“The presence of caste-based discrimination, which does exist within the Indian Christian church, should be understood by the Christians as a grave sin”, commented Rt. Rev. Ravikumar J. Niranjan, the Bishop in the Karnataka Northern Diocese (KND) of the Church of South India (CSI) while addressing the delegates of the Dalit and Adivasi Youth Leadership Training Camp. The camp, which was inaugurated by Rev. Mrs. Hanna Niranjan, the President of the Women’s Fellowship in KND, was a Kannada Regional Training programme organised by the Dalit and Adivasi Concerns Department of the CSI Synod. The Camp was inaugurated on the 6th and concluded on the 8th of November 2018 at the CSI Retreat Centre in Dharwad with the partnership of the Council for World Mission and the Karnataka Northern Diocese of CSI.
Rev. Dr. Manohar Chandra Prasad, an ordained minister of the CSI and a Dalit Activist gave the keynote address. He told that the Dalit and Adivasi movement is an ongoing daily struggle. This struggle has a long history connecting to 300 BC. Manusmrithi divided human beings into four castes; Brahmins, Kasthryas, Vaisyas, Sudras. The Dalits were called as Adi-Sudras or outcast, not belonging to the caste system. Today based on race there are 7,000 caste and sub-caste; within the Christian community, there are 1,500 castes and sub-caste.
During the British times, the caste system faced certain challenges because Britishers enforced mandatory laws to treat Indian on the same grounds. The Education system, which was started by the missionaries turned into a revolutionary movement against the Indian caste system. Social evils such as sati, infant marriage, child sacrifices were protested and fought against during these times. Mahatma Jyothibai Phule’s education in Pune began as an effective tool to educate society. Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, the father of the Indian Constitution and the key person for the Dalit movement, created a new chapter to the struggles and challenges. Indian missionaries, especially Chennappa Uttangi from Karnataka, had explored to Theology based on the struggles of Dalit.
But he lamented that even after education is widespread, and awareness against casteism is done, the atrocities still continue, especially against women, Dalits and Adivasis among which only 47,000 incidents are registered in the 2018 update. These struggles have been influenced by fascist ideologies, not only in India but throughout the world. The Dalit and Adivasi youngsters have an extra responsibility in combating casteism and equipping themselves to face the challenges of the caste-based discriminations, he reiterated.
Rev. Hemalatha John, a CSI Presbyter from the Karnataka Central Diocese and a theologian specifically writes on Dalit and Women Issues, led two sessions. In her first session, ‘The Theological Approach to the Self-esteem, Resistance and Resilience of Dalit and Adivasi Youngsters’, she pointed out that, “We need theology because we need salvation from God and only the study or knowledge of knowing God will help us to attain salvation. God’s will in our life and struggle makes the theological approach a need for everyone. But we have limited theology only to the clergy circle and hence theological approach has become fenced within the theological circle. Salvation happens when text meets context to save from that life-destroying forces. Then what are the forces that destroy life? Taking the example of Israelites’ 400 years of slavery from the Egyptians. Salvation from slavery, which was the life-destroying system in that context. Therefore, Studying and doing theology is Praxis, where experience becomes the key factor. Sitz im Leben – where text becomes alive and alert and active in the context. Today, which is the life-destroying factors that have become visible and the invisible controlling system of Dalit and Adivasi youth. Let us take few biblical characters that help us to understand the text and context.
Life and struggle of Joseph: Genesis 37-39 present a series of challenges that Joseph went through within the family and later from the context where he was forced to live. Siblings forced him to become a commodity and sold him to become a slave. Broken and separated from his familiar environment Joseph never lost his Self-esteem. When temptation attacked him through Potiphar’s wife, he escaped and ran through to save himself. With time Joseph became next in command to Pharaoh and life encountered him with his destroyers. Joseph reconciled and accepted his relationships. The visible life-destroying elements in Joseph’s life were his siblings and Potiphar’s wife. What are the visible forces destroying the lives of youth?
Life and silence of Potiphar’s daughter: Judges 11 narrates a story of the warrior who pledged to sacrifice anyone and anything that comes his way first, while he returns victorious from the battle. Jephthah won the battle on the battlefield but lost the battle of his life. Jephthah returned, and his daughter came first before him to celebrate his victory. Jephthah ’s daughter obliged to her father’s pledge and willingly gave up her life as a sacrifice.
