Conversion And Reservation: Christian Dalits And The Obstacles To Social Mobility
I. Knowing Christian Dalits
Christian Dalits or the Dalit Christians? How a person is identified? There are many ways of identifying a person living in a society by name, age, class, caste or religion. As soon as we meet a person we identify him by his name and from his name we identify his religion and from his surname we try or successfully identify his caste. His age and class are secondary aspects, which can be identified anytime.
The saint and great philosopher Swami Vivekananda said:
“Religion as it is generally taught all over the world is said to be based upon faith and belief and in most cases consists only of different sets of theories and that is the reason why we find all religions quarrelling with one another. These theories are again based upon faith and belief.”
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.
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.
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.
Commissions appointed by Government of India
The Government of India appointed many commissions to study the real situation of the Christian Dalits. The Commissions focused at the social, educational and economical condition of Christian Dalits and came out with these disturbing reports. The Commissions reported accurately and authentically that the change of religion to Christianity had not significantly changed the lives of Christian Dalits. They observed that Christian Dalits are exposed to all sorts of misery both in the Church and in the society, such as violence and exclusion from the use of ordinary facilities like wells, roads, restaurants, schools:
i. Report of Kaka Kalelkar, Chairman of the Backward Classes Commission, Jan 3rd, 1955
(This report was based on study based on the Christian Dalits' situation in Kerala). “We discovered with deep pain and sorrow that untouchability did obtain in the extreme south among Indian Christians, and Indian Christians were prepared in many places to assert that they were still guided by caste, not only in the matter of untouchability, but in social hierarchy of high and low. While the harijans amongst the Hindus, classified as scheduled castes, stand a fair chance of bettering their condition under the Indian Government's reservation policy, their Christian counterparts stand twice discriminated.”
ii. The Chidambaram report in 1975 admitted "That casteism is practiced widely among the members of the Christian fold as judged by the characteristic of the caste system and going by the economic status of the Harijan Christians. It is evident that they are a poverty stricken lot."
iii. Report of Mandal Commission, Commission of Backward Classes under the Chairmanship of B.P.Mandal, 1980. The Mandal Commission Report has accepted the reality of caste among Indian Christians, as in any other community. It has taken the example of the Christian community in Kerala, which, according to the Mandal Commission Report, is not only divided into various denominations on the basis of beliefs and rituals, but also 'into various ethnic groups on the basis of their caste background."
Even after conversion the lower caste converts continue to be treated as Harijans by all sections of society, including the Syrian Christians. In the presence of rich Syrian Christians the Harijan Christians had to remove their headdress, it was found that the Syrian and Pulaya members of the same Church conduct religious rituals separately in separate buildings. Thus lower caste converts to a very egalitarian religion like Christianity, ever anxious to expand its membership, even after generations were not able to efface the effect of their caste background.
The Mandal Commission Report took note of an important suggestion made by Prof. Madhu Dandavate and reflected his views:
Prof. Madhu Dandavate stated that conversion from one faith to another did not change the socio-economic status of a person. It was, therefore, desirable that converts from Scheduled Castes to Buddhism, Christianity etc, should be treated as Scheduled Castes. But until this change was brought about by legislation, all such converts should be listed as OBCs (Other Backward Classes).
The Mandal Commission Report has concluded without any doubt that among Indian Christians caste is a reality. According to the report "social and educational backwardness among" the Christian community is more or less the same as among Hindu communities. Though the caste system is peculiar to Hindu society, in actual practice, it also pervades Christian society. The Christians of Scheduled Caste Origin (Christian Dalits) suffer the same disabilities as their counterparts belonging to other religions.
In view of this, Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism etc., should not be denied the benefits extended to Scheduled Castes and the same should hold good in respect of other backward classes. In some places, it was also contended that all Muslims and all Christians should be included in the list of other backward classes as these communities were indeed backward.
II. Evolution / Origin of 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. Buddhism is not considered as unique religion it forms part of or is included in the Hinduism thus conversion to this belief is not considered as conversion to any other religion, still its status is recognized. But when the issue of reservation comes into picture Buddhist Dalit do share a place. If a religion is not recognized as separate religion than why the dalit sect of that religion be provided reservation separately.
