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Published : May 19, 2013 | Author : vasundhara163
Category : Constitutional Law | Total Views : 2605 | Rating :

  
vasundhara163
Vasundhara Rastogi, Final Year Student at Amity Law School, Delhi.
 

Caste And Conversion

2.1 Origin of Caste (Hindu Religion)
Prof. S. Radhakrishnan in his Hindu View of Life referring to Hinduism he says,
"The civilization itself has not been a short-lived one. Its historic records date back for over four thousand years and even then it had reached a stage of civilization that has continued its unbroken, though at times slow and static, course until the present day. It has stood the stress and strain of more than four or five millenniums of spiritual thought and experience. Though peoples of different races and cultures have been pouring into India from the dawn of History, Hinduism has been able to maintain its supremacy and even the proselytizing creeds backed by political power have not been able to coerce the large majority of Hindus to their views. The Hindu culture possesses some vitality, which seems to be denied to some other more forceful currents. It is no more necessary to dissect Hinduism than to open a tree to see whether the sap still runs."

The origin or existence of Hindu Religion in society cannot be traced to any specific date, it can be said that Hindu religion has been in existence since the very beginning of society. There has been a caste divide in the society ever since it came into existence. The caste divide was brought into picture for the orderly function of the society.

The Hindu Religion, as contained in the Vedas and the Smritis, is nothing but a mass of sacrificial, social, political, and sanitary rules and regulations, all mixed up. What is called Religion by Hindus, is nothing but a multitude of commands and prohibitions. Religion, in the sense of spiritual principles, truly universal, applicable to all races, to all countries, to all times, is not to be found in them; and if it is, it does not form the governing part of a Hindu's life. That for a Hindu, Dharma means commands and prohibitions, is clear from the way the word Dharma is used in the Vedas and the Smritis and understood by the commentators. The word Dharma as used in the Vedas in most cases means religious ordinances or rites.

The worst evil of this code of ordinances is that the laws it contains must be the same yesterday, today, and forever. They are iniquitous in that they are not the same for one class as for another. But this iniquity is made perpetual in that they are prescribed to be the same for all generations.

The Caste System or varna-ashrama has been one of the most misrepresented, misinformed, misunderstood, misused and the most maligned aspects of Hinduism. If one wants to understand the truth, the original purpose behind the caste system, one must go to antiquity to study the evolution of the caste system. Caste System, which is said to be the mainstay of the Hindu social order, has no sanction in the Vedas. The ancient culture of India was based upon a system of social diversification according to Spiritual development, not by birth, but by his karma. This system became hereditary and over the course of many centuries degenerated as a result of exploitation by some priests, and other socio-economic elements of society.

According to Sir S. Radhakrishnan:
" Caste divisions are based on individual temperament, (Sattvadguji brahmanah syat ksatriyastu rajodhikah tamodhiko bhaved vaisyo gunasamyattu sudrata.) which is not immutable. In the beginning there was only one caste. We were all Brahmins (Brhadaranyaka Upanishad I. 4. 11-5; Many I. 31. Cp. Also Mahabharata, XII. 188: na visesosti varnanam sarvam Brahman idam jagat brahmana purvasrstam hi karmabhir varnatam gatam.) or all Sudras. A smriti text says that one is born a Sudra, and through purification he becomes a Brahmin. (Janmana jayate sudrah samskarair dvija ucyate.)”

We are Brahmin not on account of birth or the performance of rites, not by study or family, but on account of our behavior. (na yonir napisamskaro nasrutam na ca santatih karanani dvijatvasya vrttam eva tu karanam.) (sarvoyam brahmano loke vrttenaca vidhiyate vrttisthitasu sudropi brahmanatva, mouaccjato – Anusasanaparva.) Even if we are born Sudras. By good conduct we can raise ourselves to the highest status. (sudrayonau hi jatasya sadgunan upastisthatah vaisyatvam labhate brahmam ksatriyattvam tathaiva ca arjave vartamanasya brahmanyam abhijayate – Aranyaparva. )

No Religious Sanction in Hindu Scriptures:
Lord Krishna as saying, in response to the question—
"How is Varna (social order) determined?" "Birth is not the cause, my friend; it is virtues which are the cause of auspiciousness. Even a candala observing the vow is considered a brahmana by the Gods."

Coming back to the caste system, varna was so conferred on an individual not on the basis of his parentage. As stated: in the Bhagavad Gita, Ch.4, Verse 13:

“The Lotus-Eyed God. Keshava, One Who Has Long, Black Matted Locks. Krishna, Dark-Complexioned Lord says: guna karma vibhagashah

The fourfold caste has been created by me according to the differentiation of Guna (attributes) and Karma;" Bhagavad Gita Ch. 18, V.41:

A most forceful of all is Sri Krishna's statement:
"The devotees of the Lord are not Shudras; Shudras are they who have no faith in the Lord whichever be their caste. A wise man should not slight even an outcaste if he is devoted to the Lord; he who looks down on him will fall into hell." – Mahabharata (source: The World's Religions - By Huston Smith p. 80).

"There is no superior caste. The Universe is the work of the Immense Being. The beings created by him were only divided into castes according to their aptitude." - Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, 188

Says the Mahabharata, in the famous dialogue between Yudhishthira and the Yaksha:
A man does not become a Brahman by the mere fact of his birth, not even by the acquisition of Vedic scholarship; it is good character alone that can make one a Brahman. He will be worse than a Shudra if his conduct is not in conformity with the rules of good behavior.”

Shrimad Valmiki Ramayan also says whosoever including sudra reads it will achieve greatness and get rid of all sins. Valmiki Ramayana: 1.1.98-100) Thus, Vedas, Ramayana and Gita confer authority on sudras to possess and read these. (source: Caste and Bhagawad Gita - By Ambassador O P Gupta).

The earlier portions of the Rig Veda do not refer to any divisions of the people on the basis of caste. The term varna did not mean caste but class. In the Mahabharata (12. 188), the opinion is repeated that all creation is God's creation, and that no one is high or low by birth. It is only by samskara (purification, training) that one becomes a Brahmin: janmana jayate shudrah samskarairdvija uchyate - All are born Shudras, it is only through certain rites or inner training that one becomes a Brahmin or twice-born. (source: Hinduism: Its Contribution to Science and Civilization - By Prabhakar Machwe p. 59 - 60).

