The 2000-year-old Indian Church still grapples with being a transparent, just, and inclusive entity. Indian society is caste-based, where Dalits constitute around 20% of the total of the population of 1.3 billion. Heinous forms of untouchability practices of exclusion and deprivation have been unleashed against Dalits. They are economically exploited, socially ostracized, politically powerless, and remain as daily wagers and migrants, living in abject poverty, inadequate housing, illiteracy, and health hazards.
The Indian Church is denominationally varied as Roman Catholics and mainline protestants like Syrians, Mar Thomas, Orthodox, Methodists, CSI, CNI, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Baptists. The non-Dalits brought the caste system into the Church and exercise hegemony by suppressing Dalit Christians, who form a majority. Dalit Christians struggle to gain their dignity, equality, rights, and space as non-Dalit Christians take the lion’s share in the hierarchy, managing assets and administering institutions. Inter-caste marriages and sharing graves in common cemeteries remain a distant dream for Dalit Christians.
More than Covid-19, the unthoughtful and hasty announcement of lockdowns forced Dalits and Dalit Christians to undergo untold miseries. With many being poor migrants, they underwent an ordeal for the next meal and shelter together with their children, aged, and otherwise abled. The much-publicized governmental relief and protective measures were inadequate, besides not reached them on time. They were pushed between the devil and the dead sea.
The Church involved itself in feeding the hungry and providing relief materials. But it grossly failed to locate and help this vulnerable community as a priority, which amounts to sheer exclusion and unjust practice.
Since Covid-19 has further intensified the misery of Dalits and Dalit Christians, the Church needs to revisit its conscience and attempt to be ‘inclusive and just’ in its interventions, especially in the post Covid-19 scenario. It has to reflect with whom Jesus lived!
Rev Dr. Vincent Manoharan
Convenor-National Dalit Christian Watch