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President, All India Christian Council
International Director of the Dalit Freedom Network
Associate Director of Operation Mobilization International
UNDERSTANDING THEIR PLIGHT
There are four main castes in India. Beneath the four is a fifth group, the Scheduled Caste. They literally have no caste. They are the untouchables, the Dalits, which means oppressed, downtrodden, and exploited. Dalits are not considered to be part of the human society. They perform the most menial and degrading jobs. They’re seen as polluters of higher caste people. If a higher caste Hindu is touched by an untouchable or even has a Dalit's shadow cross them, they consider themselves to be polluted and have to go through a rigorous series of rituals to be cleansed.
In India, 25 percent of the population is Dalit -- approximately 250 million people. The higher classes have more privilege in education, employment, and opportunity. Being born a Dalit is a guarantee that you will be less well off and because of lack of education, you won’t get a good job. You can’t improve your situation.
You would wonder, then, why the Indian government would care what religion a Dalit was. Dalits aren’t allowed in the Hindu temple so it certainly seems the Hindus wouldn’t care. But as Dalits have come in contact with Christian believers and begun to embrace Christianity, a real problem developed. The Indian government actually made it a law that a Dalit could not become any other religion even though the Dalits aren’t allowed in the Hindu temple. Now Dalits are persecuted because they are Dalits and doubly persecuted if they become Christians.
A PERVERSE KIND OF HATE
Newspaper articles tell of young Dalit men fishing in a pond used by higher caste members were rushed by an angry mob. Mob members captured the young men and beat them. When the father of one of the angry attackers learned that the young men were being held, he and other adults confronted them. The older men urinated into the boys’ shoes and forced them to drink. A woman was raped because she was a Dalit. Even though the crime was acknowledged, no effort was made to find her attacker because she was just a Dalit.
Since 1998, persecution against Christians in India has escalated. Churches have been burned, pastors are beaten, and nuns and women of the church are raped. In recent years, this specific persecution has increased even more. Church properties in one Indian state were taken over and the graves of the deceased were dug up and desecrated. Images on the Dalit Freedom Network’s promotional CD show men whose heads lay open from severe beatings and women who weep at the death of loved ones.
A MAN WHO WILL HELP
Dr. Joseph D’Souza met Jesus as a university student in India. It was the teaching that the just shall live by faith that got his attention. Joseph had a Christian friend who gave him a New Testament and talked to him about the Lord. Joseph had been raised a Roman Catholic but prior to accepting the Lord, had become an agnostic. Eventually his heart was changed by the Word, and his faith became real.
Joseph has heard of the plight of the Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribes for 25 years. Joseph had married a woman from this caste. She would often recount to him what her people faced on a regular basis. Joseph says when he met his wife, they were both transformed and that the Christian faith removes all barriers. He knew that in Jesus we are all equal and deserving of proper, humane treatment. Joseph also knew that among extremist Hindus in India, Jesus was enemy no. 1, and Christians were enemy no.2. So to be a Dalit Christian was doubly bad. What was not evident on the surface was the reason for the hatred. The Dalit Christians were saying, “We’re not rioting, we’re not violent. Why attack us?” But for the last two decades, the Dalit Christians have been specifically targeted for abuse. This vicious situation continues to drives Dalits to look to Christianity and Jesus for hope and help out of these straits. Many Dalit leaders consider Christianity Option no. 1 for a Dalit to have both.
In November 2001, the Dalit people began their quest for individual freedom by embracing a number of religious options that would allow them to break free from the ancient caste system. The Christian church wholeheartedly embraced this movement and a major reform is the result. The Dalits are becoming Christians in record numbers and becoming free from the cycles of poverty and abuse. But the persecution increases as well.
Joseph says there are several important things going on right now.
Joseph’s All India Christian Council with offices in London, Hyderabad, and Denver, Colo., is responsible for working to provide resources and hands-on support to see the Dalit people be free from caste and religious bondage and from human rights abuse. The AICC formed in 1999 as a response to national denominations and churches for the purpose of offering protection and service to the Christian community and other minorities suffering persecution in India. The AICC is involved in providing education to Dalit children. This opportunity to educate the children also has opened a door to the gospel because the AICC teaches in English with a Christian worldview of all subjects. From this effort, the AICC knows that the long-term transformation of Dalit life can be accomplished. The Dalit Freedom Network grew out of the AICC’s need to facilitate work in the United States. The mission of DFN is to empower the Dalits to achieve the social freedom and dignity they need and deserve.
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