The following example illustrate that the Varna System of the Vedas was based upon one's aptitude and natural capabilities.
· Sage Vyasa, a Brahmin sage and the most revered author of the major Hindu scriptures, was the son of Satyavati, a low caste woman. Vyasa's father, Sage Parasara, had fallen in love with Satyavati, a fisherwoman, and had married her. Vyasa's deep knowledge of the Vedas later determined the caste of Vyasa as Brahmin sage, and not his birth to a low caste-woman.

· Sage Valmiki, the celebrated author of the epic, Ramayana, was a low caste hunter. He came to be known as a Brahmin sage on the basis of his profound knowledge of the scriptures and his authorship of the Ramayana.

· Sage Aitareya, who wrote the Aitareya Upanishad and was born of a Shudra woman.

· Rishi Parashar, the famous law-giver was the son of a Chandala, the lowest of the Sudras.

· Rishi Vasishta was the son of a prostitute, but honored as a sage.

· Sage Vidura, a Brahmin sage who gave religious instruction to Kind Dhritarashtra, was born to a low caste woman servant of the palace. His caste as a Brahmin sage was determined on the basis of his wisdom and knowledge of Dharma Shastras (scriptures).

· The Kauravas and Pandavas were the descendants of Satyavati, a low caste fisher-woman, and the sons of Sage Vyasa. Vyasa's father was the Brahmin Sage Parasara, the grandson of Sage Vasishtha. In spite of this mixed heredity, the Kauravas and Pandavas were known as Kshatriyas on the basis of their occupation.

· Chandragupta Maurya was from the Muria tribe, which used to collect peacock (mor) feathers; Samrat Ashok was the son of a daasi.

· Saint Thiruvalluvar who wrote Thirukural was only a weaver. Other saints were adored including Kabir, Sura Dasa, Ram Dasa and Tukaram came from the humblest class of Hindu society.

So the Vedas recognize different people have different skills and qualifications, but it is not by birth, it is by guna [qualification] and karma [work]. So if someone born of a sudra [worker] father becomes qualified [guna] and works as [karma] a brahmana he should be accepted as a brahmana... In the same way if the son of a brahmana doesn't have the qualifications of a brahmana or work as a brahmana then he is not a brahmana. There are so many examples of this in the Vedic scriptures.

As the historian John Webster has remarked,
Caste is generally independent of religiosity, for both Hindu and Christian members of Untouchable castes are often treated as equally inferior. It is within this context that the term "Dalit," meaning "oppressed" or "broken," takes its form. What unifies the wide range of work on Dalit experience and religiosity is an acknowledgement of caste as a construct that is not bound to a single religious community or institution.

The lowest of the four Varnas of the Caste System, were considered so ritually polluted and polluting that virtually all contact with them was to be avoided. 'Untouchable' and 'Antyaja' are two names that Dr. Ambedkar used for these groups. Shri Sant Ram called them 'the Depressed Classes.' Gandhi called them 'Harijans' ('Children of God'), and nowadays they call themselves Dalits ('Oppressed').

Dr. Ambedkar himself belonged to the Mahar caste, which was considered by the Imperial Gazetteer to be a former tribal group that had been absorbed into the Caste System as an untouchable caste. As the Imperial Gazetteer reports, Mahars were often prevented from drinking from village wells, or sitting with higher-caste children in school— typical experiences of untouchables.

Manu in his famous work Manu Smriti lists out the Caste duties and occupations to those who sprang from his mouth, arms, thighs, and feet [i.e., to the four castes].

1. To Brahmins he assigned teaching and studying the Veda, sacrificing for their own benefit and for others, giving and accepting of alms.
2. The Kshatriya he commanded to protect the people, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study the Veda, and to abstain from attaching himself to sensual pleasures;
3. The Vaisya to tend cattle, to bestow gifts, to offer sacrifices, to study the Veda, to trade, to lend money, and to cultivate land.
4. One occupation only the lord prescribed to the Shudra, to serve meekly . . . these other three castes.

"Just as a wooden toy elephant cannot be real elephant, and a stuffed deer cannot be a real deer, so, without studying scriptures and the Vedas and the development of intellect, a Brahmin by birth cannot be considered a Brahmin. "Manu Smriti 11 - 157.

"Manu has declared that those Brahmanas who are thieves, outcasts, eunuchs, or atheists are unworthy to partake of oblations offered to gods and ancestors." (Manu Smriti III, 150)

He also says, Let the first part of a Brahmin's name denote something auspicious, a Kshatriya's be connected with power, and a Vaisya's with wealth, but a Shudra's express something contemptible. The second part of a Brahmin's name shall be a word implying happiness, of a Kshatriya's a word implying protection, of a Vaisya's a term expressive of thriving, and of a Shudra's an expression denoting service.

Let him not give to a Shudra advice, nor the remnants of his meal, nor food offered to the gods; nor let him explain the sacred law to such a man, nor impose upon him a penance. For he who explains the sacred law to a Shudra or dictates to him a penance, will sink together with that man into the [dreadful] hell called Asamvrita.

The caste system was set to define the primary occupation of the people living in India. Castes were developed to logically divide work among people and to divide people. The purity and pollution concept, based on Varna theory and geared up by four fold creation theory of Hinduism- as defined in Rig Veda- bred casteism and untouchability that dehumanizes Dalits to undergo social exclusion, occupational segregation, economic and political power deprivation. The Varnashradharma formulates where Dalits should reside, their occupation, access to resources and powers, whom to marry and where to be buried. It denies Dalits the right to touch and to be touched and forces to remain as ‘untouchables’ to live mainly as manual scavengers, sweepers, gutter/drainage cleaners, cobblers, cremators, drum beaters for the funerals of dominant castes.

From the point of view of an individual member of a caste, the system provides him from birth with a fixed social milieu from which neither wealth nor poverty, nor success, nor disaster can remove him unless of course he so violates the standards of behavior laid down by his caste that it spews him forth – temporarily or permanently.

