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Sunday, June 4, 2023

Separate “Dalit rite” from the Church, but demand SC quota from the government – the “Dalit Christian” missionary double game

News that the centre is thinking of setting up a committee to look into giving SC (Scheduled Caste) status to Christian and Muslims converts has created an uproar in social media. As many converts hide their religion for reservation benefits now, if realized, the proposal will make it legal and encourage more conversion activities. With the recent Supreme Court ruling in favour of OBC quota in All India Quota of UG and PG medical seats, this has given way to fear that any such move could further diminish the opportunities of those who are not eligible for reservation, while also eating into the quota reserved for SC Hindus.

There have been reports that the central government is mulling about setting up a panel  ‘National Commission on Scheduled Caste Converts to Other Religions’ after SC issued a notice following a number of petitions filed by the marginalised communities of Christianity. It has been a long standing demand of the marginalised section of Christians, who had converted out of Hindu Dharma on the promise that they won’t face social discrimination in the new faith. Alleging that they continue to face discrimination even after conversion, marginalised Christians have been demanding that the benefits of SC quota should be extended to them.

Article 366 of the constitution defines as SCs, only those who follow Hindu Dharma, Sikh, Buddhist and Jaina religions. Article 341 empowers the President to issue a public notification through which new castes can be announced as Scheduled Castes. To amend article 366 and include or exclude a caste into the SC fold the parliament must pass a law. This is what the converts have been demanding through the judiciary. In 2020, the National Council of Dalit Christians(NCDC) had filed a petition seeking to “delink religion” from SC status.

The court coupled similar petitions filed since 2004 and issued a notice to the centre seeking to know its stand on the issue. The centre seems to be thinking about setting up a panel to study whether the SC status should be accorded to the converted Christians and Muslims who originally belonged to the community.  The Ranganath Mishra committee had suggested it, but the government had maintained that it is against any such idea as it would encourage conversion. It is pertinent to note that marginalised Christian converts themselves accept that they converted on the promise that they will not be subjected to social discrimination based on caste.

National Council of Churches in India (NCCI) in its statement said that “Dalits embraced Christianity as a faith affirmation against caste slavery”. Franklin Caesar Thomas, co-ordinator of NCDC told The Hindu, “ I agree that Christianity does not preach caste, but it is Christians who still practice caste and continue to oppress and discriminate those from Dalit communities”.

Leaving aside the Hinduphobia in this statement which falsely implies that Hindu Dharma ‘preaches caste’, it shows that ‘caste’ (or jaati to be more accurate) is a social (not religious) categorization and any jaati-related discrimination is due to feudalism in our primarily rural/semi-urban society.

Even though the marginalised communities form 70% of the Christian population in Bharat, there are only 11 bishops from such communities out of the total 170. In the land of social justice, Tamil Nadu, where Periyar aka EV Ramasamy supposedly abolished the caste system, only 1 bishop out of 18 is from marginalised communities.

Recently, when a new bishop was to be appointed for the Salem diocese, marginalised people who form 60% of the congregation had demanded that someone from their community should be appointed as the bishop. Despite sending many letters to the Vatican and the nuncio, their demand was rejected. The height of insult was when representatives of the marginalised communities tried to meet the bishop of Pondichery- Cuddalore diocese over the appointment of  rector, to demand representation of their communities, they were not even allowed to enter the office. The protestors were made to stand outside a locked gate.

dalit christians
Protesting marginalised Christians made to stand outside the gate in the rain

Let us hear a direct account of such discrimination from the horses’ mouths. Sr.Robancy Amal Helen, an activist, told Sisters For Reports, “Dalits account for 12 million among 19 million Catholics in India. Some Dalits converted to Christianity hoping that they would find dignity and equality in the church. But sadly the caste system is practiced in Christianity, too. The Dalit Christians are deprived of opportunities in church leadership, education and employment. There are separate churches, cemeteries and hearse carts for the Dalits and upper-caste Christians”.

Mary John, President of the Dalit Christian Liberation Movement, who has been fighting for the rights of the marginalised communities in church administration accused of “nepotism and discrimination” in appointments, especially in the southern Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry region. He alleged that only candidates from non-marginalised castes are being considered for the posts of bishops and archbishops. Mathew of Dalit Christian Coalition said, “Dalits embraced Christianity believing the words of the pastors and bishops that there won’t be any discrimination in the religion. Sometimes we feel that we could have remained Hindus”.

