As Riots Flare… Lets Look Deeper

by Brandi Moore on September 10, 2008

There have been numerous reporting of Hindu riots over the last few weeks, specifically the reports detail Hindu mobs burning Christian homes and churches.   Thus far about 50 people are reported dead and the Wall Street Journal reports that about 7,000 people have moved into refugee camps.

So why are the Hindu’s attacking the Christians?  While its interesting to read these reports through the eyes of a Westerner who is surrounded by Christianity every day and think “those poor Christians.”  I suggest you open your eyes wider as these stories are not so black and white.

While India has long been known as a place of refugee for people escaping persecution such as the Tibetans, other parts of the population have an intolerance of outside religions (outside being outside the 85% Hindu population) such as Christianity and Muslims for a variety of reasons.  I have spoken about the Muslim plight in India here. There are very few successful Muslims in India which is not surprising considering that most with means migrated to Pakistan during separation in 1947.  Muslims tend to be viewed from a caste perspective, or system the of Chaturvarna, as part of the lower castes.  Ironically, Christians suffer from this same problem.  Most of them used to be Dalits or other lower castes, but they converted to Christianity to “escape” the caste system.  These are generalizations; there are rich Christians in India as well as Rich Muslims.  But lets be very clear, for the most part Christians of wealth likely started out as higher caste Hindus which means from the beginning that had access to more resources.

Untouchables are viewed as un-pure so there are cultural traditions set up to keep the purity of the higher castes.  This means different tables if not different rooms entirely, using different drinking glasses, only allowing those of the same caste to wash their used glasses as they are considered contaminated, living down river so their water does not flow into the higher castes’ supply, they can not take communion inside a Catholic church (in most situations its just not done anymore in India to avoid the conflict) for fear of sharing the same cup..and so on.  The hold idea is to keep these people at the edge of society in every way possible.  They are not granted land, they are entitled to grow a few things on the community property outside the village as the higher castes in the village realize they need the labor but do not want them to live inside town.  And you get the point….

To escape this plight Dalits attempting to leave this group change their names (last names indicate caste) and attempt to reject Hinduism by joining the Catholic of Buddhist faith.  Hindus view this as “Christians trying to convert our people” according to Jagannath Lenka who was quoted in the Wall Street Journal.  This is a “problem” as the Dalits are a powerful political force because of there sheer volume–its represents 16% of India’s population or about 170 million people by today’s numbers.  Guess what?  That is HALF the people that live in the United States.

Ironically, the idea of converting to escape the Hindu caste system was started by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar who was one of the leaders working on the Indian Constitution in 1947 after its Independence from Britain.  Babasheb decided to encourage all Dalits to convert to Buddhism after loosing this fights to do away with Chararuvana.  Christian faiths picked up on this movement and sent in leaders to try to evangelize Indians to join their faith quickly there after.

The Hindus want the Dalits and other low castes to stay with the team–to keep working on the government to open up more affirmative action policies and more access to programs.  And the pressure is mounting as higher caste members are eliminating their need for the Dalits with the introduction of technology and the privatization of land ownership.  Dalits are no longer needed as much by society so they are being pushed father to the edges.  As a group, departure is viewed as a weakening team.  Its no wonder that so many Christians have been attacked over the previous weeks.

I have little tolerance for the Catholic Church’s efforts in India.  The effort around the Dalits is filled with sappy language about how these people need Jesus and the Catholic’s “God.”  What the Untouchables really need is access to education where 90% of their group does not drop out because they are needed to work at home or they are heckled out by students after they are forced to clean the toilets.  They need access to skill building and training.  They need the same things that the US needed in 1960′s around equal access—instead of being served out the back window with separate glasses they need a seat at the table.  They need for community leaders to not call meetings after dark when Dalit members are not allowed to leave the confines of their community to vote on issues.  Mind you, they hold a very large portion of the respective leader chairs as demanded by the affirmative action mandates, but they can not be used if they can’t get to the voting time.  They need a way to build a community of their own, not one under the auspicious of seeking God.  Not a church that still demands separate cemetery plots based on caste or rejects the sharing of a communal cup.  I encourage the Church to find a path that these can be balanced and build templates that whole communities can use instead of building more walls, something India has plenty of already.

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