2.2 Importance of Caste
A caste is a closed, ascriptive group whose membership is decided by birth and is hereditary (i.e., one inherits the caste of one’s parents); mandatory (i.e., it is not a matter of choice); and unalterable (i.e. caste identity cannot be changed).

Castes are part of a system in which they are both strictly separated and closely integrated in a hierarchy determined, in the original Hindu case, by notions of graded ritual purity or pollution. This hierarchy is supposed to be authorized by Hindu religious scriptures, though the precise nature and extent of this authority are matters of debate. Thus, taken as components of a system, castes are non-competing, interdependent but strictly hierarchized groups.

Caste supremacy and discrimination are expressed in these concrete social systems. If one takes the practice of untouchability, it is expressed both in material and in non-material factors. These include–
a. Economic and political relations between different social groups;
b. Competing cultural values;
c. Resistance to discrimination by Dalits;
d. Legal prohibition on untouchability and perceptions about whether the law will actually be enforced; and
e. The degree of social legitimacy that particular practices command.

While many practices of untouchability still continue consciously or unconsciously as they have become a part of the ‘common sense’ of everyday life; over time there have certainly occurred many changes in the system as well. As the above factors change, they create a dynamic tension between Dalits and non-Dalits. In some areas, practices of untouchability are being erased, while in others, new forms of untouchability are being invented.

Some of these forms of untouchability practiced even in contemporary times are –
1. Entry into savarna house;
2. Access to water facilities;
3. Entry into temples, churches, and gurudwaras etc.;
4. Entry into shops;
5. Service of the barber;
6. Dhobi washing clothes;
7. Service of the Brahmin;
8. Paying wages to Dalit worker;
9. Use of umbrellas, cycling, wearing chappals on public roads;
10. Marriage procession, funeral procession and celebration of festivals;
11. Compulsion to stand in the presence of caste Hindus;
12. Inter-dining arrangement;
13. Inter-caste marriage;
14. Sitting arrangement of students in schools;
15. Sitting arrangement of people during public meals;
16. Delivering letter by the postman;
17. Traveling in public transport;
18. Treatment in public distribution shop;
19. Cremation and burial places;
20. Polling booths and separate queue for Dalits;
21. Tea stalls and hotels;
22. Place in cinema theatres;
23. Treatment of Dalit women by caste Hindus;
24. Place and role in Panchayats;
25. Removing carcass;
26. Engaged as dai; and
27. Manual scavenging.

Having identified the pervasive forms of untouchability still being practiced, a group of social scientists, stated that despite the abolition of untouchability by the Constitution of India, and despite the passage of numerous legislations classifying untouchability in any sphere as a cognizable criminal offence, and despite several ‘affirmative measures’ to improve the socio-economic conditions and opportunities available to the victims of untouchability; the heinous practice lives on and takes on new idioms. It is this conception, which seems to escape the understanding of the ruling elite, caste Hindus, social scientists and activists.

This stratification of society based on caste holds a very negative or demeaning impact on those members of society who are standing at a lowest place in this hierarchy. To avoid this stand of being lowest in the hierarchy some people began to find a escape route and thus emerged a new caste or social group in society, known as Christian Dalits.

These are the persons who were earlier at the lowest strata when they were professing Hindu religion and were known as Dalits. In an attempt to forego their standing of the lowest strata, these Dalits renounced Hindu religion and started looking forward to a new religion Christianity.

The Bull or letter of Pope Gregory XV, “Bulla Romanae Sedis Antistitis”, dated 31 January 1623, accedes to the requests of the missionaries to accommodate themselves to certain caste practices and usages of the new converts. The Bull agreed to tolerate the continuance of certain traditional customs and usages. Taking into account the difficulties encountered by the Brahmin converts if they were obliged to abandon certain external signs (such as sacred thread, sandals, ablutions), and considering that these external rites could be interpreted as meaning signs of nobility and function and to show some empathy for human sensibilities, the Bull agreed to tolerate those usages, provided all danger of superstition was avoided and the convert showed charity and respect towards people of obscure condition, this presumably being a reference to Dalits.

In the Letter of the Propagation of Faith, 1779 with regard to the distinctions of caste in the churches, the congregation for the Propagation of the Faith wrote in 1779 :-

"The separation in the church and at the entrance of the church, also the distinction of cemeteries may actually be tolerated for fear of greater evil."

The Synod of Pondicherry, 1844, This Synod was convoked to foster harmony between the Christians Dalits and the Caste Christians, who wanted to have a partition in church to separate them from the Dalits.

In 1929 - Christian Depressed classes of South India submitted a Memorandum to the Simon Commission. In 1985 - Court verdict upholding the 80 years old practice of separate graveyards for Christian Dalits of Trichy, Tamil Nadu.

It said that there is an abundance of official church and police records on cases like K.K. Puthur, Thatchoor, Pondicherry, Thondamanthurai. However, at no time of history did the Church in India officially affirm or promote the perpetuation of social discrimination inside the Church.

The Christianity had no stratification, all were considered equal in Christianity. But contributing to the troubles of the Dalits they were not successful in their attempt to forego their position of being the lowest in hierarchy. The new social group, which was brought into existence, brought in with it a new practice a practice of caste system or hierarchy being followed among Christians.

Their religion placed no effect on their social or dalit status, earlier they were Hindu Dalits now they are Christian Dalits. Apart from their identity there has been no change in their social or economic status. Their status has been a matter of concern for quite a long time now.

It is generally agreed that caste tends to survive the process of conversion, so that Christian communities reproduce the caste structure prevalent in Hindu society, at least in its broad features if not in exact detail.

