Breaking Free:

Indian Dalits Work to Cast Down the Caste System

May 22, 2013

Trapped for centuries at the bottom of an oppressive Hindu caste system, Dalits–those who have been broken, ground down by those above them in a deliberate way–are dreaming, hoping, writing, singing and working to rise above their burdensome social position of poverty and prejudice–and make justice a reality.

Dalits–the untouchables at the bottom of India´s Hindu caste system–find that, in Christ, there is no social injustice.

Dalits. They are the untouchables, treated worse than dogs as they sweep the streets and clean the latrines of India. They are the outcasts–or, more specifically, those “out of caste.” Their caste is lower than the lowest caste on the pyramid. They are beneath the bottom rung.

And there is no way out because there is a place for everyone in this system, and everyone in his place. People are born into the caste system.

The Hindu castes in India are Brahmin (priests and scholars), Kshatryia (kings, soldiers and warriors), Vaishya (merchants and professionals), and Sudras–the lowest before the outcasts (laborers and servants).

Lower than the bottom are India´s untouchables–the Dalits–who are hoping for freedom and gaining ground in awareness.

Using poetry, story and song, educated Dalits are beginning to express their situation in a greater measure. The word has gone forth of the injustice of their plight.

But it is Christ who sets the captives free. And ministries working among Dalits find hearts open to the gospel.

“God is working among the Dalits,”said Sarla Mahara, director of Christian Aid´s South Asia Division. “In Christ there is no social injustice.”

Uprooting Injustice

Native missionaries are washing the feet of the untouchables and spreading the good news among Dalit leaders. When one indigenous ministry held a conference on the Dalit movement, 200 Dalit leaders turned out.

Indigenous missionaries wash the feet of the untouchables, showing the love of Jesus for the least of these.

“On that day 180 Dalit leaders expressed that they need the gospel of Jesus Christ,” ministry leader D.B. wrote in a letter to Christian Aid, which sends financial assistance to the mission. “Since then we have developed our relationship with them and as of today we have seen four house churches established.”

But last week a cyclone ripped through the area, devastating five villages, crushing 275 houses and killing three people. Many were left injured and hospitalized.

Dalits who gave their lives to Jesus at the conference also lost everything.

“When our team visited, most of them broke down in tears,” D.B. reported. “They have been wounded deeply. The power of the whirlwind was so strong even electric poles and a mobile tower could not withstand the storm. All the trees of the villages have been uprooted and the rooftops have been taken away.”

And while tornados uproot trees, the love of Jesus can uproot any injustice, break the yoke of caste systems and set a people free in their hearts.

Praying for Breakthrough

Serving children and their families through a school in an isolated Dalit area, indigenous missionaries are praying for a breakthrough in the caste system.

“I pray these children of Dalits will be stars in the community,” D.B. shared. “I encourage the children and teaching staff to remove the caste-ism through this school. This is the beginning and we hope to see this movement grow.

“Through Christ, we can together eradicate untouchability and help bring transformation among the underprivileged untouchables of Odisha.”

Widespread Movement

A massive cyclone ripped through Odisha last week, devastating five villages and crushing 275 houses.

However, the Dalit movement is sweeping through universities and civil rights discussions in every state of India. The term Dalit supposedly originated with Jotirao Phule (1827-1890) in his attempt to work for dalituthan, that is, the uplifting of the exploited sections of society.

More recently, Marathi literary figures and neo-Buddhists began using the word in their writings and contributed to the literary initiatives in replacing Harijan (God´s people) and achchuta (untouchable) with Dalit, in the 1970s.

They expressed their anger, protest and aspiration through this new word, rejecting the Hindu caste system and objecting to Gandhi´s belief that caste Hindus´ “charitable spirit” would be enough to overcome untouchability.

Today intellectuals argue that to be released from the caste system is to deny any kind of religious involvement and cling to humanism–the goodness of humanity. They fight for change and liberation through speeches, marches and literature.

Dalit literature highlights the lifestyle, trials and oppression of the untouchables. The writings come from two sources: Dalits and non-Dalits, who are raising consciousness. It is reasoned, however, that true Dalit literature is only that which comes from the untouchables, who have experienced the sufferings of caste and class.

Who are looked down upon, kicked aside, ignored, forgotten and spat upon by those above them.

When a Dalit comes to Christ, Who also was spat upon, he understands that there is no hierarchy of class. In Christ, there is neither slave nor free.

“The true freedom for any people group is found in Christ,” said Mahara, a former Hindu. “We all are prisoners, oppressed and in bondage until we come to Christ.”

Dalits are hearing the gospel, and they are turning to Jesus. When they experience His unconditional love, they realize their heart´s desire.

If the Son sets them free, they are free indeed.

How to Help:

To help them recover from the natural disaster, send designated gifts through Christian Aid. You can help provide the needs of a native missionary working among the Dalits by sending $50 per month. Send an untouchable to a seeker´s camp for $8 per person. Supply a bicycle for missionary travel for $80-$100.