt, Dalit women were raped and many of them murdered. In 1987, the "Vanniyar"
caste in Tamil Nadu indulged in "Rasta Roko" (in front of protest
through blockade of roads) demonstration demanding 30% reservation for their
caste in all places (work place and study centers). This
agitation prolonged for more than 10 days but, the Government did not accede
to their request. But they proved their strength by setting fire to 12,000
Dalit huts, killing 28 Dalit youths and sexually assaulting a few hundreds
of Dalit women. In fact "Vanniyars" and Dalits did not have any link at all.
But, when the violence was increasing, the Government finally agreed for the
reservations asked for by the "Vanniyars". Hence, to gain their political
demands, the parties and caste based forums take into task the innocent
The Dalits do not have any power within any of the political parties in
India. In Tamil Nadu there are 4 popular political parties viz ADMK, DMK,
Congress and Communist. In all the 24 Districts of Tamil Nadu not even a
single Dalit is given at least a post of District Secretary in any of these
For all the above reasons, Dr Ambedkar wanted the "Two Vote" system for the
Dalits which he had to give up for saving Gandhi's life. Because he could
not achieve the "Two Vote" demand the Dalits are suffering even today.
Social Suppression of the Dalit
In India, most of the people live in
villages. A village is divided in two parts - "Seri" where the Dalits live
and Village where the caste Hindus live. Right from childhood of a Dalit
(he/she) is kept away from caste Hindus. In village courts (not recognized
courts under India Act) Dalits are not permitted to sit equally to caste
Hindus. Dalit are prohibited from entering caste Hindu House. They cannot
walk in the street wearing footwear. They are not permitted to take water
from village public wells. In towns, if a Dalit goes looking for a house to
rent for he will not be given a house as he is
a Dalit. Even today in India villages, the Dalit students are made to sit
separately in class rooms. They are not permitted to take water from the
common pot kept in schools to quench their thirst. When the young generation
of the Dalits subjected to this kind of humiliations, the inferiority
complex in them grows inevitably. The brahmins of India have been repeatedly
saying that they are the highest human beings in God's creation and that all
others are unclean creatures. They are born as Brahmins because of their
Karmas in the pervious Janma (birth) and others due to their bad karmas are
born in lower castes. Dalits do not even have a caste. They are out castes
because of great evil they must have done in their previous life. And that
is the main reason they say for not allowing Dalits into temples. With
concrete plans by caste Hindus, the 27% population of Dalits are always kept
separate in India. In India, life is always linked to religion. Therefore,
the first enemy to Dalit is Hindu religion. Dr Ambedkar once commented that
"I was born as Hindu but never would like to die as a Hindu." In the year
1956, Dr Ambedkar entered the Buddhist religion along with 5,00,000 Dalit
people and even today it is felt that if Dalits have to regain their lost
dignity and other rights they have to convert themselves to some other
Dalit women are the most oppressed.
Sexual assaults and rape of Dalit women are increasing more and more. In
1989, a total of 829 Dalit women were raped followed by 799 in 1990. It is
to be noted that these are the cases reported. For every case reported many
go unreported. In Kamarajar District of Tamil Nadu, if a Dalit girl reaches
puberty, she is subjected to sexual abuse by caste Hindus, which, according
to Hindus, is an achievement in their life. These are the
Dalits who work full day in caste Hindu's lands for their (Hindus)
prosperity with meager wages and undergoing sexual abuse. If it is a news of
rape case then we can take it for granted that the affected female must be a
Dalit girl or woman.
Hindus worship a God named "Murugan" whose temple is always situated on
mountain tops. In 1993, a Dalit girl named Shanthi also went along with her
family members by walking a long distance to worship Lord "Murugan" at
Palani. On the mid-night on her way to temple, while she went to a road side
place for attending to call of nature, 3 Hindu boys took her away and gang
raped her throughout the night and left her on the road side the next
morning in an unconscious state. When the villagers found Shanthi, they
reported the matter to the nearby Police Station. The inspector of the
concerned Police Station visited the spot, told the village people to pay
some money to Shanthi and ask her to go to her native village. He never
bothered to enquire on the happenings and register a case. Then, our
Movement entered the scene and gheraoed (i.e. besieged) the Police Station
demanding registration of the case and medical check-up of Shanthi by
Government doctors. Seeing our solidarity, the inspector half-heartedly
accepted for the medical check-up and admitted Shanthi in a nearby
Government Hospital where the doctors did not care for her. Without even
examining Shanthi, the doctors gave first-aids to her and sent her out of
hospital. We got infuriated over this and our Movement along with 1000
youths entered into "Rasta Roko" (Road Block) agitation. Only then did the
concerned RDO and DSP come to us assuring strict action against the culprits
and the medical people responsible. You will now understand how we had to
fight for getting justice. And, you will be surprised to note that hundreds
of thousands of Hindu females went for the Darshan of the same God and it
was only a
Dalit girl who had to became a rape victim. Dalit women are subjected to
sexual harassment by caste Hindus right in front of their husbands. The
husband cannot even dare to ask questions regarding this.