Caste based discrimination is a contemporary reality when it comes to Christian Dalits. For instance, in 1993, in a non-descript village, Chunduru of Andhra Pradesh, 12 Christian Dalits were massacred by the Reddys allegedly because a Christian Dalit youth sat with his feet up in the local cinema hall and accidentally touched an upper caste youth sitting in the seat in front of him. This massacre took place just because the ‘offender’ was a Christian Dalit and not a Kamma Christian or Reddy Christian. If the youth belonged to a Kamma or Reddy Christian community the offended would not have dared to create a ruckus since the Kamma or Reddy Christians would also retaliate. Thus, the prevalence of Brahmin Christian, Kamma or Reddy Christian, Syrian Christian and caste Christian in itself is an indication of the continuance of caste system even after a person has given up Hinduism and adapted another religion. With the continuation of caste, caste based discrimination is also a reality. Undoubtedly, the sufferers are Dalits including those who got converted to Christianity or Islam.

The word Dalit is employed to identify the people who belong to those of outcaste background in the Indian context. Dalit refers to the caste-oriented idea and not simply the suffering people of any community. They were addressed by several other names and the Dalit community heard it with resentfulness. Nevertheless, this word is well approved by the entire community, because it does not undermine their dignity and group them under one fold.

Supreme Court on Caste
In S. Anbalagan v. B. Devarajan & Ors, Supreme Court held:
The practice of caste however irrational it may appear to our reason and however repugnant it may appear to our moral and social science, is so deep-rooted in the Indian people that its mark does not seem to disappear only conversion to a different religion. If it disappears, only to reappear on reconversion. The mark of caste does not seem to really disappear even after some generations after conversion. In Andhra Pradesh and in Tamil Nadu, there are several thousands of Christian families whose forefathers became Christians and who, though they profess the Christian religion, nonetheless observe the practice of Caste. There are Christian Reddies, Christian Kammas, Ceristian Nadars, Christian Adi-Andhras, Christian Adi Dravidas and so on. The practice of their caste is so rigorous that there are intermarriages with Hindus of the same caste but not with Christians of another caste.

In Soosai Etc v. Union Of India And Others, Supreme Court held:
To establish that paragraph 3 of the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order, 1950 discriminates against Christian members of the enumerated castes it must be shown that they suffer from a comparable depth of social and economic disabilities and cultural and educational backwardness and similar levels of degradation within the Christian community necessitating intervention by the State under provisions of the Constitution. It is not sufficient to show that the same caste continues after conversion. It is necessary to establish further that the disabilities and handicaps suffered from such caste membership in the social order of its origin - Hinduism continue in their oppressive severity in the new environment of a different religious community. No authoritative or detailed study dealing with the present conditions of Christian society have been placed on the record in this case.

In Indira Sawhney and Others v. Union of India, Supreme Court commented –

The concept of caste is not confined to caste among Hindus. It extends to castes, where ever they obtain as a fact irrespective of religious sanction for such practice.

2.3 Clashes of other Religions and Beliefs with Hinduism
The religion of a person in India has or bears a greater significance than any other aspects of the social realm. This significance can be understood as, a person is most commonly identified by his religion. The society in the present scenario is divided on the basis of religion. Religion of a person is the first thing which determines whether or not a person can be a member of the a particular group. What would be his status in that group is determined on the basis of what position he holds in that religion, i.e. caste.

Unlike a club, the membership of a caste is not open to all and sundry. The law of Caste confines its membership to persons born in the caste. Castes are autonomous, and there is no authority anywhere to compel a caste to admit a newcomer to its social life. Hindu Society being a collection of castes, and each caste being a closed corporation, there is no place for a convert. Thus it is the caste which has prevented the Hindus from expanding and from absorbing other religious communities.

There is one set which finds nothing peculiar nor odious in the Caste System of the Hindus. Such Hindus cite the case of Muslims, Sikhs, and Christians, and find comfort in the fact that they too have castes amongst them. Caste among Non-Hindus is fundamentally different from caste among Hindus. Ask a Mohammedan or a Sikh who he is. He tells you that he is a Mohammedan or a Sikh, as the case may be. He does not tell you his caste, although he has one; and you are satisfied with his answer. When he tells you that he is a Muslim, you do not proceed to ask him whether he is a Shiya or a Suni; Sheikh or Saiyad; Khatik or Pinjari. When he tells you he is a Sikh, you do not ask him whether he is Jat or Roda, Mazbi or Ramdasi. But you are not satisfied, if a person tells you that he is a Hindu. You feel bound to inquire into his caste. Why? Because so essential is caste in the case of a Hindu, that without knowing it you do not feel sure what sort of a being he is.

Caste among the non-Hindus has no religious consecration; but among the Hindus most decidedly it has. Among the Non-Hindus, caste is only a practice, not a sacred institution. They did not originate it. With them it is only a survival. They do not regard caste as a religious dogma. Religion compels the Hindus to treat isolation and segregation of castes as a virtue. Religion does not compel the Non-Hindus to take the same attitude towards caste. If Hindus wish to break caste, their religion will come in their way. But it will not be so in the case of Non-Hindus.

We know that Hinduism does not have a book, a prophet, or a centralized hierarchy. The correct description of Hinduism is Sanatan Dharma. While Sanatan has an English equivalent, meaning eternal, translating Dharma as religion is not proper. Dharma encompasses religion. Confusion prevails when Dharma is equated with religion. Hinduism has a religious connotation in the Western sense, as well as a philosophical connotation in the Eastern sense. Hinduism believes in pluralism - that is there are multiple paths to salvation and one chooses the path that one thinks is valid for oneself. This is the hallmark of its tolerance.

Christianity believes in exclusivism. It says that Christ in the only Son of God, and was sent to this world to lead the people to Him. Upon the death of Christ, this task was given to the Church set up in the name of Christ. The present inheritors of Christ are the Popes, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests, etc. Furthermore, Christianity believes that Christ has commanded his followers that it is their duty to convert others to their system. Many have interpreted this command to imply that one could use physical violence as a means to achieve the objective.

Christianity divides the world into believers and non-believers, with the former going to heaven, and the latter to that place where one is eternally barbecued! Moreover, the believers do not go to heaven on their own merit, but only on the intervention of Christ. It is the priests in the parish who is supposed to have a line to Christ. The request for forgiveness of any sin that is committed by a Christian is to be conveyed through the priest. Under the circumstances, the priest has a tremendous amount of influence over the laity, since he is supposed to intercede between man and god.

