Friday, July 27, 2012

Casteistic Colour of the Church

This was written exactly 10 long years ago when I still believed in many things; wrongly though. :) Found this buried in one of my old mails and sharing it here because not much has changed about the church even today.  Please pardon some of my assumptions, especially about the evolution of castes or the gross misunderstandings of class as errors of enthusiasm…
Caste has always been intrinsic to the Indian society. But what is Indian about the Church—the ‘called out’ group? This, I have always asked the self-appointed interpreters of the Bible and myself. I found my answers through introspection and by speaking to people outside the walls of the church and never from the leaders who preach and decisively and interpret the Word of God.
These are leaders who talk about or voyeuristically sensationalise the revered crucifixion with their graphic descriptions. They tell you how important it is for a woman to veil her head and not speak loudly in the church because the Bible says so. They also tell the women not to wear a bindi or sandalwood paste (even in marriages where it is offered to the guests) because it is Indian. There is also something that they drill into you.  If you are a true, born-again Christian you cannot or must not identify yourself with the Indian society because we are the citizens of the New Jerusalem. Fair enough? But, they are also the ones who want their children to marry within the same caste!
Why should only the leaders be blamed when most of the Indian Christian population both in India and abroad holds on to caste? It is because these leaders as the upholders of the religion have no responsibility in uprooting this unique, weird custom of India but become leaders or preachers ostensibly for the furtherance of God’s kingdom on earth! (Let me ask them a few things—is God Nadar, Dalit or Vellala? By the way did Adam and Eve belong to the same caste? Isn’t God and Kingdom of God above caste and Gender differences?) Isn’t caste HINDU? If you cannot tolerate a silly dot on the forehead and have the audacity to quote the scripture in Exodus 3: 2, how do you advocate caste? Did you know that the Hindus themselves whom we Christians dismiss and conveniently categorise as idol worshippers are slowly looking down upon caste?
The majority of Indian Christians hold on to Caste. What is it that makes a born-again Christian cling to caste despite following a religion that is above caste? And what is this caste system? It is the pattern of social classes in Hinduism. According to this, the Brahmins are placed at the top followed by the kshtriyas, the vaishyas, the sudras and the outcastes. The Bhagavad Gita lists the various duties and qualities of the people belonging to each caste. To give you an example, the Brahmin is endowed with qualities like loving-kindness, vision and faith, while the duty of the sudra is service! And what kind of service are we talking about? Tasks that involve too much pollution to be done by the caste hindus—dealing with the bodies of dead animals, manufacturing leather goods (to be worn by the caste hindus, ofcourse!) and cleaning up human waste.
So, how did it all this begin? One of the popular theories about the origins of caste is the Purusha Suktha in the Rig Veda. It is about how the people of the four castes came from each organ of brahma, the hindu god of creation. According to the legend, the brahmin came from the head, the kshatriya from the chest, the vaishya from the stomach and the sudra from the feet. Given a choice, I wouldn’t want to materialise out of any of his organs. I would prefer to be made from mud! Then according to hindu mythology I would be called a chandala, whose mere shadow would pollute the caste hindus even from 64 miles! In today’s situation, I wouldn’t be bothered about it. But it was not possible for the dalits or the low caste sudras who were tortured in the name of caste in various parts of India centuries ago? Now, I would like to add here that the lifestyle and livings conditions of the dalits and the sudras did not vary much, except for the fact that untouchability was practised on the dalits and it was not on the sudras*. That was again because the dalits killed, skinned the cows to make musical instruments and ate beef. And as it stands, if you like beef and eat beef you are a chandala!
The dalits and the low caste sudras couldn’t enter temples and didn’t have enough to eat and basically did not have dignity both in life and death. There were times when they couldn’t wear an upper garment and were ridiculed all the time for their so-called lowly birth. When this people came across a God who said “Come to me art thou heavy laden, I will give you rest”, the oppressed sections of the society converted and threw away everything that reminded them of their misery except the memories of stratification of the society. But how has it survived among the Indian christians for over 2000 years? The caste system I believe basically thrives because of the primal human feeling that constantly makes you think that you are always better than the other person. In some cases this feeling helps you to perform and work hard and rise up. But on the other hand with caste system, if you belong to a so-called ‘upper’ caste, you can afford to be lazy and not work. This primal feeling continued in the christian converts and the low caste sudras considered themselves to be above the dalits and started to do to the dalits what was done to them by the ‘upper’ castes before they converted. Thanks to all these people within the church, casteism has survived in certain christian families in such a manner that it will put to shame even the orthodox hindu brahmins!!
Now what kind of examples are we setting up for the future generations? No wonder the christian population according to the 1991 census is 19.6 million which amounts to a measly 2.3% of the total Indian population. And we are content with singing songs with the following words: Parologathai indiargal nerapuval thuthiungal (Indians will fill heaven, Praise). I remember somebody saying, “If christians in India lived as christians, there would not be any other religion in India”. This goes to prove only this, we the christians have not lived like christians, despite having to follow only two commandments—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your strength and Love thy neighbour as thyself”. Infact, to illustrate who the neighbour is our Lord related a parable where a samaritan (today’s dalit) helps a man in need. With that Jesus removed class differences and in the Indian context, caste differences. So, how is that we who have chosen to follow christ can afford to be caste-conscious? Don’t we consider ourselves to be the products of the revolution Christ spearheaded 2000 years ago against rules that tied down people and the sectarian outlook that granted salvation only to a select few?
If we can’t act now, it is pointless to be christians and doing all kinds missionary work converting the tribals, but by no means letting them into our families because of caste. The time has come for us to wake up and identify our sin and to sin no more. Otherwise it is only fair that the christians who cannot give up caste reconvert to Hinduism where you would atleast have a religious basis to profess and practise caste. That way, the rest of us would be able to worship the Lord in oneness of spirit and truth.
Hannah Jayapriya


Anonymous said...

This is prevalent not only in India, I have read about instances in parts of Mexico and China where communities or castes are followed and Christians/Muslims tend to look down upon others who are from their castes. Sad.

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