In Chidambaram, Nandagopal, a Dalit man was taken into custody by policeman.
His wife, Padmini, after waiting for his return from the police station for
3/4 days went to the Police Station only to see her husband brutally beaten
by the policemen. When she asked why they were doing this, she was made to
undress in front of her husband and half-a-dozen policemen gang raped her in
his presence. I can surely say that this kind of a thing has never happened
to any caste Hindu woman. Because, with their number, power political and
money, the Hindus would have themselves settled scores against the vile
Though India became independent 46 years back, even today the Dalits have
not got their independence. Until today they continue to be treated as mere
objects for use and throw away.
The original culture of Dalits has been
discarded by caste Hindus. A section of Dalits called "Parayars" used to
beat small drums tied to their neck in ancient times, to inform people
regarding their King's plan for a battle with other King i.e. they were the
official heralds. But, nowadays they are compelled to beat drums in
processions carrying dead bodies. And doing this job today is considered as
a low caste job.
Indian Church and Caste
Even Indian Churches are built around
and function based on casteism. The Lutheran Churches, for instance, are
this. In 1706, when Ziegenbalg came to India for spreading the Gospel, he
was given a brief account of the prevailing casteism in India by Thiru
Ganesan, who taught Ziegenbalg Tamil language. Ziegenbalg, instead of
fighting against casteism, spread the Gospel saying, "Let's worship Jesus as
we are." According to the caste customs prevailing at that time, he gave a
third rate place for the Dalits in the Church. The Dalits were made to enter
the Church by separate Gates. Even for Communion, the Dalits were allowed to
come at the last. But, he did have some concern for the atrocities on Dalits
and thought mass conversion of Dalits will save them from caste atrocities.
Such a kind of mass conversions took place in Erode and Dharapuram areas of
Tamil Nadu. But, what they hoped for when becoming Christians has not been
achieved. For even today the Churches are in the hands of caste Hindu
converts and they do not give proper attention towards the Dalit cause.
In 1864, Ohks, a German Missionary visited India and said that the people of
LELM (Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission) have planted casteism in
Churches. He further said that we should oppose casteism in churches and
should not build churches on caste basis. For this, he was ousted from LELM.
He then built a Church without giving importance to casteism on behalf of
the Danish Missionary Society. This Church is now called as Arcot Lutheran
Church and I am proud to say here that I am a member of the above
distinguished Church. On those days whoever dared to oppose caste-based
Church, they were all made members of this Church. So the many who joined as
members were Dalits. When nobody was in the mood to think of Dalits, Rev
Ohks thought of them and founded a Church for them. After Rev Ohks left for
Denmark, LELM people wanted to break the efforts of Rev Ohks. In 1900, many
members of St Peters Church at Thanjavur joined LELM
since they could not be part of a Church without accepting caste. This
shows, even in those days how people were fond of caste based churches.
The so well started Church without any importance for the caste was then
joined by the pastors of Tirunelveli district and the basic principle of "No
Caste" was thrown away by them. There are now only a few members in this
church. The growth of the Church was curtailed. Casteism only made the
Dalits to convert themselves into Christianity. But the Churches did not
take it so seriously. Instead, the Churches brought some changes in the
Communion. The usage of two cups for Communion - one for caste Christians
and the other for the Dalits was changed into one cup for both but the cup
had long nose so that the Communion was given without touching the lips - we
can say it was poured. This kind of communion is followed even in these
Moreover, no inter-caste marriages took place all these days to eradicate
casteism. Firstly the caste Hindus objected for inter-caste marriages to
save Hinduism which was followed by Christians also so as to enable casteism
continue in Churches also. Instead of our main Gospel that "In Christ we are
one", it has been conveyed that "On caste basis we are separate". Therefore,
Dr Ambedkar quoted that even if a Dalits are converted to Christianity, they
are being treated there as a second rate person. This only made him to move
along with 5 lacs of Dalits to Bhuddism. But he maintained that if Dalits
want relief from casteism, then they should come out of Hindu Religion.
Therefore, it has been established that for relief measures, the Dalits need
to be converted. In these days, because of the importance being given to
casteism by Churches, many of the Dalits get converted to Islam.
Today's Indian Churches
Today's general outlook of the Churches
will appear as if there is no casteism at all. But only when we see the
Church very deeply, then we will be able to understand that casteism plays
an important role in the day-to-day functioning of the Churches. Till 1991,
in a cemetery at Trichy there was a habit of burrying high caste Hindus and
Dalits separately by constructing a wall in between. To protest against
this, the Dalits broke the wall which was re-built by caste Christians
within 3 days from the date of demolition of the wall. Same kind of an
effort by Rev Jacob Belly at Salem did not yield any fruitful result.