The plight of Dalits within Christianity is nowhere better, if not the same. Christianity propagates equality but it practices caste discrimination among Christians. Christianity made its presence in India in the 1st century itself with the arrival of St. Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus. The early missionaries from Syria, Portugal, Italy and Spain have converted mostly Brahmins, other dominant castes and fisher people. The gates of Christianity were wide opened only in 17th and 18th centuries for others. Dalits started embracing Christianity in a large scale mainly after the arrival of Protestant Missionaries from 1706 onwards who involved in educational, social and health services among them. Today in all main line churches- Roman Catholics, Protestants – CSI and CNI, Lutheran Churches and Pentecost, irrespective of denominations, Dalits constitute around 70% of total Christians. Though form majority among Christians, Dalits mainly rooted in rural areas which is still the heart of India continue to suffer the shackle of untouchability practices and face discrimination and oppression at the hands of minority non Christians Dalit within church.

Dalit theology emerged as a recent and specific phenomenon in 1980s as a counter to Indian Christian Theology, known for its classical westernized traditions and brahmanical thought forms. Dalit theologians who include Nirmal, Massey, Prabhakar, Balasundaram, Devasahayam, Azariah, Arulraja have claimed that Dalit Theology is contextual and liberative as it gives importance to life experience of Dalits and challenged the Brahmanical thought forms of the Non Dalit Theologians. They challenged Indian Church, its theological insights, caste based hierarchy, its self-centered mission of serving the concerns and interests of mostly non Dalits. They voiced that: God is the God of the oppressed and His preferential option would be only for Dalits; Dalits are also created by God and have every right to be treated equally on the strength of imago dei principle; Dalits believe in exodus experience and will be liberated from caste system; Jesus a Dalit and Christ a liberator who will takes sides with them to free from caste system; like Jesus Dalits are called to suffer for the transformation and freedom for all.

Memorandum submitted by the Christian Depressed Classes of south India to the Indian Statutory Commission or what is popularly known Simon Commission included the following,

“Inspite of our Christian religion, which teaches us fundamental truths, the equality of man and man before God, the necessity of charity and love for neighbours and mutual sympathy and forbearance, we, the large number of Depressed Classes converts remain in the same social condition as the Hindu Depressed Classes. Through the operation of several factors, the more important of them being the strong caste retaining Hindu mentality of the converts to Christianity, and the indifference, powerlessness and apathy of the Missionaries, we remain today what we were before we became Christians -untouchables- degraded by the laws of social position obtaining in the land, rejected by caste Christians, despised by caste Hindus and excluded by our own Hindu Depressed Class brethren”.

This Memorandum was submitted 1929.

Table – 2.1
Estimated Caste Composition of Religions Rural India, 2004-05

Religious Communities

Scheduled Tribes

Scheduled Castes

Other Backward Classes

‘Upper’ Castes

All Castes

Hindu

11.2

23.4

44.6

20.9

100.0

Muslim

0.5

0.6

39.7

59.2

100.0

Christian

38.9

9.4

20.9

30.8

100.0

Sikh

1.2

34.8

24.3

39.8

100.0

Buddhist

11.4

85.0

0.6

3.1

100.0

Others

72.9

2.0

4.2

20.9

100.0

All Religions

10.6

20.9

42.8

25.7

100.0

Source: NSSO 61st Round Unit level Data

The number of Christian Dalits could be at least five times of what the NSSO estimates show it to be.

2.4 Propagation
Another important issue with which these laws deal while dealing with conversion is Propagation of ones religion. The Constitution has guaranteed every individual to propagate ones religion. Propagation or to propagate ones religion means to cause (something) to increase in number or amount or to spread and promote (an idea, theory, knowledge, etc.) widely. It is being dealt with conversion, as for some people propagation is closely associated with the issue of forced conversion.

Propagation in itself does not deal with conversion of religion, but it certainly guarantees the freedom of choice of religion. As there will be no freedom of choice unless a person is aware what options he has. The concept of propagating ones religion is most commonly conceived as proselytizing. Proselytizing on the other hand means to convert or attempt to convert someone from one religion, belief or opinion to another.

Proselytizing can be very easily associated with the Anti-Conversion Laws that in force in various States, as they have a misconception that all Acts relating to propagation of ones religion end up in proselytizing others, i.e., forcing them to convert. Another misconceived notion of propagation is that, propagating ones religion means causing disgrace to another religion, which these authorities fail to ponder.

In Rev. Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh, the Supreme Court refused to read the freedom to convert within the right to propagate ones religion and held that:

What the article grants is not the right to convert another person to ones own religion, but to transmit or spread ones religion by an exposition of its tenets.’

Shri S Radhakrishnan, one of the famous philosophers of this century, said:
Christian theology becomes relevant only for those who share or accept a particular kind of spiritual experience, and these are tempted to dismiss other experiences as illusory and other scriptures as imperfect. Hinduism has not betrayed into this situation on account of its adherence to fact....(sic) When the Hindu found that different people aimed at and achieved God-realization in different ways, he generously recognized them all and justified their place in the course of history. (The Hindu View of Life, Harper Collins, Delhi 1973, p 16.)

The pluralistic philosophy of Hinduism has enabled it to absorb and nurture various diverse systems of beliefs. Many have evolved from this land, to address a particular situation that developed. In other cases, one or more individual put forward a set of propositions which is supposed to elevate the person to a higher spiritual plane. All these philosophies worked within the milieu of the cultural Hinduism, and never tiled to denigrate the people and their philosophy.

With the objective of expunging ‘all the traces and remains of the past’ that has been followed Francis Xavier, in a letter dated January 27, 1545, wrote:
When I have finished baptizing the people, I order them to destroy the huts in which they keep their idols; and I have them break the statues of their idols into tiny pieces, since they are now Christians. I could never come to an end describing to you the great consolation which fills my soul when I see idols being destroyed by the hands of those who had been idolaters.” (The Letters and Instructions of Francis Xavier, translated and introduced by M. Joseph Constelloe, S.J., Gujarat Sahitya Prakash, 1993, pp 1178.)