In Chandra Shekharan v. Kulundurivalu, Supreme Court held, if a person converts from Hindu religion to Sikh, Buddhism or Jainism he does not cease to be Hindu since all these religions do not fall beyond the definition of ‘Hindu’ in the relevant section of Hindu Marriage Act. He ceases to be Hindu if he converts into Islam, Christianity or Jews or Zoroastrian.
Major Events Of Conversion
Major events of conversion are not reported unless, they are highlighted by media or a hue and cry is made by Hindu Organization. Following are the major incidents of religious conversion in post independence.
i. Nagpur (Maharashtra): - The First and the biggest mass conversion, which the country has ever witnessed, took placed on the 14th day of October 1956. Place Nagpur, Maharashtra, the city where the Headquarter of Rastriya Swayamsewak Sangh is situated. About a half a million Dalits said good-bye to Hinduism from their life and embraced Buddhism under the leadership of the greatest social reformer, the great visionary and the prophet of Dalit emancipation Dr. B.R. Ambedkar.
ii. Dulina (Haryana): - Another significant event of religious conversion which created a lot of hue and cry in the society took place at Gurgaon, Haryana 2002. This all had happened after a very pathetic incident of burning Five Dalits alive by a mob of upper caste people in a police station at Dulina in Jhajjar District in Haryana. The Police remained a silent spectator. Now nothing was left for the families of these massacred Dalits to remain in such a violent and hatred preaching system of faith, where in Dalit have no place. All the five families of massacred Dalits got converted in to Buddhism at Rabidas Mandir, Gurgaon, Haryana on 28th October 2002 under the banner of All India Confederation of Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe organization and the Lord Buddha club in the presence of famous film director, All India Christian Council, Jamait Ulma-I Hind and in the presence of Media Persons.
Another dimension of this event of conversion is that after this event all the Saffron Hindu Organizations rushed to these families and threatened them to face dire consequences on account of the above said conversion. Due to assaults and threats and under the pressure of these Hindu Organization, ultimately, these sacred Dalit families broke down and had to make a public statement that we did not leave Hindu religion, we did not convert.
iii. Guntur (Andhra Pradesh):-In July 2002 another incident of religious conversion took place in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh where 70 Dalits converted into Christianity.
iv. Delhi: - In the year 2002 Udit Raj the Chairman of All India Confederation of Schedule Caste/Schedule Tribe Organizations and the Lord Buddha Club give a national wide call for conversion. This conversion ceremony was supposed to be performed at Ram Leela Maidan of Delhi. Around one million Dalits were supposed to get convert into Buddhism.
The preparations regarding this massive conversion were on. This nation wide call for the conversion got an unprecedented coverage in national and international media. Dehydration to saffron Hindu organization regarding such a massive programme of conversion was oblivious. These organizations resorted all means to shut of the mouth of media, so that this call may not reach the public at large. The Ram Leela Maidan, where the programme was supposed to be organized, declared as prohibited area and Section 144 of CrPC was imposed in and around the area, all borders of Delhi where from an arrival of large number Dalits to take Diksha, was possible were sealed. The Government was determined to ensure by hook or by crook let the event might not be organized. Finally, the organizer had to change the spot for the proposed event. The Government could not succeed to curb the enthusiasm of dalits and ultimately more than 10,000 Dalits succeeded to say good bye to Hinduism and embraced Buddhism.
The Freedom of Religion Laws inadvertently called the Anti-Conversion Laws were enacted to provide freedom of religion by prohibiting the practice conversion by means of force or fraud or inducement or allurement. The genesis of these laws has always been in question, as an individuals definition of freedom or religion, might not match with government version of freedom of religion. The Act prohibits conversion by force or fraud or inducement or allurement, but what amounts to these acts has not been expressly provided in the laws all the decisions regarding forced conversion are left on the authorities to decide, and these are the authorities who enacted these laws and are thereby causing prejudice to the person who is propagating his religion.
