The Dalit Christians: A History


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After conversion, people in India lose any privileges they had in their former caste , while those in lower castes often gain more opportunities. Reservation is available to Dalits who follow Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, but Dalit Christians and Muslims are not protected as castes under Indian Reservation policy.

In the constitutional policy was extended to cover the rest of the 3, backward castes in the country.

‘Dalit Christians still trapped in caste’ - The Hindu

But Christians who claim to belong to no caste are not included in the quotas, meaning those Dalits who convert to Christianity are no longer part of the affirmative action program run by the government. Dalit Christians have now appealed to the government to extend the benefits of reservation policy to Dalit Christians in order to improve their employment opportunities.

According to the study, Indian Muslims and Christians should be brought under the ambit of the constitutional safeguards. Patil R.


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. The Times Of India. Though Christian songs were largely used to reach out to larger audiences during the colonial period, these also contained certain specific messages and ideas. The songs informing singers and listeners about the abolition of agrestic slavery in Travancore were important in this context. However, over time, compositions depicting the discrimination of Dalit Christians, and the caste-based contempt they physically faced, also increased, reflecting the hope and anguish of Dalit Christians.

Finally, Christian songs are important for Dalit history and their search for rights and citizenship in a caste ridden society. Christianity is profoundly implicated in today's struggle for social recognition, political voice and cultural identity among Dalits in India, many of whom converted decades, even centuries, ago in efforts to contend with subordination.

But understanding how even one tradition of Christianity has become part of modern emancipatory projects involves a long and intricate history that bring out of contradictory trends, and an ethnographic depth that refuses simple or facile explanations based on notions of trans-historical Christian universalism.


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  6. Asking about the role of religion in social transformation raises what turns out to be one of the most important issues of this research, namely the conditions under which 'religion' itself came to be a significant category of action separate from politics and culture in south India. The account here begins not, as usual, with the colonial transmission of western ideas of 'religion' along with Protestant missions, but with an older pre-colonial Jesuit mission encounter in the early 17th century.

    It becomes clear that Jesuit 'religion' produced the secular - the realm of caste, politics and culture - even before the colonial secular produced religion as we understand it today. The research then traverses a four-century history which leads, by way of significant colonial and postcolonial transformations and unexpected turns , to contemporary Dalit activism and politics.

    It became clear that while the separation of 'the religious' and 'the civil' or cultural first allowed Jesuits to accommodate Christianity to caste hierarchy, the later expansion of a domain of 'Christian religion' apart from caste created the space for Dalit political action in south India, long before civic or constitutional rights became the basis of Dalit public action. Along the way this research offeres significant insights into, inter alia: the historical production of categories of 'religion' and 'culture;' religious gifting and the organisation of precolonial Tamil plains; the impact of Jesuit thought on western scholarship on India the incorporation of Brahmanical conceptions of 'traditional' India as the basis of Orientalist scholarship, colonial administration and later anthropological writing ; the mutual influence of Tamil religiosity and popular Catholicism; the social and semiotic effects of Christianity; alternative theories of caste; the importance of saint festivals to the political mobilisation of Dalits; the roots of contemporary dalit activism; the emergence and polarisation of religious identity under the influence of Hindu nationalism and Pentecostal fundamentalism; or the local defusion of potential caste and religious conflict and violence.

    Apart from its research outputs, the project has forged a productive relationship with Jesuit scholar and dalit activist Co-researcher Fr Selvaraj Arulnathan SJ. As well as contributing to my understanding of contemporary Dalit activism and adding experiential and biographical depth to it, Fr Selvaraj has himself produced a series of research outputs including a PhD thesis on contemporary Dalit activism and offered a comparative field-based 'empirical philosophy' of Black activism in the United States This work has been shaped by our interactions.

    Following this research collaboration, Fr Arulnathan has been appointed as Head of the Dalit Unit at the Indian Social Institute New Delhi from where he has begun significant initiatives in support of research and Dalit activism. Our collaboration involves on-going reflection on religious action and Dalit rights campaigning. Among the findings of this research project are the following: The separation of 'religion' and 'culture': The south Indian Jesuit mission in the early 17th century introduced a tripartite distinction between true faith, idolatry and a residual sphere of 'culture.