The wrong way that the missionaries follow is not only with respect to the degrade social service that they indulged. There is a calumny against Hinduism. In 1994, at a conference in Vadodara, Religion and Society in Contemporary India, Shri Nirmal Verma, the eminent Hindi writer, said,

The type of abuses which missionaries hurled against the Indian Gods and Goddesses, if you read today, would be outrageous to any Hindu believer. Krishna is lecherous person, Shiva is some demonic force. All sorts of sexual abuses (are hurled) against Kali Durga. (Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies, Project Nr 14, 1996, p 60.)

This is even more graphically narrated by a journalist, K R Sundar Rajan, in a letter to an English weekly in India, Outlook, March 16, 1998. He wrote:
When I was working in a Mumbai newspaper, I noticed a foreign missionary addressing a crowd at Azad Maidan. He was extolling the virtues of Christianity, which was legitimate, but then he went on to dissuade his audience from following Lord Krishna saying that ‘even as a child Krishna stole butter churned by his own mother and later he was surrounded by women of loose morals’. I protested at his remarks at which he asked his aides to throw me out. Not one Hindu in the audience stood for me. I went to lodge a complaint with the police where I was told to put the news in my own paper. I gave the story to may chief reporter who asked me ‘what’s the news in it?’ and did not publish it.

One of the standard church propaganda is that Hinduism is nothing more than what they call Brahminism. Their objective is to assert that the ills that exist in Hinduism are a creation of the supposedly elitist Brahmins to keep the people suppressed. (Perhaps the church hierarchy is projecting its own method on others!) They have tried to project that the Brahmins are evil and it is in the interest of the rest of the society to get out of their clutches. And the only way to do it would be to leave Hinduism and join Christianity.

Christian churches in India are coming up in places where there are no Christians. They are set up by obtaining funds from outside the country. They are used as centres to propagate Christianity and to convert. The social service activities that are part of the churches are also with an objective to convert. The activity has at best an accidental redeeming value, and becomes highly debased.

Francis Arinze, one of the senior cardinals at the Vatican, confirmed that the primary task of the Roman Catholic Church is to convert. He said recently, Has the Church anything else to do? No. Evangelization is central to the mission of the Church. The task of evangelizing all people constitutes the central mission of the Church. The Church has no other assignment. (Mark Pattison, Primary Mission is to Evangelize, The Examiner, Oct 18, 1997.)

Evangelical meetings are held with the sole purpose of conversion. But the groundwork for conversion is laid in a systematic manner in which the Gospels are slowly introduced to potential converts (in this case, Dalits) in their native languages. By this method they used to empathize with the native Dalits and as this process continues they are being driven more towards Christ and away from the Hindu Gods.

It is exactly for this reason that Mahatma Gandhi said,
If instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities of theirs for the purpose of proselytizing, I would certainly like them to withdraw. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another”. (Foreign Missionaries, Young India, April 23, 1931.)

After the earthquake tragedy in Latur, Maharashtra, in 1993, they sent out a pamphlet to the United States for the purpose of fund raking. The relevant section says, “The Mission sent a medical team and staff to the devastated areas shortly after the earthquake occurred. Returning from the first trip, they met three men, who then traveled with them. While they made no commitments, the men were uncharacteristically open to the claims of Christ. Pray there will be increasing openness and a great spiritual harvest following this tragedy, pray that God will bring whomever he desires to Mukti.” It is uncanny how close these words are in similar instances in the past when certain areas were struck with natural calamities. At Latur, the missionaries tried to distribute Bible and other religious material. But, due to the controversy that it created, such activity has been kept at a low level.

The India Bible Literature, Madras, publishes a series of Students Work Book for Children’s Bible Schools. In one of them it says that since the Christian population in India is only 4%, it means that 96% of the people do not know the true god. In another it has a drawing with a caption “Paul is preaching about the real God to those who are worshiping artificial Gods.” Interestingly, the picture shows Paul with a group of tribals, and the artificial Gods are those depicted in the normal Hindu scriptures. The disturbing part is that such statements appear only in the Indian language books, and not in the English version.

2.5 Concept of Conversion

Caste is inconsistent with conversion. Inculcation of beliefs and dogmas is not the only problem that is involved in conversion. To find a place for the convert in the social life of the community is another, and a much more important, problem that arises in connection with conversion. That problem is where to place the convert, in what caste!

Any discussion on conversion generates thoughts on religion and religious faith. There is no precise definition of religion. ‘Religion’, it is said, is a matter of faith and belief in God is not essential to constitute religion. In Shirur Mutt case, Mukherjee, J made the following pertinent observations on religion and Hindu religion in particular:

Religion is certainly a matter of faith with individuals or communities and it is not necessarily theistic. There are well known religions in India like Buddhism and Jainism which do not believe in God or in any Intelligent First Cause. A religion undoubtedly has its basis in a system of beliefs or doctrines which are regarded by those who profess that religion as conducive to their spiritual well being, but it would not be correct to say that religion is nothing else but a doctrine or belief. A religion may not only lay down a code of ethical rules for its followers to accept, it might prescribe rituals and observances, ceremonies and modes of worship which are regarded as integral parts of religion and these forms and observances might extend even to matters of food and dress.” ( para 18)

Conversion to Christianity affect the converts besides a change in religious affiliation, they also assumed the surnames of the priests who baptized them or the sponsor. Usually the converts of a particular hamlet adopted a common surname. However it must be emphasized that some families retained their original surnames. Most of the other aspects of their life remained the same. (Larry Pereira. “Firm foundations of a fervent faith”, The Examiner, October 17, 1998.)

In recent case of M.Chandra vs. M. Thangamuthu and Another the Supreme Court observed in para 42
it is a settled principle of law that to prove a conversion from one religion to another, two elements need to be satisfied. First, there has to be a conversion and second, acceptance into the community to which the person converted”.

Converting ones religion has always been an issue to deal with. It might seem redundant to state, but important none the less, that besides the Constitution, every philosophy holds that like all human beings, every religion is equal. Religious belief is a matter of the mind and heart, and to every human person, his own belief is probably the dearest, most pristine and perfect. The word ‘convert’ itself is a term of aggression and connotes a kind of intellectual assault on an individual’s philosophy.

