Culture is always bound up with the creation of economy and political processes in the community. Although not totally absorbed by these things, it represents various human needs at the deepest level. With regards to the general anthropology of culture, I would like to draw your attention to few conflicts with which the cultures of the Christian faith and community are being challenged in the Indian sub-continent today;namely, “Untouchability.”
A couple of weeks ago (July 14th, 2007) I did a presentation on this issue to a handful of Japanese old men and women in one of the community centers at Funabashi,Japan. As it turned out, most of them were unaware of the ongoing “Dalit” oppression which they found to be educational.
My hope and prayer is that you will be inclined to do a little research on this subject and help spread the word among evangelical Christians to raise an awareness with a vision for mercy and justice, and intercede for suffering “Dalit” Christians in relation to the Anti-Conversion Laws effective in eight Indian States today.
With the release of “Amazing Grace” movie this year, I was deeply moved and drawn to the life of a 17th century British political activist, William Wilberforce, in the House of Commons. Behind the politician is a man with biblical iron-constancy whose God-centered zeal and Christ-enthroning passion, along with his “peculiar doctrines” of Christianity, continues to cast fresh enflaming global vision in the hearts of many. In our present day, racism and slavery still comes in varying forms. The economic and political interdependence of people from different races are increasing. Even in our modern horizon, a person belonging to another race is felt to be a challenge, if not a threat, to one’s own identity.
By racism, I mean, ethnocentric pride in one’s own racial group. The Indian Caste-system creates tremendous inertia, unrest, economic deprivation and oppression among the lower class. Children are forced into hard-manual labor; women often sexually abused are being sold into prostitution. “Dalits” the lowest of the Indian Caste are denied access to Temples and the use of public utilities like water pumps and wells being considered “unclean” by the upper caste of Hinduism. Right-Wing Hindu Fundamentalism [aligning itself with Islam Fundamentalists, at least in principle] have vehemently tried, since its inception in 1925, to make India a nation of only Hindus, thus exploding the myths of tolerance in the Indian multi-cultural sphere.
This ongoing oppression behind the mask of modern society is clearly a violation of the Preamble to the Constitution of India which endorses “ LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship; EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation.” Elites in all societies play significant roles in clearing road blocks in the way to modernity. The Preamble seeks to establish what Mahatma Gandhi described as ‘The India of my Dreams,’in which “ There can be no room……for the curse of untouchability...."
Note the Hindutva [RSS] have passed non-conversion bills as an attempt to conserve Hindus from converting to other faiths. This often results in heavy persecution among local Churches and Dalit converts. I do not advocate in anyway that the Church should be totally freed from persecutions, for this would mean going against the very promise of Christ himself: “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you." (John 15: 20) Hence, my conviction here is that, like Abednego, Shedrach and Meshach (Daniel 3), the body of Christ cannot compromise in the proclamation and incarnation of the gospel. The religious law that was being imposed on the three Hebrew boys [i.e to bow to the golden image erected by Nebuchadnezzar] is a type of one Religious Law that the Church cannot submit to.
Ethnocentric pride or racism is especially dangerous when it is used to organize and defend economic, social and political systems of government which contradicts the universal declaration of human rights. The feeling of superiority by the one race then evokes feeling of inferiority in the system, especially among those that are downtrodden. This whole concept of Caste system, therefore, requires a spiritual paradigm shift at the very heart of Hinduism. One might ask, “How?” This “How” question is one that Christianity has to uncover in the Indian sub-continent.
My impression is that there is a primal fear in Hinduism that makes people constantly seek new status to cling to. This fundamental insecurity makes people constantly search or cry out for new security. Therefore, only when this primal fear and insecurity has been replaced or changed by a primal trust and security in Christ, then Hinduism will find free acceptance of people, especially those that have been identified as inferior in the Caste system for over 3000 years.
The prime mover of all things, “justification by faith alone,”will help spread this human freedom and free people from self-justification and idolatrous perversions of humanity manifesting itself through racism, sexism and Caste system. The freedom of “justification by faith” is a personal reality which also has a social side. If Hindu fundamentalism is justified in Christ, it does not have to justify or prove itself through Caste system or other prerogatives. For then, people will become free to recognize other persons horizontally in their human dignity and rights.
The early Christian Churches were not free from this either. Nonetheless, although the concept of subordination of “slaves to Masters and women to men” were equally present, it eventually became an invisible token of the gospel of Christ.
The major breakthrough was clearly seen in Galatians 3:8, according to which in Christ there is “neither Jews nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female,” for all are one and common “heirs according to the promise.” The claim here is not simply equal validity alone, but also equal being in Christ. Neither is it just equality in faith before God; but also equality in the fellowship of Christ. Nor equal pardon; but also equal rights in the society.
Therefore, the first pair, “Jew or Greek” touches on religious differences. The second pair, “slave or free” deals with the economic and social status. Lastly, the third pair, “man or woman” goes all the way back to the creation of mankind as “man and woman,” taking us beyond the order of the temporal fallen world to a new order of these relationships in Jesus Christ.
In a series of dramatic events and recent developments in New Delhi (capital of India),the female Rajasthan Governor who refused to sign the Anti-conversion Law of the State-led by BJP Government became the next President of India. The media and the Christian communities are thrilled and anticipating as to what steps the President would take in relation to the Anti-conversion Bill.
“Though the post of President is seen as ceremonial,it does play an important role in India’s governance structure as the President has to sign all Central Government bills before they become law. If the President believes the Constitution is being violated in some way, bills can be sent back to the Parliament for reconsideration. The President also has enormous sway in an era of coalition politics when no single party is able to obtain the majority. The President decides which coalition is able to prove its majority in Parliament," says Joseph D’ Souza (President of Dalit Freedom Network).
Pray that “Amazing Grace,” a song of triumphant hope, will affect amazing changes as a ray of new hope dawns into the hearts of Christians and Untouchables in the Indian sub-continent.