dr. james kottoor
“Into that heaven of EACE let my country (also my church) awake!” Casteism in India and racism in US are the two leprous ulcers disfiguring the ‘fair’ face of the world’s oldest and largest democracies. They still continue to tarnish every aspect of the two countries – political, religious, social, cultural, economic and what not.
In the US monumental works of a political luminary Abraham Lincoln or the sacrificial death of a religious icon Martin Luther King did yeoman service to highlight and internationalize the ugliness of the malaise, but not succeeded to wipe out this plague. In India the Father of the nation Gandhiji endeared himself to the oppressed Dalits by calling them “Hari Jan” (‘People of God’ is its parallel in the Catholic Church’).
Nay more, a Dalit intellectual who drafted the Indian Constitution Ambedkar said: “By no fault of mine I was born a Hindu (infected with casteism) but I shall not die in it and did what he said by becoming a Buddhist before dying. He must be rolling in his grave at the sights and sounds of atrocities to which Dalits are subjected to even now. Therefore Dalits are forced to rise up as one man as Bharat Dalit Bandh, all over the country under the BJP-Modi rule. (See a report below by Anand Teltumbde, an expert on the topic in Times of India).
In Church in India
In the religious domain, what about the treatment given to Dalits in the Catholic Church, the one religion which prides itself as the role model for all religions? What was its response to the abduction and torture of Bishop Galela of Kadappa for being a low caste, by his own high caste subordinate priests? Recall the series of articles we wrote in its wake to awaken and conscientize the top brass, the hierarchy and the refusal of the then CBCI supremo to come out with a public denunciation, in spite of repeated letters and pleas from us and people affected in Kadappa.
The Catholic church in india is caste-infected from top to bottom, all know it too well, especially in states like Andhra and Tamilnadu; in Kerala, the home of Siro (or Zero) malabarians, they had even separate cemeteries for them. Just think of it; to what abominable depths can casteism go; even to the burial ground which is euphemistically called the leveler of all inequalities!
Caste ladder in Hinduism
In Hinduism technically there are only four caste divisions: Brahmins (priests, scholars and teachers), Kshatriyas (rulers, warriors and administrators), Vaishyas (agriculturalists and merchants) and Shudras (labourers and menial service providers). But as Stalin asked Pope: “How many divisions has the Pope? We ask: How many caste divisions are there in the Catholic Church hierarchy? It is plagued by a grotesque pyramid of divisions, exclusions and undeserved privileges!
Just count from top to bottom: Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, the priestly class (subdivided into: Monsingors, Most Rev., Very very Rev., Very Rev., Rev.); Religious brothers and sisters; and finally the Laity headed by Chevaliers and at the very bottom the good for nothing lot whose duty it is to “pray, pay and obey” or do everybody else’s bidding.
More telling title should have been: ‘Heavenly appellations and Worldly Life style’. Recall the honorific appellations that ought to go with every title holder, especially in the top echelons of the hierarchy: Your Holiness, Your Eminence, Your Grace, Your Excellency, Mar Highly placed and other honorific titles for Eastern Rite officials, Very Rev. Rev. for clergy and religious and anything that comes to mouth for the bottom laity. As an affront to all these encircling darkness shines the present Pope Francis who calls himself a “Sinner” and places himself one step below the laity to deserve his euphemistic title “Servant of Servants”.
Jesus’ verdict on it!
Compare this absurdity, to what Jesus tells his followers to call themselves and do? Listen: “You must not allow yourself to be called Rabbi, since you have only one master, and you are all brothers. You must call no one earth your father as you have only one father and he is in heaven. Nor must you allow yourself to be called teachers, for you have only one teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Anyone who exalts himself will be humbled and anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt.23, 8-11)
Jesus was speaking while describing the Scribes and Pharisees of his times whom he called, “hypocrites, white washed sepulchers, brood of vipers etc. Listen: “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but will not lift a finger to move them. Not they! Everything they do is done to attract attention, like wearinig broader phylacteries and longer tassals, like wanting to take the place of honour at banquets and front seats in Synagogues, being greeted obsequiously in market squares and having people call them Rabbi.”(Mt.23.4-7)
It looks that Jesus was literally describing what the hierarchical class is doing today right under our nose! That is why today’s hypocritical hierarchical class never read this litany of Woes in their churches or preach on it. Recently I recall reading somewhere that some Indian bishops suggested they give up all these ludicrous heavenly appellations since many at least, are themselves corrupt to the core financially and sexually. Recall the ongoing Archepiscopal land sale or priestly sex scandals in Ernakulam.