Writing about conversion to Christianity in Tamil Nadu, S. Clarke demonstrated,
on the one hand, conversion had to do with the deliberate movement of Dalit communities away form their traditional religions, which were in an intricate and ambivalent manner connected with local variants of popular Hinduism. This system of social and economic stratification left Dalit communities cumulatively and comprehensively marginalized and exploited and living in alienation beyond the borders of human society. On the other hand, conversion involved a conscious embrace by Dalit communities of a missionary-proclaimed Christianity. The minds of convert missionaries had the ability and the will to make economic and social capital available to such oppressed communities and could exploit their apparent positive relationship with the colonial powers that ruled India to aid the liberative activities of Dalit communities.”

Conversion may easily proceed if the whole caste were to accept the new faith. What potential converts feared most was excommunication from their caste. In other words, this means the fear of caste can keep converts away from Christianity. Conversion in the Indian context has raised the question of what converts bring of their former religious-cultural affiliation to Christianity. If Hindu converts find it meaningful to speak of Christ and to articulate their faith in familiar language and terminology, and to practice their devotion with familiar forms and gestures, then Christian praxis must make that accommodation on grounds not just practical but theological. Incarnation is a strong paradigm to consider in favor of accommodation.

2.6 Why Conversion?
For ages together in India there was only one religion prevalent or professed, it was Hinduism. With the invasion of foreign rulers a new religion was brought in and among them one was Christianity. When there was only one religion known to the people conversion to any other religion / belief was never brought into picture, but with introduction to a new religion or a new way of reaching to God became known to people, the people who were at the lower / lowest level in the religion were attracted to this foreign religion as they found there was no caste divide in this religion; so they will no longer be in the lowest level of the caste.

This attraction towards a new religion or belief has led many of Dalits to convert their religion to this new belief and thus letting forego their earlier belief. The conversion from Hinduism was not only limited to the Christianity, much before conversion to Christianity many Hindu Dalits converted to Buddhism also.

The Church of South India (CSI) is primarily a Dalit church. It spearheads the campaign to convert Dalits in south India, especially in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Though they are called Dalit Church they are actually funded and aided by the Church authorities. These church or the members of these church though not given a status of equality but are recognized as Church as they have been brought into existence for the sole purpose of conversion.

Credible evidence of the intention to convert followed by definite overt acts to give effect to that intention is necessary. The subsequent conduct of the convertee is also important in reaching the conclusion that a conversion in its true sense had taken place and there was genuine conversion. The evidentiary facts which establish conversion have been time and again stated by the Supreme Court, while observing that no specific ritual or ceremony is required. Satisfactory evidence of conversion which has always been insisted upon by the Courts is necessary especially when we hear plethora of complaints of manipulated conversions for extraneous reasons or as a result of undue pressures.

The Karnataka High Court observed in Sujatha v. Jose Augustine
“that to be a Christian, one must truly profess the Christian faith and the fact that one has undergone the ceremony of baptism may not by itself be sufficient to hold that he or she has become a Christian. The fundamental thing to be established before one can be held to be Christian is that the person concerned truly believes in and professes the Christian faith.”

The test of conversion has been put thus by the Supreme Court in Perumal Nadar v. Ponnuswami.
A person may be a Hindu by birth or by conversion. A mere theoretical allegiance to the Hindu faith by a person born in another faith does not convert him into a Hindu, nor is a bare declaration that he is a Hindu sufficient to convert him to Hinduism. But a bona fide intention to be converted to the Hindu faith, accompanied by conduct unequivocally expressing that intention may be sufficient evidence of conversion. No formal ceremony of purification or expiation is necessary to effectuate conversion”. (para 6)

“I converted to Christianity about 8-10 years ago because I was offered Rs. 750 every month by the missionaries for which I only had to attend Church on Sundays,” said Bisraba Digal, 37, of Minia village. “Now, I want to come back to Hinduism because I want to live in peace in my village and not at some refugee camp,” said the father of two after collecting his share of blankets, buckets and plastic sheets from the government relief truck parked nearby.

Dinakaran Digal and Pramod Digal, also of the same village, have similar stories to tell. While Dinakaran was born a Christian because his father embraced the religion, Pramod turned to the Church a few years ago for a monthly stipend of Rs. 400. “Even that they did not pay in full or on time,” said a disenchanted Pramod, who has decided to come back to Hinduism. They all say they have submitted applications to the local VHP volunteers to arrange a pratyavartan, or homecoming ceremony. According to Sharma, reconversion is an official process. “They make a written application to the sub-collector...with all their family details, which is then forwarded to us,” he said. “We then fix a date and ask them to come to the place where we hold...rituals.” They are given a talk about Hindu dharma, garlanded, gifted new clothes and sometimes, also shave their heads in penance.

The Christian Dalits were able to construe a different world vision by utilizing many resources that were available. This may not yet have been concretely and definitively experience, but it did nonetheless, have utopian consequences. The prospect of religious conversion, thus, does not lie only with the present but also in an anticipatory future. Conversion is a dynamic process; one in which the difference of the embraced world vision is assembled consciously and collectively in the spirit of a hope that lies in the future but which also impinges sporadically though concretely in the historical present.

As is evident from above caste has always been prevalent in India. Caste – a divide which supposedly was based on karma of a person created a divide on the basis of deeds of a person, i.e. the person doing preaching became Brahmin, the person protecting people and fighting wars became kshyatriya, the person involved in business vaishya and person providing service to others was called shudra.

Even though it was based on occupation of a person a hierarchy was still observed, as preaching was considered a pious occupation they were at the top of the structure than came kshyatriya, vaishya and the shudras were at the bottom of the structure. A code of conduct was also followed or to be observed, unlike that of today. The code of conduct also prescribed punishment of being an outcaste if any person committed any crime. The quantum of punishment varied on the basis of a persons position in the social hierarchy i.e., if a crime has been done by a Brahmin and similar crime has been done by a shudra the punishment will be more for a Brahmin and less for a shudra, as a Brahmin was considered to be a person having knowledge of the vedas and a shudra does not possess such knowledge. Thus according to this code of conduct if a Brahmin commits a heinous crime he will be disqualified from being a Brahmin and will be declared an outcaste.

