The time has proved the fact that the Hindu Dalits’ alternative of conversion to Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. for an egalitarian social existence has never been a helpful selection to meet a sound economic and social position in their respective society. It was because of historical reasons. “……. a Hindu untouchable through his conversion becomes a Muslim untouchable (or Christian or Buddhist one, in the case of other religions) is a stark reality even today also”. (Anslie T. Embree, Utopias in conflict, Religion and Nationalism in Modern India, New Delhi, 1992, p 85). It is a harsh reality that Dalits in Islam are untouchables without the right to protest against social discrimination. The life and experiences of Muslim jatis like Julahas (weavers), Ansari, Kunjra, Dhobi, Halalkhor, Ajlaaf (sweepers, shoemakers, and so on), Qasai (butcher), Nai (barber), etc. are best examples for socio-religious ostracism in the alternative faiths. In certain areas of India, Bhangi Muslims are not allowed to enter in the mosque even though they are physically and spiritually clean. It is no more a secret. When it comes to marriage they always prefer marrying into their kind (jati). Approximately 100 million unhappy Dalit Muslims without freedom to revolt against the social system live in contemporary India. In short, the sword of Islam miserably failed before the Indian hierarchical jati-oriented psyche.
In colonial phase, the British and other foreign missionaries and the native Christian churches altogether enunciated the project of conversion of Dalits to Christianity in order to detach the traditional agrarian labour-bound communities or basic producers from the age-old so-called feudal-oriented socio-political relations (janmi system) of the land. It helped in the birth of mobility of the labour force in South India. Earlier this unpaid or underpaid labour force was attached to the janmi or landlord concerned. This change benefited to the emergence of Christian feudal lords and plantation industry in the Southern States. Several leading Christian families, as well as missionary families, were the pioneers in the plantation industry of South India prove this argument. “The Baker family – an English missionary household settled in Kerala – took interest in the extensive plantations of tea, rubber, coconut, etc. The Baker estates at Kumarakom and Mundakkayam are the monument of their interest in the plantation.” (K V Eapen, CMS and Education in Kerala, Kottayam, 1985, p 236). “The missionaries especially the Bakers concentrated their work among the low castes and outcasts. A large number of people embraced Christianity. Those who joined the Christian church got the freedom to travel along public roads and to enter the premises of law courts, post offices, and schools. The freedom enjoyed by the converted Christian attracted others as well.” (Arby Varghese, The Contributions of the Baker Family, Kottayam, 1999, p 50). This shortcoming of the traditional society turned as a blessing in disguise to the agents of proselytism. But in the free India discrimination based on birth became a criminal offense and thereupon the right of equality can be enjoyed by each and every. As a result, their conversion in the yesteryears turned as futile and meaningless.
Now the Dalit Christians are well aware of the disaster that they are encountering in the contemporary Christian churches of Malabar Coast. (Paul Chirakkarodu, Dalit Christavar Keralathil, (Mal), Tiruvella, 2000, passim). The specific political situation in the State of Kerala helped them to organize themselves in the Church as a ‘resistance group’. This resulted in the birth of ‘socio-spiritual’ tension in almost all the Christian church orders of Kerala. To diffuse this tension to a certain extent the church hierarchy extended their solidarity to the cause of Dalit issues. The vibrant churches of Kerala moved strategically and the entire Dalit issues inside the Church have been reduced to the space of the ‘reservation’. Here the Dalit Christian reservation issue functioning as a safety valve to the savarna interest of the Kerala Christendom.
The church controlled by the savarna psyche is reluctant to share its space for the uplift of the erstwhile untouchable community now identified as Dalit Christians. In order to pacify the tensed Dalits and keeping the numerical strength of the Christian folk of India at a high level, the Church has been extending its help to the Dalits to penetrate into the Scheduled Caste (SC) list for the last four decades. That is why the 27 percent of the officer grade employment of the government services of Kerala went into the hands of technically reconverted Christian Dalits. The church is using its political influence to help them in their de jure conversion and the camouflaged occupation of the SC opportunities in the governmental job market. But the same church is silent on the Indian Dalits’ demand for reservation in the non-governmental or private sector. The double benefit enjoyed by the disguised Dalits has deprived of the chances of the true naturally born Hindu SCs. Now Hindu Dalit’s organizations are well aware of it and they are keeping an eye on the matter. Therefore, now the church found it difficult to get it to penetrate its Dalits into the orbit of Hindu SC reservation. That is why the church had re-cast its age-old stratagem of obtaining the SC privileges to its converts through the fraud of changing the Christian name. Now the church began to move up with the demand of inclusion of Christian converts from the erstwhile SC communities in the SC list of the State as well as Centre as was in the case of Scheduled Tribes (ST). (UGC, MRP, No. F. 5-2 (040)/2003 (MRP)/SWRO dated 06-08-2003).
It is interesting to see that the 95 percent of the re-converted to Hinduism in the last five decades are still living as strong Christians and in communion with any one of the Christian church orders of the country. They have never visited a temple or a place of worship other than a church in their lifetime, after their re-conversion, is not a secret. Even they are more particular in selecting their spouses from the faithful Christians than the Dalit Christian with a Christian name. The offsprings of these re-converted pseudo-Hindus are brought up as Christians with Hindu names or any secular names is the usual practice. Nowadays the Christian churches are ready to accept Hindu names at the time of the baptism. All these are sufficient proof of the church’s involvement in the conspiracy of re-conversion. It is interesting to see that such two percent of reconverts’ religious identity is not traceable. Of the above fifteen percent, reconverts to Hinduism 0.5 percent are living as atheists. Two and a half percent of the reconverts fully assimilated to the Hindu or the primordial stream is not an ignorable fact. (UGC, MRP, No. F. 5-2 (040)/2003 (MRP)/SWRO dated 06-08-2003).