Tribute to Shining Bishops
This is not to say there are no shining luminaries and role models among bishops. Just a few among many! There are many like Bishop Alex Dias of Port Blair, who wrote a soul-searching article in Indian Currents for Lenten season to reflect few years ago ridiculing the march of “red hats” as Michael Angelo depicted them in his vision of Hell, and pleading never to call him with any of the bombastic titles, not even with his Surname ‘Dias’ but to call him with his pet name ‘Alex’. And this scribe responded in the Indian Currents, calling him “Dear Alex” which made a lot commotion among readers.
But none of the Red hats had any word of appreciation for him, while many of the laity wrote appreciating him. I myself have never met him although he invited me to visit him in Port Blair and wrote longest letters describing his mission tours, but I talked to him over the phone when one of his close friends visited me in Kochi and talked to him on his phone. There were other bishops like Bp. Saupen of Danltaengag, who presided over the national Seminar on Evangelisation in Delhi to which I was an invitee. He used to be described as “Kurta sporting, cycle paddling, beedi smoking bishop”. He presided over the Evangelization seminar dressed in Kurta and therefore avoided by other status-conscious bishops.
There were also other bishops like Archbishop Eugene D’Souza of Bhopal, who invited me to stay with him for a week when I announced, I was quitting the priesthood. I accepted his invitation and stayed with him. He used to write to me even after retirement in his own hand, since he had no secretaries and remember him writing that he was taking my book: “Why are you weeping?” on women’s ordination, before going to preach a retreat to Sisters in Bangalore. I still wonder why he took so kindly to me a “deserter” for many! May be because he was really an “Ordinary” in the real sense of the word: ordinary = one with the Cattle class as Jesus was always.
Message: Come down!
Yes the message is that all ‘Red hats’ give up their ‘gold, their red, crimson and other worldly shining apparel and come down from their high thrones as Zacheus did from the tree-top to get Jesus to sup with them. They may never do it on their own until the laity the “Cattle Class” rise up like the Tsunami from the sea imitating the Dalit uprising in India now and start doing, not speaking to them any more because they never answer letters from the laity.
What are the minor things to start with:
1. Forthwith stop addressing them with honorific titles like “Eminence, Excellency, Very Rev.” etc. but call them younger or elder brother. In my letters to Alencherry, I call him: “My dear younger brother!” For Jesus born in the Cattle shed and trudging the dusty roads as a mendicant preacher with out an address, inspires me to call anyone in the group accompanying Jesus, only as my ‘dear elder or younger brother or sister’, in the “Cattle Class” the real ordinaries on this earth.
2. Stop giving hard-earned money to hierchical appeals to construct concrete wonders like Medical Colleges, Cathedrals and posh residential palaces for the clergy. Jesus built no churches and predicted no stone upon a stone will be left for posterity.
3. Make ‘Domestic Church’ presided over by the head of the family, Man or Woman, to substitute for the present practice for assembling for prayer meetings and gatherings to plan ‘prayer in action’: feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the afflicted and oppressed without distinctions of caste, class or creed.
Cattle class or Domestic church?
4. Be in the forefront of ‘Evangelization’ by speaking out non-stop fearlessly bearing witness to “Truth” in one’s own surroundings against crime and corruption in politics, social practices and blind meaningless rituals and religious practices exploiting the helpless illiterates. Spreading the “Good Word” around is evangelization par excellance within the reach of all.
5. In short do everything to create a ‘Humane Humanism’ modelled on the “Son of Man” the ideal human being avoiding all divisive religious fundamentalism and joining no organized religions or churches. Jesus never became even a Christian. (You may add more ‘dos and don’ts’, the list is endless.)
To conclude, who was Jesus really? Among those batting for Organized Religions, some say there was only one ‘good Jew’ and he was a Christian. Some say there was only one good Christian and he was a ‘Jew!’. But Friedrich Nietzsche said: “There was only one Christian, he died on the cross. Any better suggestions to move forward? The immediate task before us in India is to join hands with the roaring sea of Dalit uprising to wipe out “Casteism” from our mother land.
Readers don’t have to support our cry for the CATTLE CLASS where every one has to be darting for the last place to serve and not to be served. In spreading that GOOD WORD we all can be participants in his mission of evangelization because building a Humane Humanism of brothers and sisters is the CORE of the work of Jesus. What is human alone is Christine. It was so for Jesus. Decide and speak out for or against, to be prophetic.
