Thursday, 13 November 2008
Who are the Dalits?
One of the more confusing mysteries of India is her caste system. The caste system, which has existed for more than 3,000 years, was developed by the Brahmin (priest) caste in order to maintain their superiority. Eventually, the caste system became formalized into four distinct classes (Varna).
The Brahmins are the highest Varna and are the priests and arbiters of what is right and wrong in matters of religion and society. Below them are the Kshatriyas, who served traditionally as soldiers and administrators. The Vaisyas are the artisan and commercial class, while the Sudras are the farmers and the peasants. It is said that the Brahmin come from Brahma’s mouth, Kshatriyas from his arms, Vaisyas from his thighs, and Sudras from his feet.
Beneath the four main castes is a fifth group, the Scheduled Castes. The people of the Scheduled Castes are not part of the Varna system. They are the untouchables, the Dalit.
A Dalit is not considered part of human society, but instead is considered something less than human. The Dalits generally perform the most menial and degrading jobs. Caste rules hold that Dalits pollute higher caste people with their presence. If higher caste Hindus touch an untouchable or even come within a Dalit’s shadow, they must undergo rigorous series of cleansing rituals.
Approximately 250 million Indians (a full 25% of the population), are Dalit. In a country where everybody is supposed to have equal rights and opportunities, one out of four people is condemned to be untouchable.
Although the Indian Constitution guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms for all Indians, Dalit are systematically abused. Dalit are poor, deprived and socially backward. Their most basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are not fulfilled. They also cannot access decent education and employment. The systematic denial of their basic human rights results in a lack of education, food, healthcare, and economic opportunity, thereby keeping Dalit in perpetual bondage to the upper castes.
The Dalits represent one of the greatest outreach opportunities for the world Church.They are wanting to be freed from the oppressive caste system.May the Church rise to to task and through prayer and ministry bring them into the freedom that is in Christ.