According to government, they are keeping intact the individuals right of freedom of religion while preventing forced conversion. But on the other hand if an individual wants to convert willingly he has to follow the procedure provided under the Act, under which he has to notify his conversion to the Magistrate, provide his reason for conversion and if authorities are satisfied only then he can convert his religion.
These Anti-Conversion Laws have been in force for time immemorial now. The first such Act came into being in Rajgarh State in 1936, than came Patna Freedom of Religion Act 1942, Surguza State Apostasy Act 1945, Udaipur State Anti Conversion Act 1946. Following the footsteps of these states Bikaner, Jodhpur, Kalahandi and Kota also enacted similar laws.
Starting in the 1950s, various States in India began to create tensions between Hindus and Christians through the enactment of “freedom of religion” legislation. These laws have not only restricted the practice of Christianity and other non-Hindu religions, but have also led to an upsurge of violence against such minority religions in India. In effect, the Freedom of Religion Acts are direct Hindu attempts to use state power to prevent conversion; thus, they violate the freedom of religion espoused by the Constitution of India. The Indian government has enacted such laws for six decades for the ostensible purpose of protecting minority religions from violence and censure and to ensure religious freedom for all. However, these “anti conversion” laws are at the heart of a power struggle within the caste system in India, and the prohibition on conversion helps to keep the most maligned and powerless members of Indian society—the Dalits, or “untouchables”—performing the most menial, degrading, and dangerous jobs in India, with no prospect of upward mobility.
Below is a list of the various States with anti-conversion laws, their demographics, and a brief explanation of the violence occurring in those States against minority religions:
i. Orissa: Dalits and Tribal’s make up forty percent of the population in Orissa. Hindu extremists attacked Christian villagers and Churches over the Christmas holidays. They damaged about 100 Christian Churches and institutions, destroyed 700 Christian homes—causing villagers to flee—and disrupted Christian-owned businesses.
ii. Madhya Pradesh/Chhattisgarh: Madhya Pradesh accounts for the highest percentage of Dalit and Tribal population to total “outcast” population of the country—14.5 percent. This State saw the third highest attack rate. Hindu extremists “disrupted prayer meetings, destroyed or damaged places of worship, vandalized property, assaulted pastors and lay persons, confiscated and destroyed religious material, and attempted to intimidate Christians from attending religious services.” The police, however, arrested the victims—not their attackers—and then further victimized the Christians. Christians were also subject to false allegations of violating the anti-conversion laws.
September 22, 1998 - In a most shocking incident in Jhabua in Madhya Pradesh, four of our Religious Sisters were assaulted and gang-raped in the early hours.
iii. Himachal Pradesh: The Freedom of Religion Act was passed in 2006 without any reports of forced conversions, and for assuredly entirely political reasons. Dalits comprise 24.7 percent of the population in this state. Attacks and beatings at Christian places of worship increased immediately upon passage of the anti-conversion law.
iv. Gujarat: Dalits, Tribal’s, and Muslims together account for more than half of Gujarat’s population. There were reports of attacks on Christians, disruption of worship services, death threats against pastors and parishioners, police refusal to prosecute, and continued refusal to prosecute any person for the communal violence and rioting of 2002.
In Umerpada village, 24 Christians were harassed by the police inspector G. M. Damor of Dangs Police station on November 13, 1997 on a false complaint allegedly made by a local VHP activist Kalu Chhibadia of Ghadavi village.
In Kudkas village, on November 25 1997, evangelist Premchand was going home on a cycle at 11 p.m. after finishing a prayer meeting when he was beaten by the police. Christian convention at Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium was disturbed in November 1997 when during the evening session, alleged VHP volunteers came up to the stage and snatched the mike, while the preacher was singing devotional songs. They shouted Hindu slogans through the mike. Cables were cut and a Matador van parked on the ground was damaged
In Dagadpada village, on December 26 1997, a day after Christmas, adivasis celebrating the festival were stoned and harassed the entire night by CPI Damor and others and were put in jail for no reason at the height of their festival celebrations.