Only, do not ever keep silent and provoke Jesus to say: “You are neither hot nor cold and so I spit you out of my mouth!” james kottoor, editor ccv.
Please read below the TOI report to tackle Caste menace in India ‘Unless Dalits build bridges with oppressed people across castes, there is no future for Dalit politics’ Anand Teltumbde, April 9, 2018, TOI Q&A in The Interviews Blog
Civil rights activist Anand Teltumbde has worked extensively on Dalit issues. Currently he teaches big data analytics at Goa Institute of Management. In a conversation with Sugandha Indulkar he analyses the fallout of Supreme Court’s verdict on the SC/ST Act:
Supreme Court said that people who were agitating had not read the verdict properly and were misled by vested interests. What is your opinion?
This is absolutely misleading. The judgment of the Supreme Court was in response to a simple appeal of a high official, who was given anticipatory bail by the Bombay high court, to quash the case. If Supreme Court found merit, it could quash the case. But where was the question of seeing the generalised misuse of the Atrocities Act by Dalits and taking up cudgels for those who perpetrate crime? This was totally unwarranted.
It invoked Articles 14 and 21, but the entire legislation in favour of the weaker sections is the constitutional exception to these Articles. Such a bland reading of the Constitution is astonishing. Dalit reaction to it is not engineered by any ‘vested interest’ or misreading but entirely justified.
What factors have triggered Dalit anger?
Dalit anger which manifested in the all-India strike on April 2 is an accumulated anger. It is an outcome of what the present government has done over the last four years. Misled by their leaders, Dalit community voted in large numbers for BJP in the last elections. PM Modi thought that by showing his bhakti to Babasaheb Ambedkar he could fool Dalits. Yes, it took some time for Dalits to realise what was going on.
The ban on Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras, the Rohith Vemula episode, the persistent decrease in budget provisions for Dalits, be it scholarships or component plan, the curb on reservations in universities, the cow game that jeopardised nutritional security of poor Dalits and made them prey to cow vigilante goons, and galloping rise in atrocity numbers which zoomed from 39,000 in 2013 to 47,000 in 2014. The foul-mouthed references of ministers and persistent injustice being done to youth leaders like Chandrashekhar Azad of Bhim Army cannot pass unregistered.
Anger does not mean violence. Dalits do not resort to violence unprovoked. The very fact that violence happened in only BJP-ruled states, indicates some sinister plan. Provoke them to indulge in violence and gun them down so they would never dare to do it again. Ten people have lost their lives and only violence of Dalits gets projected.
Where is contemporary Dalit politics headed?
Independent Dalit politics was nipped in the bud. As a result Dalit politics remained divorced from the issues of Dalit masses. But now young Dalits are coming forth, realising the follies of the past. They are articulating their views confidently. It is being realised that caste politics and reservations aren’t getting them anywhere. They are disuniting them further. Unless Dalits build bridges with oppressed people across castes without using that poisonous term ‘caste’, there is no future for Dalit politics.
Do you agree Dalits who are well educated are disconnected from the rest?
This was bound to happen. Over the last seven decades, because of reservations and other things, a class has come up among Dalits whose umbilical cord with the Dalit masses snapped long back. Their behaviour is like Trishanku, not being able to fully merge with their class on account of caste barriers and not being able to fully identify with the labouring masses of Dalits.
The seeds of it were in the Dalit movement from the beginning itself. Babasaheb Ambedkar at the fag end of his life realised that whatever he had done benefitted only a small section of educated and urban Dalits and he could not do anything for the vast majority of rural Dalits. He expressed this to his followers and asked them to undertake a land struggle. It was on his prompt that three glorious land struggles took place, first in 1953 itself and thereafter in 1959 and 1964-65.
How do you situate Dalit politics in the larger context of Indian politics?
It is just rent seeking from mainstream politicians by brokering Dalit interests. Dalit leaders keep chanting Ambedkar and keep Dalit masses in limbo.
Is BJP anti-Dalit?
BJP is definitely anti-Dalit. Their ideological antecedents make a virtue of the Indian past, which clearly makes it anti-Dalit. Although for its political needs it cannot give free expression to its anti-Dalit self, its actions have proved this in ample measure.
What needs to be done to resolve the matter?
What do common people need for dignified living? They need quality education, healthcare, security of livelihood and a social climate of fraternity. Politicians have been playing people against one another in the name of caste, religion and so on just to perpetuate their class-caste rule. So, this kind of politics must stop if India has to have a future.(DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.)