Nowadays in Madurai you can know a Christian's original caste by simply
asking him "To which Church you are going for worship?" since separate
Churches are for separate castes. At Trichy, for Church elections, the
candidates are not chosen on merit basis but, on caste basis.
In Ecumenical Institutions abroad and in Indian Churches, only caste
Christians can hold responsible posts. Dalit Christians assuming position of
leadership is still very elusive. In today's total Christian population of
India, 80% are Dalits. But, so far no member of Dalit Community has ever had
the chance of such leadership in WCC or CCA. This shows how the caste
Christians of India overpower the Dalits.
Besides caste Christians, Indian Government also treats the Christian Dalits
very badly. There is no difference in the society as such whether a Dalit is
a Christian or Hindu. Dalits are untouchable creatures whatever be their
faith. In the year 1991, eight Dalit Christians were brutally killed and 6
were buried alive at Sundoor in Andhra Pradesh. Therefore, if Dalits convert
themselves into Christianity it does not guarantee them
safety. In a Republican country like India Dalits even lose certain
facilities when they convert themselves. The law also changes for them. The
law called "Protection of Civil Rights" does not protect the converted
Christians. Therefore, Dalit Christians have became even more vulnerable
compared to other Dalits who remain Hindu.
Many scholars in India have Indianised the
Christian theology. Some of the notable persons are Bishop Appasamy, Thiru V
Sarkarai, Thiru Upadyaya, Sadhu Sundar Singh, Thiru H A Krishnapillai and
Thiru V Chenchiah, Dr P D Devanaudan..... These scholars were caste
Christians. They don't show any awareness about the cruelty of casteism.
Therefore, they could not create theology for the affected Dalits. Therefore
they Indianised the Christian Theology keeping in accordance with
brahmanical thought. Because of this, the worst affected are the Dalit
Christians. Even Mr M M Thomas could not do theology on the basis of Dalit
hardships. The theology created by the above were not for liberation of
Dalits. But, nowadays, Dalit theology is beginning to establish itself.
Dalit Theology is done by Dalits themselves. Jesus has been shown to us by
different teachers on their own view. So many theologians have added color
to the Bible and have expressed these in their worship services. But, one
can understand about Jesus's involvement in people's Liberation only when a
person involves himself in such an act. The world appears to us according to
the color of the glass we wear. But when we see the world without glasses,
then only we are able to see the real world. When we see Jesus according to
Bible we will see him as one sided. But when we see him as "Dalit Christ",
he looks like as if he is there to liberate people. When a Dalit is killed,
we feel as if Jesus is
killed. Jesus experiences the pain and shame of a Dalit woman. He gets
burned when Dalits are burnt. Thus, he links himself with the Dalits in
their liberation also.
Once a Dalit lady's sheep entered into a caste Hindu's house in search of
its food. The caste Hindu took charge of the law into his hands by beating
her with chapels and breaking her teeth. When the lady complained the matter
to the police, she was put behind the bars for allowing her sheep to
trespass. I went along with my friend to the Police Station and asked the
person-in-charge for his behavior towards the downtrodden Dalit woman.
There, the police made my friend strip and beat us both badly and put us
also into the cell. Then I wondered about the words of the Bible which says
that God is always with you in your sufferings. I asked myself, "If God is
with me, then why this injustice?" To get peace, I read out PsalmĒ71. It was
a very nice prayer. All of a sudden I heard many voices outside the Police
Station. About 500 Dalit women were there, broomsticks in their hands
demanding release of their leader (me) and the other arrested persons. When
the situation took an unexpected turn like this, which was never anticipated
by the police personnel, they contacted the District Collector and
Superintendent of Police who rushed to the spot immediately, took apology
from me and released all of us. I was really surprised over this. Time was
when the Dalits used to run away on seeing the police. They have now become
united themselves with courage and fought for justice. This remind me of
Ezekiel-37 in which the vision of "Dried Bones" is narrated. The "Dried
Bones" got into life and formed a "Big Force". Same way the Dalits united
themselves and gheraoed the Police Station. This shows the truth of God's
very word - "I am always with you in your sufferings". Therefore, we could
see "Dalit Jesus" in Dalit people's struggles. We could feel that the Church
which it has been started has now only geared up into functioning. God
created the world with the hope that his creation (Men and Women) will do
the good things which God is always doing. But, God's creation has forgotten
everything and have indulged in disgracing the same. Jesus was born to set
right all this. In today's world men have made people slaves. All are
created by God. To get his rights back (the slaves), Dalit Theology is
needed. Jesus worked for the removal of untouchability, of Samaritans and
for the restoration of full dignity for Galileans when Jesus rose from the
dead, he said that He will be seen in Galilee. His examples of lost sheep is
noteworthy. It shows his work among his people. Out of 100 sheeps 99 were
very safe in their place. But the one lost was wandering without any safety.