Jephthah also became a visible life-destroying force in his daughter’s life. The invisible life destroyer in this context is, the society accepted and practised human sacrifice. Today, what are those visible and invisible destroying forces that have and is sacrificing youth.
Life and insecurity of Jeremiah: Jeremiah 1 brings out a wonderful conservation between God and Jeremiah the prophet. God is very confident of Jeremiah’s potential and capability, so God chooses him to be the prophet. Jeremiah rejects the opportunity that God provides by saying in Verse 1:7, I am just a young lad, being young Jeremiah was not confident in himself a sense of insecurity had overtaken him. Jeremiah himself became a visible life destroyer for oneself. Today’s youth how many have lost, so many opportunities by not knowing one’s potential.
Life and resistance and resilience of Daniel and friends: Daniel and friends went through a forced migration from their hometown and began a life in the royal environment of Babylon which is an unknown for the youth to restart their life. The pressure that they had to resist began with the basics, the food. It was the tradition of that land to mix pig’s blood, in the food and drink. Knowing their habits these youth choose a way of life that was their very own, they went back to their old and own habit of eating. Daniel and friends learnt to adapt and respond to their life’s struggles and challenges.
How can we resist the visible and invisible life destroying that affect our basis and basic living? Do we need to react and become a life-destroying force using violence as Dalit and Adivasi youth?
The next session was on ‘Dalit and Adivasi youth: A Jesus Model of Leadership’. Jesus began a movement that was a life supporting and sustaining, this is a unique feature we see and witness in the model of Jesus’s leadership. Hence Jesus remains a favourite leader of humanity to learn and unlearn many aspects of life and faith.
St. Mark 7 begins with understanding Jewish tradition between pure and impure in the way the ritual of food practice. Jews believed that ritual pure and impure was of eating is the ultimate but Jesus was focusing on eating has a celebration of life, anything that goes inside in any manner is clean, it’s the attitude that matters within the heart and not a ritualistic limitation of the head. So, anything that goes inside is clean and that comes out from within is unclean, Jesus concluded and went away to a place of silence. During the time of silence, a woman from Tyre region searches and finds out where Jesus is placed. She comes with a request to deliver her daughter from an evil force that is destroying her daughter’s life. Jesus knows the context of her region Syrian Phoenicia, talks using the metaphor of the land. This place was famous where food was produced and packed and exported to other places. Jesus asked her can a dog eat the child’s share of food? Then a Greek woman who understood faith through knowledge told Jesus, even the dogs share the food from the table. Jesus spoke to her knowing the attitude of her place. Her place was popular for the food production and export, which kept the inhabitants as the second priority. Knowing this Jesus encountered women by making her realize that, the people who produce should be supplied sufficiently. Despite, the inhabitants were left without. The Greek woman replied in her own context, yet she affirmed her faith through her response to Jesus and, gained her daughter’s life by responding to the attitude of Jesus.
Chapter 7 began with pure and impure tradition, saying that which comes out is unclean. Whereas ended with the incident woman your faith, has healed your daughter’s life. Faith comes from within and it is clean. Jesus extended his faith and tradition in conversation with the Greek woman. That’s the role model of Jesus’s leadership, knowing others and building other’s faith. Is youth today, willing to understand the context and extend their faith while encountering people of distinct faith?
The Second and third day of the training camp was led by Mr. Sharath from ‘the Skill Factory’ in Bangalore. The training sessions, focusing on ‘Building and strengthening leadership: Perseverance, confidence, self- affirmation, overcoming fear, and goal- setting: A personality development training from Dalit Tribal perspective’, were interesting for the delegates with the games and other creative elements were interwoven to the sessions.
On the final day, Rev. Sagar, professor of the Karnataka Theological College in Mangalore, spoke on ‘Education as a tool for emancipation- challenges and way forward: A Dalit Tribal Approach’. Rev. M. J. Muddebihal (Vice – President), Mr. Vijayakumar V. Dandin (Secretary), and Mr. Anand Sadgun Paul (Treasurer) of the Karnataka Northern Diocese of the CSI gave felicitation speeches in the valedictory meeting.
Rev. G. Nandakumar from the led the morning worship services. Rev. Sunil Raj Philip, the Director of the CSI Synod Department of the Dalit and Adivasi Concerns introduced the concept of the programme and gave leadership to the camp.
Rev. Sunil Raj Philip,
Director, Dept. of Dalit and Adivasi Concerns,