Now, there is even talk of forming a new rite exclusively for “Dalit Christians”, apparently to let “Dalit Christians celebrate their music, culture and traditions” in peace similar to how the Syro–Malabar and Malankara churches do. In Hindu Dharma, the SC/ST communities don’t have to seek permission from anyone to worship their deities. If they show a stone or tree or a spring and say that its their deity, no Dharmaguru would contest their belief or say that they have no authority to build a temple or worship as a society.

In fact, there are many temples where those from SC, ST communities are hereditary pujaris and OBCs, Brahmins and so-called ‘upper caste’ people come to worship. But Hindu Dharma is propagated as the source of caste discrimination, while Christianity that demonised and continues to demonise Hindu dharma, is now condescendingly allowing their marginalised majority (SCs who converted out of Hindu dharma) to create a ‘separate rite’, thus effectively alienating them from other Christians and superficially returning their traditions to them after having torn these communities away from their unique, living Dharmic practises that gave rise to those traditions.

This, combined with the Vatican and other foreign churches’ chokehold on their Indian congregations, actually shows that discrimination within Christians in the name of caste, race or color is far worse than any discrimination within Hindu society. When the converts and the evangelists themselves accept that SC Hindus converted in the false hope of getting equal treatment, then what is the purpose of staying as Christians?

Why is Hindu Dharma called as the origin of caste- based discrimination when casteism (the term ‘caste’ itself originates from the Portugese ‘casta’) is rampant in churches, which goes higher up the hierarchy till Vatican? Today, SC Hindus can enter even a temple run by private trusts or individual families, with the help of the law if needed. But the same cannot be said for churches, who only answer to Canon Law.

We do not find a single movement which tries to take marginalised Christians into churches where they are not allowed, on the lines of the Temple Entry Movement. Instead, the “Dalit movements” are working towards establishing a “new rite”. The same segregation of African Americans in Black Churches is seen in USA.

The same “Dalit Christian activists” can be heard saying that if not for the missionaries, they would not have received education and economical empowerment. Reservation is provided in educational institutes and government employment for these two purposes. If they have achieved it with the help of the Church, why do they still need reservation from the government? By the same logic, the reservation benefits being availed today by OBC Christians are a complete travesty and need to be cancelled.

It is no surprise that allurement of education and jobs were offered to convert, as most missionaries are funded by wealthy Western nations. But it is hypocritical of these “Dalit/OBC Christians” to then demand a share even from the government reservation offered to poor Hindus. It is like having your cake, and eating it too.

A similar argument can be extended to “Dalit/OBC Muslim” converts too, who also benefit from a network of foreign-funded Muslim organizations and mosques, and thus don’t need additional government support. The issues faced by the marginalized Muslims, or Arzal class, are similar: persecution and discrimination by the Ashrafi Muslim elites whose supremacism is rooted in belief of their foreign ancestry.

Also, with the increasing minoritarianism of our governments, “Dalit/OBC Christians” and “Dalit/OBC Muslims” are already benefitting from minority-only schemes too.

Another pertinent point to be noted here is that, Christian educational institutions recognised as minority institutions need not follow the law on reservation in admission and appointment even if they are subsidised by the government. So, they do not have to admit or appoint the specific percentage of SC, STs in such institutions.

Have these so-called “Dalit Christian activists” ever tried to question this discrimination, or worked towards achieving equality in these institutions with the help of the Catholic and Protestant churches?

In conclusion, it is clear that “Dalit Christians” don’t really need govt. reservations in education and jobs for economic upliftment. What they truly desire is respect and acceptance in the Church community. The government should actually take control of Churches that discriminate against their marginalised masses, to end this discrimination. The powerful Church hierarchy, which believes itself to be above the Law, needs to be curbed.

The demand for SC status to Christian and Muslim converts is is driven by only one goal – to incentivize even more conversions of SC Hindus. The unique and priceless Dharmic practices of SC Hindu communities which have given rise to a diversity of religious/cultural traditions must be preserved at all costs. The Indian state must not promote cultural genocide and loss of socio-religious identity by incentivizing more conversions.

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  1. Reservations are for inequalities in social structures of Hindus, but others like Missionaries/ Islam don’t have that practice, hence Reservations cannot be extended to these converted groups, it will open flood gates & basic purpose of Reservations will be defeated…BJP/ NDA govt to come to senses, and stop these adventures, first bring in UCC, NRp, NRC, withdraw minority status, waqf boards AIMPLB, lease of church lands / masjids/ churches accounts to audited…


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