By Valson Thampu
Surely, it is an advantage to have God care for you. So, the big question for the Dalits is if there can be a God who cares for them. An equally important question is: if the Dalits themselves would dare to believe in such a God.
You might think that I am tongue-in-cheek in saying this. But think again! The idea of God is basic to Dalit-ness. Dalits stay degraded because they derive their idea of God from their social-cultural-superiors. They are condemned to be under the yoke of the God of the upper castes and upper classes. It does not matter which religion. All religions are alike in this respect. Their gods are upper caste, upper class gods.
If anything, polytheism is kinder to Dalits in one respect. It at least allows the bottom-line courtesy to them of having their gods and temples. In Hinduism, Dalits have their gods. Not so in monotheistic religions. Here is my experience to prove it.
When I was yet a young man, I used to attend a pulaya church in Kerala, south India. Its members were converts from the Hindu pulaya tribe. Though converted, and second-and-third generation Christians, they were referred to as pulaya Christians. They took it as the given, and never resented it. Their church was known as the pulaya palli, or the church for pulayas. The upper caste Christians in my village in Kerala used to walk past this near-by church and go to Christ Church, Mavelikara, where upper caste Christians worshipped, snuggled in their vanity.
The pulaya church in my village did not have a pulaya Christ. It had the upper caste Christ, whose Father in Heaven was also upper caste, as if the virus of caste infected heaven as well. The pulaya church was served by a pulaya upadeshi, or catechist. It was notimportant enough to merit a priest. [It now has a priest] So, the pulaya congregation was served by a pulaya catechist. But the pulaya catechist preached the upper caste Christ; or what the upper castes thought was Christ.
This opium of the upper caste Christ kept the pulayas drugged and content with their plight; for as your God is, so shall you be. You accept the God of your masters and captors, you are content to say under the yoke of the past, shut out from your liberation and your potential. When Jesus came to liberate the captives, he unveiled a new idea of God: God as our Father in Heaven.
But upper caste Christians arrogated to themselves the right to design this heaven and to configure the God who reigns there. So, the matter stayed just the same for centuries. It has not changed radically even today.
Make this clear: only a Dalit God will care for Dalits. Do you doubt this? If you do, it only shows how deeply the upper caste indoctrination has penetrated and infected you. You will stay as you are until you discover your own God. At least, until you realize that the upper caste God is not the God Jesus revealed as your Father in Heaven. Till then you will stay stuck in your Dalitness and evolve recipes for alleviating the rankling under-privilege this imposes on you. The Good News is that this is quite unnecessary. It can be cast away, like old worn-out clothes.
The question is: Would you dare to do this? Do you have the courage to break the mould of your deprivation and disability and claim your full and glorious stature as children of God?
Remember the pattern in the book of Exodus? The way to the Promised Land runs from the land of slavery through the wilderness. What the Dalits in every religion need is the faith and the courage to walk in the wilderness.
They are attuned to the marginal luxury of enjoying the ‘crumbs’ that fall from upper caste religious tables. Your liberation will begin when you say, ‘Keep your crumbs to yourself. We will have none of it. We are on our way to the Promised Land. We will be satisfied with nothing less.’ Notice this. The journey through the wilderness is the only way to discover your true God. So long as Christian Dalits refrain from undertaking this journey, they will remain hitched to the upper caste Christ and their Father in heaven.
Consider this. Do you really think your idea of ‘father’ is the same as the upper caste-upper class idea of father? Thank God, it is not! It is a sad thing to be an upper class father.His children care not a straw for him. They care for his wealth, not for him.Only the father of the poor stands a chance of being loved for who he is.
Also, do you think that the upper class idea of heaven is your idea of heaven? It is the upper class that wants to have the paths of heaven paved with gold and precious stones. Do you? Would not you be happy, if your legs are strong enough to walk the celestial paths? With or without footwear? The upper caste heaven is an improvement on the heaven they enjoy on earth. You have no heaven here. You and I are pilgrims on planet earth, aren’t we? The idea of gold-paved roads offends us, no? It is none of our priorities. Let them keep it.
Dalit God would do at least one thing.He/she will surely ask: why do Dalits stay Dalit even after they become Christians? That too, for generations?
Dalit God will muster the courage to ask the church Moghuls if their luxury, craving for power and pelf, is not the reason why Dalits remain despised and discriminated against. If the vanity that upper caste God tolerates is not the reason why Dalits remain the third class Christians? He or she will also ask why it is taking so long for the upper caste God to repent and mend His/Her ways.
Consider this as well. You and I being Dalits in our own ways, know that hypocrisy abounds in the church; never mindwhich church. No church is free of it. Now hypocrisy, as we all know, is an upper class, upper caste luxury. We all accept that they have the right to pretend to be what they are not. The world of privilege and prestige is a world of appearances and deceptions. Upper caste, upper-class morality is largely a matter of not being found out. Even if immortality is found out, it is treated with kid gloves. If a catechist rapes a woman, he will be damned ferociously.If a priest does the same, eye-brows will be raised.
If a bishop does it, we will look the other way. If anything, we will blame the rape-victim. That is what I mean when I say that an upper-class God is required to preside over the upper-class way of life. It is good news for them, but it is bad news for you and me.
The Dalit God will insist, as Jesus did, on truth. Truth is a value only for Dalits. To the privileged, truth is a nuisance, even a threat. Jesus was the truth. So, they killed him. There you have the upper caste church for you. You are fooling yourself if you believe that the upper caste church has increased its margin of tolerance for truth! As I have said before, I am not a Dalit by birth. I am a Dalit through my commitment to truth. If you care for truth, you are a Dalit-by-choice in the church. I am proud to be one.
That is why I cannot worship the upper caste God. I do not. I value my freedom and dignity. They are my God’s gift tome. I must cherish them above all else.
So, it is up to you. Freedom or slavery, my friends, are personal choices. Both rest on a fundamental choice:the choice of God. You cannot choose the God of oppression and hypocrisy andremain free and dignified.
Jesus is the Dalit Messiah par excellence. Else, he would not have been nailed on the Cross.
The ultimate desecration of Jesus’Cross is that it is turned into an ornament for upper-caste Christianity,adorning the necks of religious oligarchs and worldly princelings in religiousdisguise.
As a Punjabi poet wrote, ‘Sleep my angel, the night is lost!’
(The writer is a former principal of St. Stephen’s College, Delhi. Views are personal).