    This also involved a dual 'semiotic ideology' Keane In the realm of 'culture' signs and referents were separable, so that Christian meanings could be given to exiting signs, whereas in idolatry they were indexically fused. These distinctions would have enormous significance: first, in allowing missionary experiments in signification and the 'accommodation' of Christianity to existing semiotic and social forms especially caste hierarchy , and second, in secularising caste order so as to in-build negotiability, change and eventually cultural critique.

    These twin effects would unfold over years. Christian reproduction of indigenous orders: Missionary Christianity is often regarded as a modernising force disrupting existing social and representational systems.

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    But the Jesuit tradition which would in the late 20th century become a source of Dalit radicalism, cultural critique and social movements, first developed by becoming a part of, and reproducing, Tamil socio-political and religious systems. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the structure of mission was preceded by syncretic saint cults one of which has been examined in detail located within regional sacred geographies.

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    Incorporated into the mission structure and patronised by Hindu kings, Catholic saints were the focus of public worship that took Tamil temple form. Worshipped as royal personages and protectors in their royal seats or kovils Tam: temple , saints were a focus for elaborate systems of service, gift and honours which articulated caste orders, economic rights and political connections.

    Later, under conditions of colonial rule and competition with Padroado and Protestant missions , Jesuits oversaw further elaboration of schemes of ranked caste an effect usually attributed to British administrative interventions such as the censuses or systems of recruitment, Dirks Up until the late 20th century, social power was produced locally through Catholicism which provided a ritual mechanism for the 'fabrication' of rural caste orders. Emphatically, caste was not a Hindu religious institution, but could take Catholic form. Moreover, Jesuits secured jurisdiction over parishes and the affiliation of diverse castes of Catholics at the expense of the systematic subordination and exclusion of their 'untouchable' Dalit converts.

    Religious co-existence rooted in the organisation of popular religiosity: A popular Catholic imaginary and practice was produced through a combination of inference from missionary teaching and Tamil forms of religiosity. The popular Catholicism described in tei project is a dynamic social field not a stable synthesis.

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    A History of the Dalit Christians of India

    In this, the exclusionary demands of missionary Christianity are negotiated, sometimes 'doubled and disturbed' Bhabha in mimetic forms, and made socially viable in terms of relationships of caste and across religion, so as not to demonise the gods of one's neighbours. The research has examined closely the distinctive modes of cultural invention the conception of divinity and separation of ritual spaces through which this is accomplished, and which lay the foundation for religious co-existence over two centuries The social and semiotic effect of Christianity: While reproducing forms of social power and religiosity, Jesuits brought distinctive Christian elements which often in combination with other historically specific factors contributed to changing social orders and establishing the conditions for radical change.

    Christianity introduced a relativizing against transcendent truth self-distancing, sociological awareness into social forms in Tamil villages. Catholic religion taught that the actor and the act, caste and occupation, substance and code were separable, and introduced a sharp distinction between individual sin and other life effects impurity, 'bad time,' inauspiciousness in a manner that contrasts recent ethnographies of Hindu caste. Converts thus strained way from the 'indexical contiguities' emphasised in these ethnographies which merge the moral and the material.

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    Thus the exchange of substances ie matters of purity and pollution was unimportant to the making of moral persons. Two things followed: first, while Tamil Catholics retain socially significant caste-dividing ritual structures at life-transition and other rituals, these are hollowed out of specific meanings; second, Christians are shown to have acquired capacities for symbolic manipulation which make ritual meanings negotiable or introduce new interpretations.

    This latter is of particular importance to Dalits: o Dalits participating in church sacraments were more able to treat exclusion as polluted persons as arbitrary and symbolic of their inferiorisation as labourers and servants rather than substantially connected to or an index of their persons; o the capacity for symbolic manipulation underlies village level re-negotations in the context of servitude, as well as a contemporary Dalit cultural politics, Dalit theology and Dalit anthropology that honours and outcaste culture in public celebrations of Dalit arts of liberation.

    Defusing the radical implications of Christian conversion: For long periods in fact, two centuries the potentially socially disjunctive influences of Christianity did not effect social changes for Dalits.

    The Dalit Christians: A History The Dalit Christians: A History
    The Dalit Christians: A History The Dalit Christians: A History
    The Dalit Christians: A History The Dalit Christians: A History
    The Dalit Christians: A History The Dalit Christians: A History
    The Dalit Christians: A History The Dalit Christians: A History

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