On December 25, 1997, Pipalwada, Vyara taluka, Surat district, one group of 2,000 people of Hindu fundamentalists came to demolish Churches and disrupt the Christmas celebrations, arranged in the Churches there. Series of attacks on Christian tribals allegedly by Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad.
v. Rajasthan: After repeated refusals by the governor to sign the original act, the assembly passed the Freedom of Religion Bill of 2008. News media reported acts of violence against Christians, and police arrested people accused of forcible conversion and interrogated various Christian leaders accused of human trafficking and prostitution. A May 2008 terrorist attack killed 100 and injured 400 more.
vi. Uttar Pradesh: September 23, 1998 - A crowd led by the BJP MLA Shailendra Pradhan attacked the parish house of Fr. Edward Sarel, about 10 km from Jhabua.
4 September '98 - a Clarist Convent in Baghpat (U.P.) was attacked.
September 23 - Nuns in a Clarist Convent were attacked in Bhagpat.
September 26 - The sub divisional magistrate, Mr. Yadav, along with the Police Station Officer, Mr. R. D. Rai and Sub-inspectors Mr. Girija Singh and Mr. Shri Ram Mishra along with seven policemen forced their way into the Jiwan Jyoti Christian Hospital Campus in Robertsganj. They threatened a group of about 32 seekers and misbehaved with the medical superintendent, Dr. (Mrs.) Monica Benjamin.
September 26 - Activists of Hindu Jagran Manch, Bajrang Dal and Rana Tharu Parishad broke into the Union Church in Amaun, two kilometers east of Khatima, in Udham Singh Nagar District. They put up an idol of Shiva in the Church and worshipped it for about two hours.
October 30, 1998 - The BJP dominated council of Ayodhya last week passed a resolution banning burial of the bodies within the municipal limits of this historic town.
vii. Karnataka: July 17, Bajrang Dal conducts simultaneous raids all over Karnataka, forcing their way into Christian schools and Convents. Cluny convent, Bangalore; the Sacred Heart Convent, Keshwapur, Hubli; the St. Mary's Convent School, Christ the King Convent School, Nirmala Convent School, St. Joseph's Convent School and Carmel Convent School, all in Mysore; the St. Joseph's Convent School and St. John's Convent School in Mandya and the St. Joseph's Girl's High School in Bellary reported such raids.
July, Bajrang Dal activists forced their way into St. Mary's Convent School while the Assembly was on and spat on the face of a nun who protested.
viii. New Delhi: July 16, Hindu politicians prepare bill harmful to Christian education. The bill calls for all schools to conform to the concept that India should be a Hindu nation. It calls for the rewriting of India's history books and the closure of non-Hindu religious schools.
July 23, Delhi Government attempts to close down Churches because the serving of sacramental wine violates liquor laws.
September 5, Bajrang Dal launches "Quit India" campaign against Christian missionaries.
ix. Bihar: Sept. 2, 1997, Dumka, RC Father Christudas assaulted, paraded naked.
Oct. 27, '97, Hazaribagh, Father A.T. Thomas murdered brutally
In view of this, Scheduled Caste converts to Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism etc., should not be denied the benefits extended to Scheduled Castes and the same should hold good in respect of other backward classes. In some places, it was also contended that all Muslims and all Christians should be included in the list of other backward classes as these communities were indeed backward.
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 deals 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.
According to some of the authorities which came forward with Anti-Conversion Laws or so called Freedom of Religion Laws, propagation of ones religion per-se carries ill will and it should be made punishable. This view of these authorities received consent of the judiciary.
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.’
One more aspect or facet of conversion is Reconversion. The practice of reconversion is common in the states who witness massive conversion or incidents of violence after such conversion. The accounts of some converts who reconverted or are pondering over the issue of reconversion are as follows:
“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.
If it’s not material lure and the dreams of a better lifestyle to those living in grinding poverty, it is the need to avoid social ostracizing that drives conversion and reconversion in these parts.
