15 June 2007

Untouchables - Dalits and Hindutva - Synchroblog

Over the last few years I have edited a number of abstracts of articles in missiological journals and a surprisingly high proportion of them deal with Dalits and Hindutva.

Consider the following extracts from a missiological article "Post Modern Challenges to Christian Mission in India" by V. Devasahayam (Bishop in Madras, CSI)
Though there has been a variety of approaches among missionaries, this wholly negative picturisation of mission history is neither factual or true to the experience of people in India, particularly the oppressed. JW Pickett says that Christianity has contributed to the economic development of converts, through education, health services, housing, personality reconstruction, reduction of wasteful expenditure etc. Missionaries protected the untouchable converts from violence and harassment, pleaded with government for their rights and represented them in public forums and courts. Their efforts to draw public attention the untouchables question stimulated Indian efforts on their behalf. “The fear of the Christian missionary is the beginning of social wisdom in India” remarked K. Natarajan

Mrs. Mohini Das attests to this fact:

“Stop for a moment and see what is happening. In both mission schools and government schools and hospitals the daughters of so called ‘Depressed classes’ now Christians, are teaching and tending the children of ‘Brahmins’. Untouchables? What has happened? They are untouchables no longer, for Jesus has touched them”.

To say that, however, affirms only the positive side, but there was a negative side as well, because a bit further on in the same article the author writes:

The caste Christians have not recognised Christian Dalits as equals and Dalits’ claim to equality is resented. Syrian Christians protested when all students were seated together in the CMS Teacher Training Institute in 1905. They complained to the Bishop: “We shall be glad to be informed why you have made this innovation in the seating arrangements without paying due attention to our feelings and opinions”. Fortunately the petition was dismissed both on theological ground and on the principle of equality. When Dalits demanded admission in school for their children, it was resisted by caste people including caste Christians. A prominent journalist wrote: To admit together the caste that had been cultivating intelligence for generations and those castes who had been cultivating land tannamount to tying a horse and a buffalo to plough under the same yoke. There are stories of caste Christians jumping out of the church through the windows when some Dalits were taken into the church for baptism. Christian Dalits are discriminated against by caste Christians both in the religious and secular spheres.

I have quoted just one article but one can read much the same in many articles in many different journals. One can summarise it by saying that Christian mission helped to improve the social position of the Dalits in India, but that many caste Christians were scandalised by this. And in recent years there has been growing resistance among Brahmins, leading to a growth in Hindutva -- Hindu nationalism.

Again, in the same article the author describes Hindutva without "Hindu tolerance": From the time of Gandhi, Hinduism was known for its tolerance of other religions, but that time is rapidly passing, and Hindutva seems to be gearing up for the Clash of Civilizations.
The controversial supreme court Judgement on Dec.11, 1995 has given Hindutva a legal approval: “ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind, and it is not to be equated with or understood as, religious Hindu fundamentalism”. The Hindu nationalist parties fought the elections in the name of Hindutva with the legal sanction for the first time. The architect of Hindutva ideology Savarkar’s said, “the crying need of our times is not men of letters but soldiers. …. you should abandon your pens in favour of guns.” The major items of Hidutva agenda are the consolidation of the Hindu community, the defence of its religion, the Hinduisation of politics, the militarisation of Hindudom, the establishment of Hindu rashtra and the reconversion of former Hindus.

Read the full article here:

For other synchrbogs on the theme of "untouchables", see:


Sally said...

I too blogged on the Dalits, but not in such depth, thank you for this Steve, we must allow ourselves to be challenged into action/ prayer. Thoughtful and informative as always!

Steve Hayes said...


It certainly seems to be one of the hot missiological topics of the 21st century judging from the number of articles written. I was short of time this month, so simply strung together a few extracts from one article to highlight some of the issues.


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