The danger would have been in any form - wolf, tiger and thieves. Hence
Jesus was worried and was looking for that lonely sheep. The same condition
applies for Dalits in India. The caste people are safe with the backing of
Police, Army, Government and Politicians. But Dalits are unsafe like the
lost sheep. To save them Jesus is born as Dalit Jesus.
Indian Churches should link themselves
in Dalit struggles. A church will not be considered as a Church unless and
until it has connections with all its members. The Church should always
function in accordance with Matt 10:34 "Do not think that I have come to
bring peace on earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword".
About three years back, Dalit women living in a village called "Mandavadi"
in Tamil Nadu were continuously subjected to sexual exploitation by the
caste Hindus of the same village. Hindus used to enter the houses of Dalits
and the women and girls were
subjected to sexual exploitation. If the Male Dalit returns home at that
time and if he sees the chapal of the Hindu outside his house, he cannot
enter his house. He can do so only after the Hindu comes out of his house.
Our Movement united all Dalits of this village and we all together fought
against the behavior of Hindus. The Hindus brought social boycott against
Dalits of the village. Provisions were stopped for Dalits. They were not
allowed to walk in village streets. They were refused jobs in the fields.
The District Collector, when informed about this social boycott visited the
village and arranged for peace meeting. The Hindus said that the village was
ONE and all lived as a FAMILY. But all was spoiled by Gnanasekaran's (me)
visit and now the village is divided into TWO and all live WITHOUT PEACE.
But for this, a Dalit said that though the village is divided into TWO now
and TENSION is alive, we the Dalits have experienced REAL PEACE only now.
Here again the words of Matt 10:34 has come alive. If the Dalits had
continued to put up with all excesses by caste Hindus then they could not
have achieved real peace. Even according to Bible Jesus never liked FALSE
PEACE. But the Churches in India today does not like to face problems and
likes the FALSE PEACE.
Matt 3:11 - "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming
after me is mighter than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will
baptize you with Holy Spirit and with Fire".
Today's Gospel work is not opening up Schools and Hospitals. The real Gospel
work is to fight for Dalits with courage and wisdom and this should be done
by Churches only since in the total population of Indian Christians, 80% are
Dalits. In fact, the word Christian means - "live for other", whereas
we see that we live for ourselves. This should be changed. The Churches should come forward to carry the Cross. As a Dalit I feel that the Churches should be prepared to do the following:
1. Many caste Christians might have joined hands with
caste Hindus for the success of casteism. They should realise their
mistakes and join hands with Dalits to fight against the
excesses on Dalits. For caste Christians this message should be given as Gospel on every morning in the
2. The Indian Churches have so many schools and Hospitals
under their control. Through these they should convey to
the caste Hindus and Christians about the hardships the Dalits are facing through the cruelty of caste
people. This way they
should bring awareness in them and thus the level of atrocities will come down to the great
3. Till the eradication of caste based Forums in the
society at large the Church should plan their activities based on Dalit's problems.
4. Dalits problems could not be solved with internal
agitations only. Organizations like World Human Rights Forum, UNO, etc. should come forward
to fight for the rights of
the Indian Dalits. Hence the Indian Churches should
function to get the support of International organizations.
5. The Social reforms of the Churches does not bring any
fruitful results in Dalit's upliftment. In some ways it helps Brahmanism. So, the Churches should
be more careful in future
while announcing social reform measures.
6. Foreign funds - Churches and Action Groups in India get
lots of money from Missions abroad. These are received for Dalit cause. But, usually such kind of
funds are not used for the
purpose for which it is sought. The Dalits are considered
to be a blank "White Paper" and all think that anybody can write on
them. Money received for Dalit upliftment should be used
strictly for the very purpose. Funding organizations should enable only those organizations
which are genuinely
7. Schools and Colleges run by Churches should admit Dalit
boys and girls and provide them education free of cost. They should also come forward to give
immediate jobs to Dalits
after completion of their education.
8. Churches should get Dr Ambedkar's books printed and
distributed among Dalits at a lower price affordable by Dalits.
9. The efforts to Indianise the Churches should be stopped
with immediate effect as it allows a kind of Brahmin culture to take roots in the Churches. Because
while Indianising the
Churches, Dalit culture and spirituality are totally ignored. Jesus should be seen in a
Christian perspective only.
Until now I have given you some idea about the Dalits' conditions in India.
Though it is not complete yet. I hope by this time you must have got a clear
picture of the magnitude of the suffering of the Dalits. I solicit the
prayers and support in our efforts, of all the readers of this article.