A. Presidential Order
When the Indian Constitution was drafted some special rights and privileges were extended to the social category, which was known as Schedule Caste in a bid to ensure equality and dignity. It was a compensation for the historical injustices and discrimination that the Schedule Caste were subjected to for many centuries. Further, it was seen as a way of equalizing opportunities to those who were denied such opportunities. By making reservation available for them it was hoped by the framers of the Constitution that such provisions would improve their lives and that the Schedule Caste would gain both, social and economic status.
This status has been provided to them in respect of the Article 341 of the Constitution which states that President may specify the castes as Schedule Caste after consultation with Governor, which can be further amended by the Parliament.
Pursuant to this The Constitution (Schedule Caste) Order, 1950 was enacted it provided a list of castes which shall be deemed to be schedule caste in respect of State to which it relates, which can further be altered by that State. It also expressly provides that any person who is not a Hindu, Sikh or Buddhist shall not be deemed to be the member of the Schedule Caste, thereby excluding the Christian Dalits. Since then on various occasions Government has been approached to amend the present structure of the 1950 Order.
B. The Persistence 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.
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 Dalit Christian 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 Dalit Christian 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.
Supreme Court on Persistence of 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.
C. Alienation and Stereotyping
Another significant social fact that needs to be explored is that the group that gets converted to another religion gets isolated from its parent body or from the other members of the caste group. This is all the more true of the lower caste segment. Though, conversion from Hinduism to Christianity provides an avenue to escape from caste oppression, it ultimately, leads to cultural alienation of Dalits and they are subjected to atrocities.
Christian Dalits constitute about 75 per cent in the Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu, but only about 6 per cent among the priests and nuns are Dalits. Similar situation exists in the whole of India. Similarly, there are not even about 8 (just about 5 per cent) Dalit Bishops among the nearly 155 Catholic Bishops in India.
Problems of the Church in India
The Church’s biggest problem is their unwillingness to meet the needs of the Christian Dalits. There are some who acknowledge the plight of the Dalits and who want to do something about it, but as a whole, the Church is incapable of doing just that. This was also acknowledged at the conference on justice for Dalits in Bangkok: “We were reminded in challenging and sometimes emotional terms of the continuing prevalence of caste in the Church and the silence of the Church in addressing caste both inside and outside the Church.”
The reason for this is that the governing of the Church is in the hands of the upper castes. So, although the Indian Church is a Church of the Dalits, it projects an ‘elitist’ image. This has some serious consequences for the Church in India and the Christian Dalits in particular. First of all, despite many promises, their situation is not getting better because they are with the Christian community: “When we converted, the Church had promised us equality and promised to protect our interests and undertake measures for us. But what we got is more discrimination.” This is what is seen in the Christian educational institutions, which are almost inaccessible for Christian Dalits. And then it is just a matter of time that Christian Dalits begin to doubt their conversion: they have lost any right to reservation and they realize that they are not getting anything from the Church. This disappointment can then eventually lead to Dalits reconverting to Hinduism, as was seen for example in Chennai, where last April about thousand Christian Dalits reconverted to Hinduism.
At the moment, the Church is far from what, Dalits really need. They want for example education, economic assistance and pastoral care, things the Church is not offering. The Church in India should know that millions of Dalits in general, and about 1.5 million Dalit Christians, are still waiting to receive the whole of salvation, because so far they have only been offered the half of salvation which speaks of ‘saving their souls’.
The Church personnel in their conversations when they want to say anything derogatory or negative about Christian Dalits, they instead of referring to their caste would use abbreviations. For instance, in Tamil Nadu they would say ‘pl’ to refer to Pallar and ‘pr’ to refer to Paraiya. It is significant to note that such usage is not just limited to south India, but practiced in north India as well. In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, when the Church personnel want to refer to Christian Dalits they use the word ‘ch’ implying Chamars. These kinds of references are disapproved by Christian Dalits. But since they are dependent upon the caste Christians, they do not openly oppose such practices. But now they are resisting these kinds of practices.