Sincerely speaking, acting as pseudo-Hindu and living as a true Christian in the bandwagon of Hindu SC is not a sin as far as a Dalit Christians are concerned. It is because of the reason that they are still living in the periphery of the Christian social structure just like while they were living in the Hindu avarna jati domain before their conversion to Christianity. Notwithstanding the fact, their conversion caused a remarkable improvement in their cultural domain. At the same time, their economic condition in free India is most vulnerable. In fact, it can be seen that their movement from ‘one evil’ to the ‘other evil’ is like “from the frying pan to burning fire”. (Paul Chirakkarodu, Dalit Christavar Keralathil, (Mal), Tiruvella, 2000, passim). The church in its turn played a dual role.On the one side, they allowed the savarna Christians to enjoy the fruits of its material glory and the other side; they led the black sheep (Dalits) in the battlefield of the ‘reservation’. The hope of ‘reservation’ here functions as a ‘safety valve’ to the Christian church. The intensity of the wrath of the Dalits can be defused through the ‘hope’.
“…… The black experience as a source of theology is more than the so-called ‘church experience’, more than singing, praying and preaching about Jesus Christ, god and holy spirit”. (James. H. Cone, God of the Oppressed, San Francisco, 1975, p 23). From the very beginning of the en-masse Dalit conversion, a social tension was developed in the body politic of the native churches of Kerala. In the church services, they were not allowed to sit together with the Syrian Christians/savarna Christians. (Syrian Christians are the aristocratic savarna claiming apostolic tradition. No doubt, during the early decades of this century, they functioned here as savarna Hindu with Christian belief). Above all, not even the Dalit Christian’s corpses were permitted to be buried in the cemetery where the corpses of the savarna (Syrian) Christians were buried. (Missionary Register, 1899, p 432 & C. I. Issac, Dalit Love of Catholics – A Kerala paradigm, Organiser Weekly, 9, September, 2001, p 5. “Before faith, the new Dalit converts and traditional Syrian are equals but they (Dalit) never got a pari pasu treatment in the Christian society of Kerala. …They have only a cemetery of ‘untouchable’ Christians near the church.”) Wherever the Christian missionaries reached for proselytism in India, different kinds of imbalances could be seen at those places. But missionary concerns were only of the kingdom of heaven or else the providence of God. That is why they started Dalit exclusive churches in different parts of South India. This effort averted social tension in the body politic of the main church in the immediate future. It considerably saved the face of the church for a short duration and the genesis of an anti-savarna tempo from the church’s atmosphere was cleverly melted up. It is better to share the African experience; “Before these Christian missionaries landed in Africa, the Africans had their land with them, but not the Bible. Now they have their Bible with them, not their land”. (Laura Kelley quotes Archbishop Desmond Tutu, South African Anglican Bishop, 1984 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, The Hindu, Kochi, dtd. 13th March 2001, Open Page – The Eleventh Commandment: ‘Thou Shall Not Convert’).
The Christian church fellowships help these communities to prepare themselves to compete with the mainstream Hindu or primaeval SC categories. Thus this aspect deserves special attention and should be studied as an area of special attention. The present debate generates certain doubts. Of such one is the massive conversion of Dalits in the 19th century and in the early decades of the 20th century causing the shrinking of Hindu majority in regions after regions. Another one is that the extension of reservation to the Christian converts may result in its miss-utilization by the savarna Christians. The boundary between them is too fragile. Again those now journeying with the Christian churches are more culturally advanced sections and their inclusion in the reservation list will result in the marginalization of the Hindu or primordial SC category of Dalits. Furthermore, it will result in the dismemberment of several jatis from Hindu fabric and such one is the ST experience. The Christian ST experience justifies this doubt strongly. Finally the Christian converts, through the extension reservation, will enjoy double benefits i.e., from the Church source as well as the government. All the doubts rose by the Hindus as well as primordial SC Dalits are genuine in the said premise.
Similarly, we should lend an ear to the demands of the Dalit Christians from the erstwhile untouchable jatis of India. It should be accorded the same reservation and welfare benefits that are granted to the SCs professing the Hindu, Sikh, and Neo-Buddhist religions under the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order 1950 as amended in 1956 and 1990. The Dalit Christians should be given the SC status and privileges so that they can enjoy the same political rights (now they have no chance to participate in the democratic process of our country) and socio-economic benefits as all other SCs.
In the contemporary state of affairs within the ambit of faith, Dalits are the major losers. According to Laura Kelly (a journalist and Christian historian), “About ten million Dalit Christians of India feel cheated by the church that converted them to Christianity with the assurance that they would be given equal rights and status in the community. A study of all the land properties of churches in India put together show that the church is the second-biggest landlord in the country, next only to the Government. In addition, the church institutions and church or Christians-led non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receive foreign financial support amounting to over Rs 250 billion per year. There is no transparency with regard to these funds as well as the massive income accruing from the elite schools, colleges and hospitals and also shopping complexes built all over the major cities in the country. The poor Dalit Christian does not even get a small piece of it, leave alone participation in church matters. There seems to be a vested interest in keeping the Dalit Christians where they are to maintain the status quo in the church. But now Dalit Christians are more untouchable in Christianity than they were in their original faith, according to Francis”. (Laura Kelley, Documenting the Violent World of Christendom, Christian Aggression, 27 April 2016. christianaggression.org). No doubt while counting the heads, the Dalit presence is most beneficial to Christian church interest in the broad spectrum of political bargaining or vote bank politics.