But this caste divide based on occupation did not last long as the persons on the top of the structure or hierarchy begin to consider such position their possession and thus the rules of caste divide were altered or mended to make their way into structure. And the structure which was earlier based on occupation, was now having its genesis based upon patriarchy.

This rule of patriarchy brought with itself a rigid code of conduct of the existing or present caste system. Under this system heirs of a person were made to take up that occupation only which their fathers or parents were doing, i.e. a son of a Brahmin will become a Brahmin and son of a shudra will remain a shudra. Thus this system forced a occupation upon certain group of persons. This change to patriarchy system also with itself brought changes into other aspects of society. Like the movement of shudras were restricted to their village only, their occupation of service was restricted to performance of menial tasks only.

Such behaviour of upper caste people to lower caste people gave birth to an anger or aggression amongst them, but as it never got channelized India has not witnessed any major dalit up-liftment movement though certain attempts have been made. While these attempts were being made people witnessed introduction of various other religions and beliefs. Such religions included both religions of foreign and Indian origin like – Buddhism, Jainism, and Christianity.

As these religions were unknown to us Indians the word regarding these religions began to spread, i.e. propagation. The followers of these religions begin to propagate their religion in order to increase the number of followers. The gospel worked for a few, those who were already frustrated with the present system or the practice which was being observed. The reason for the working of this gospel was that these religions did not have any place for the caste discrimination.

These religions preached that there no discrimination and every follower of their religion is considered equal and in the same level as that of another follower. The Dalits who were already fighting a fight to get a equal status in society found a new ray of hope in this new religion. As regards conversion it was already evident from the established precedents of conversion in society it has in the past benefitted many of them to forego their lowest status in the hierarchy yet some how being able to enjoy the Dalit status as conferred on them by the Constitution of India.

But this does not came out as it was planned to be, the Churches never lived up to their promise of equality. The Dalits who converted their religion were motivated for this conversion solely by the fact that they will be given a status of equals among others, but this charm of equality lasted till the day they tasted the reality. Like the Caste Hindus Caste Christians also were have mend their ways to keep the Dalits out of the reach of His Holiness.

The Christian Dalits still face the same discrimination which they were facing as Hindu Dalits. Conversion though affects a persons life largely had a very meager impression on the life of the Christian Dalits.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
# Available at <http://ccnmtl.columbia.edu/projects/mmt/ambedkar/web/index.html> (Viewed on 17-01-2013).
# “The Caste System, A Tribute to Hinduism”, available at <http://mandhataglobal.com/wp-content/custom/articles/SocialTheCasteSystem.pdf> (Viewed on 11-11-2012).
# Supra, n. 30.
# Schmalz, Mathew N. (2004) "A Bibliographic Essay on Hindu and Christian Dalit Religiosity," Journal of Hindu-Christian Studies: Vol. 17, Article 9. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.7825/2164-6279.1318.
# Supra, n. 28.
# Manu Smriti, Chapter 1, verse 87-91, Available at <http://www.bergen.edu/phr/121/ManuGC.pdf (Viewed on 20-12-2012).
# Supra, n. 30.
# Vincent Manoharan J., Caste Discrimination still a menace in the Indian Church, Queens Foundation, Birmingham – 14.09.2011, Available at <http://www.f-c-i.org.uk/Caste_discrimination_still_a_menace_in_the_IC.alter.doc> (Viewed on 18-09-2012).

# JH Hutton, Caste in India: its nature, function and origins, 4th Ed., Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1963.
# Supra, n. 3.
# Supra, n. 6.
# Supra, n. 6.
# Supra, n. 6.
# Supra, n. 30.
# Supra, n. 6.
# Y. Das, “Pentecoastal dalits”, available at <http://www.pneumafoundation.org/resources/articles/PentecostalDalits-YDas.PDF> (Viewed on 18-09-2012).
# AIR 1984 SC 411, 1984 SCR (1) 973.
# AIR 1986 SC 733, 1985 SCR Supl. (3) 242.
# SCR 2, 1992.
# TK Oommen, State Policy and the Socially deprived in India: situating Muslims and Christians of Schedule Caste origins, Indian Journal of Federal Studies, No. 1, 2007.
# Supra, n. 28.
# Ashok V. Chowgule, Christianity in India The Hindutva Perspective, Available at <http://samparkvhp.org/Ebooks/Christianity in India The Hindutva Perspective.pdf>, (Viewed on 23-09-2012).
# Supra, n. 3.
# Supra, n. 1.
# 1977 (1) SCC 677.
# Supra, n. 52.
# Supra, n. 52.
# Interview excerpts of Dr. Saumyajit Ray, Asst. Professor, Centre for Canadian, US & Latin American Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
# AIR 1954 SC 282.
# Supra, n. 52.
# (2010) 9 SCC 712.
# Government of India, Conversion/reconversion to another religion - mode of proof, Law Commission of India, Report No. 235, Dec 2010, Available at <http://lawcommissionofindia.nic.in/reports/report235.pdf>, (Viewed on 24-08-2012).

# Supra, n. 6.
# Parimal Roy, “Religious Conversion in Hindu India: The complicated case of Manilal C. Parekh”, ISFM Orlando 2009, Sep 17, 2009, available at < http://www.ijfm.org/PDFs_IJFM/26_4_PDFs/Parimal_Roy.pdf  (viewed on 27-08-2012).

# Supra, n. 60.
# II (1994) Divorce & Matrimonial Cases 442.
# Raj deep Datta Roy, “Hindus use Christian Conversion methods to reconvert villagers”, available at <http://www.livemint.com/Politics/pf0JSKu9E5kM741IX6IqNI/Hindus-use-Christian-conversion-methods-to-reconvert-village.html> (Viewed on 10-11-2012).
# Supra, n. 69.
# Supra, n. 6.

# The  author can be reached at: vasundhara163@legalserviceindia.com




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