The old Christians are known as Syrian Christians whereas Harijan converts are known as Putu Christians (Neo-Christians), Chermar Christians, Pulaya Christians etc. During the course of the field work, it was found that only Syrian Christians were referred to as ‘Christians’, and Pulaya Christians were referred to as ‘Pulayas’ by all, including the Pulaya Christians themselves. The Pulaya Christians addressed the Syrian Christians by honorific titles such as Tampuran (Lord), Panikke (Master), whereas Syrian Christians added the suffix ‘Pulaya’ while addressing a Pulaya Christian. For example, a Thoma is called Thoma Pulayan, a Chacko as Chacko Pulayan, and so on, as is done in the case of Hindu Pulayas.
In the presence of rich Syrian Christians, the Harijan Christians had to remove their head-dress. While speaking with their Syrian Christian masters, they had to keep their mouth closed with a hand. Pulaya Christians are not given food inside the house of a Syrian Christian or in a good dish, but only outside the house in some broken dish. After taking food, they have to wash it.
Even though neither the Mar Thoma Church nor the Church of South India officially approves of the segregation of their Syrian and Pulaya members, such segregation is actually prevalent. It was found that the Syrian and Pulaya members of the same Church conduct religious rituals separately in separate buildings. The Syrian Christian priests who conduct the ritual at the Syrian Christian Churches do not go to or perform rituals in the Church of the Pulayas, but there are separate persons specially appointed for this purpose. There is no positive ban on the Pulayas attending the rituals at the Syrian Christian Churches, but few Pulayas ever do so. In the organization of the Church also, the Pulayas are not given proper representation. For example, in the Mar Thoma Church, every Syrian Christian parish is entitled to send representatives to the representative body called Mandalam, but the Pulaya Churches are not entitled to this right. A Pulaya has yet to be made a priest in the Mar Thoma Church.
In the Jacobite Church, the number of lower caste converts are relatively few, and usually they attend the services at the Syrian Churches. However, they usually occupy only back seats in the Church.
Incidence of Crime against SCs during 1998 to 2001
Crime Head 1998 1999 2000 2001
Murder 516 506 526 763
Rape 923 1,000 1,083 1,136
Kidnapping & Abduction 253 228 268 400
Dacoity 49 36 38 41
Robbery 150 109 108 133
Arson 346 337 290 354
Hurt 3,809 3,241 3,497 4,547
Crimes Against Protection
Of Civil Rights 724 678 672 633
Crimes under POA Act 7,443 7,301 7,386 13,113
Others 11,425 11,657 11,587 12,201
Total 25,638 25,093 25,455 33,501
Source: Crime Record India, National Crime Record Bureau, Ministry of Home Affairs,
Government of India, New Delhi, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003.
Christian Dalits are severely marginalized in the vocations of priests and nuns and in the appointments for any higher authority or positions. Even though Christian Dalits constitute about 75 per cent in the Catholic Church in Tamil Nadu, only about 6 per cent among the priests and nuns are Dalits. Similar situation exists in the whole of India. Similarly, there are not even about 8 (just about 5 per cent) Dalit Bishops among the nearly 155 Catholic Bishops in India. This is again a serious exclusion of Christian Dalits from the mainstream of the Church even though they form a big majority in the Catholic population. It is a clear that the caste domination is operating at all levels of making the choice, recommendations and decisions for the appointment of Bishops. Representations have been also sent to Rome to rectify such anomalies.
III. The path ahead - Reservation
Reservation is an affirmative action taken by the State to remove the persistent or present and continuing effects of past discrimination on particular segments of the Society to:
(i) lift the ‘limitation on access to equal opportunities’;
(ii) grant opportunity for full participation in the governance of the society;
(iii) overcome substantial chronic underrepresentation of a social group; and
(iv) serve/achieve the important constitutional/ governmental objectives.
The history of reservations in India can be traced back to the cases of State of Madras v. Srimathi Champakam Dorairajan and Venkatraman v. State of Madras. In these cases the Indian Supreme Court held that any legislation and/or executive order prescribing reservations on the basis of caste were unconstitutional. Soon after the said two decisions the Parliament intervened and in exercise of its constituent power amended Article 15 by inserting Clause (4) which states that “Nothing in this article or in Clause (2) of Article 29 shall prevent the State from making any special provision for the advancement of any socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes.”
