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Prayer Urged for India's Dalits

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

July 5, 2001
by John Lindner
Dr. Joseph D'Souza, president of the All India Christian Council, is calling for urgent prayer for India's millions of dalits, since over a million of them are getting ready to change their religion.

In a letter to Christian Aid, D'Souza said there are 250 million dalits in India. A "dalit" is a more polite word to refer to India's "untouchables" and "scheduled tribes," also called harijans (God's people). Dalits are relegated to "unclean" jobs such as sweeping streets or cleaning toilets. Most dalits, especially those who are tanners or barbers, are not even allowed to worship in Hindu temples.

D'Souza said that 1000 dalits who were barbers in Coimbatore, a city of about one million in South India, decided recently to become Christians. Another million dalits who are members of the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes federation comprising the most educated and employed sector of dalits in government are expected to turn to Buddhism en masse on October 14.

Lance Thollander, South Asia director at Christian Aid, a ministry that assists over 100 indigenous Christian ministries in India, said that the present confusion in India could lead thousands or millions more dalits to embrace the Christian faith.

"One problem with leaving Hinduism," Thollander said, "is that the dalits will no longer be considered eligible for government subsidies, since leaving Hinduism makes them non-dalits, according to official reasoning. Another problem is that Christians from high-caste background still will not normally worship with a congregation made up predominantly of dalits. We must pray that the churches will be able to accommodate any new interest of dalits with Christianity."

D'Souza urged prayer for India's struggle with its caste system and rising militant Hinduism. "A whole generation of politicians without convictions or ideology has left the nation without a credible leadership," he said. "There is no Mahatma Gandhi or Jawaharlal Nehru to lead the nation through its hour of crisis."

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