In the course of time, judicial view underwent considerable change and more importance was given to ‘caste’ as a factor to assess backwardness. In P. Rajendran v. State of Madras it was held that though ‘caste’ cannot be the sole criteria, it should not be forgotten that caste is also a class of citizens and if the caste as a whole is socially and educationally backward, reservation can be made in favor of such caste.
Opposition to the demand of the Christian Dalits for reservation could come from the following quarters –
a. Dalits who are following Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism will oppose this move since they feel that they will have to share reservation with this additional group. Instead of exploring the possibility of how to bring in all Dalits into one banner and find greater solidarity to fight for their rights, these people are playing on the stipulated 15.5 per cent reservation. This stipulation of 15.5 per cent for the SCs or the 49 per cent reservation for all the weaker sections is not a holy cow that cannot be reexamined;
b. Caste Christians will oppose such a move fearing the equalization of Dalits with them. All along history, caste Christians have opposed any move to bring in change in the discriminated state of Christian Dalits. They opposed the Church when it tried to introduce change in the lives of Christian Dalits and they will do the same when the Government is made to adhere to the principles of the Constitution;
c. The bureaucracy will also oppose this move fearing backlash from Dalits who are following Hinduism, Sikhism and Buddhism and caste Hindus and caste Christians. Especially, they will feign ignorance regarding this demand since they do not want to be on the wrong side of the Hindutva forces. Since most of the officials are known for maintaining status quo, it is less possible they will support this move.
Estimated Caste Composition of Religions Rural India, 2004-05
Religious Scheduled Scheduled Other ‘Upper’ All
Communities Tribes Castes Backward Castes 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 DCs could be at least five times of what the NSSO estimates show it to be.
Constitutional (Scheduled Castes) Orders (Amendment) Bill, 1996
In a Note for Cabinet dated 6.3.1996, The Ministry of Welfare had proposed to include SC converts to Christianity as SCs in the Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Orders so as to make them eligible for all statutory safeguards and benefits accruing to the members of SCs. The Cabinet approved this proposal at its meeting held on 07.03.1996. In pursuance of this decision, the Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Orders (Amendment) Bill 1996, (Bill No. 17 of 1996) was prepared. The Bill sought to amend the earlier Constitutional (Scheduled Caste) Orders so as to remove the bar in Christians converted from the SCs being deemed to be members of the SCs. Although, the Bill was listed for introduction as a supplementary item in the Lok Sabha on 12.03.1996, it could not be introduced. Following the adjournment of Parliament, the Cabinet decided on 14.03.1996, that an Ordinance be issued for the purpose. An Ordinance was proposed to the President, but was not promulgated.
Thus, at last the researcher will like to conclude that the researcher supports the quest of Christians Dalits for the reservation or the grant of Schedule Caste status, whichever of the two helps them to achieve a status of equality in the society.
1. Government of India, Conversion/ Reconversion to another religion - mode of proof.
2. Prakash Louis, Caste-based Discrimination & Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the Need for Reservation.
3. Reports of Commissions.
4. Deepak Miglani and Dinesh Miglani, Right to freedom of religion vs. Religious conversion.
5. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACTS: ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS IN INDIA.
6. A List of Atrocities Committed against Christians across India.
7. Raj deep Datta Roy, Hindus use Christian Conversion methods to reconvert villagers.
8. Satish Deshpande, Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge.
9. Elze Sietzema-Riemer, Christian Dalits: A research on Christians Dalits in India.
10. Rashmin Khandekar and Sunny Shah, The History, Rationale and Critical Analysis of Reservations under the Constitution of India.
# Government of India, Conversion/ Reconversion to another religion - mode of proof, Report No. 235, Dec, 2010, available at . (viewed on 08/24/2012)
# Prakash Louis, “Caste-based Discrimination & Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the Need for Reservation”, Indian Institute of Dalit Studies, New Delhi, Working Paper Series, Vol. II, Number 04, 2007, available at . (viewed on 08/22/2012)
# “Reports of Commissions”, available at <http://www.dalitchristians.com/Html/commission.htm>. (viewed on 09/11/12)
# AIR 1963 SC 185.
# Deepak Miglani and Dinesh Miglani, “Right to freedom of religion vs. Religious conversion”, available at <http://www.legalserviceindia.com/articles/rel_rel.htm>. (viewed on 08/24/2012)
# “RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ACTS”: ANTI-CONVERSION LAWS IN INDIA”, American Center for Law & Justice, Published on June 26, 2009,
# “A List of Atrocities Committed against Christians across India”, available at .(viewed on 08/27/2012)
# New Oxford American Dictionary, Version 2.0.2.
# 1977 (1) SCC 677.
# Raj deep Datta Roy, “Hindus use Christian Conversion methods to reconvert villagers”,
# Supra, n. 2.
# Satish Deshpande, “Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities Status Report on Current Social Scientific Knowledge”, available at . (viewed on 22/08/2012)
# Supra, n. 2.
# AIR 1984 SC 411, 1984 SCR (1) 973.
# AIR 1986 SC 733, 1985 SCR Supl. (3) 242.
# Supra, n. 2.
# Elze Sietzema-Riemer, “Christian Dalits: A research on Christians Dalits in India”, Taal- en Cultuurstudies
# Religie en Cultuur Geesteswetenschappen Universiteit Utrecht30-07-2009, Zwolle, available at . (viewed on 08/22/2012)
# Supra, n. 2.
# Supra, n. 14.
# Supra, n. 2.
# AIR 1951 SC 226, 1951 SCR 525.
# AIR 1966 SC 1089, 1966 SCR (2) 229.
# Rashmin Khandekar and Sunny Shah, “The History, Rationale and Critical Analysis of Reservations under the Constitution of India”, available at
# AIR 1968 SC 1012, 1968 SCR (2) 786.
# Supra, n. 27.
# Supra, n. 14.
# Supra, n. 2.
| Posted by L N Reddy on June 29, 2016
According historians caste system Is in Hinduism only. Then how the people say that the person who converted as Christian, as dalit Christian.Removing of poverty from poor has to be treat in different manner not on caste based. Poor people have to be provide all facilities like shelter, food,clothing, education and health facilities. Reservation never gives solution to the problems of so called backwards. Most are converting into other by force or because of bribing.
| Posted by dayanand on September 15, 2015
one of my friend he convert Reddy to christian but he took harijan convert christin BC C certificate in MRO office. but my question is i asked him he said io took my mother she belongs BC C group thats why he took BC C certificate is it possible
| Posted by kaleemulla mohamedali on December 24, 2014
Faith is embeded in heart and mind. Flowers, fire, words are oral and physical presumtions. In Hinduism no one can be converted to high caste BRAHMIN, they are converted as low cast SHUDRAS AS per MANUSMRITI:
No collection of wealth to be made by a Shudra even though he may be able to do it. Brahmin can take Shudra's property by force. (Manusmriti X,129).
Brahman can have 4 wives, Kshatriya can have 3 wives , Vaishnava can have 2 wives, Shudra cant have more than 1. (Aitreya Veda, Brahma VIII, 29 page 201).
The tongue of Shudra who spoke evil about Brahmin should be cut off (Apastamba Dharma Sutra II/10-26.
Those who are with stinking conduct they will enter a stinking womb, either the womb of a dog or the womb of a swine or womb of Shudra (Chandogya Upanishad 5-10-7)
Shudras must be prohibited from hearing, studying Vedas (Brahma Sutras 126.96.36.199)
More on google Why Dr.Ambedkar burnt Manusmriti.
Due to Brahmins discrimination of Shudra Hindus converted in 550Bc to Jainism, in 500Bc to Budhism, 712Ad to 1700 to Islam and after British rule till today Shudras are converting to Christianity.
Media having an access to a large audience should be an effective tool in the empowerment of women.
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