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Dalit theology: a WCC conference on the caste system in a Christian context.

MOST of us cannot imagine being treated from birth as if we were impure im·pure  
adj. im·pur·er, im·pur·est
1. Not pure or clean; contaminated.

2. Not purified by religious rite; unclean.

3. Immoral or sinful: impure thoughts.
, polluted and polluting to those around us. And yet, this is the daily reality for many of the world's 200 million "dalits".

This past March, I participated in the first Global Ecumenical Conference On Justice For Dalits which took place in Bangkok, Thailand. The gathering--organized by the Church Conference of Asia, the Lutheran World Federation “LWF” redirects here. For the aircraft, see Light Weight Fighter.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is a global communion of national and regional Lutheran churches headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
, and the World Council of Churches--was intended to raise awareness about dalit issues, and to foster greater solidarity between dalits and the wider church. As a Christian from North America North America, third largest continent (1990 est. pop. 365,000,000), c.9,400,000 sq mi (24,346,000 sq km), the northern of the two continents of the Western Hemisphere. , I had rarely given much thought to the challenges confronting dalit people, nor to the ethics and theology underlying the caste system Noun 1. caste system - a social structure in which classes are determined by heredity
class structure - the organization of classes within a society
.

The term "dalit" means "crushed" or "oppressed op·press  
tr.v. op·pressed, op·press·ing, op·press·es
1. To keep down by severe and unjust use of force or authority: a people who were oppressed by tyranny.

2.
," and is used to describe those who are born 'outside' of the four-tiered caste system in Hindu societies. These non-caste individuals, who were formerly called untouchables untouchables: see Harijans.

Untouchables

lowest caste in India; social outcasts. [Ind. Culture: Brewer Dictionary, 1118]

See : Banishment
, are routinely subjected to physical, sexual, legal and human rights abuses. They are also used to perform the most degrading tasks in society, including "manual scavenging Manual scavenging is manual removal of excreta (night soil) from "dry toilets", i.e., toilet without the modern flush system, especially in the Indian subcontinent. "--or cleaning human excrement excrement /ex·cre·ment/ (eks´kri-mint)
1. feces.

2. excretion (2).


ex·cre·ment
n.
Waste matter or any excretion cast out of the body, especially feces.
 from dry latrines, often with their bare hands.

While the dalit issue has important implications for our interfaith dialogues (particularly with those of the Hindu faith), caste-based discrimination is not unknown in the church. Although the Christian faith has been present in India for over 1,500 years, the Years, The

the seven decades of Eleanor Pargiter’s life. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 1109]

See : Time
 past few centuries have witnessed a significant growth in the Church in India, largely as a result of missionary initiatives from Western nations. Sadly, this history has not been particularly effective addressing caste-based issues. Although some Christian groups protested against the caste system as an unjust--and sinful--system, other church-based organizations accepted the caste structure as a form of cultural expression.

At present, there is an emerging contextual theology--sometimes referred to as dalit theology--which seeks to engage in theology from a dalit perspective. This theology is rooted in a very Christocentric and incarnational approach to faith, and emphasizes the equality and dignity of every person as a being created in the image of God. Any system which denies this identity invites the believer to resistance.

And resistance happens. One of the participants in the conference was a young woman who was born into a dalit family. However, as she was from a third-generation Christian family, she had been taught to embrace a level of self-respect, education and opportunity not experienced by some of the other dalits from her village.

She recounted an incident that occurred while she was walking home one day, and passed by an older woman from the brahman or priestly class. The older woman saw her, and poured out the water that she had been carrying since such close proximity to a dalit had rendered the water impure. When the young woman arrived home, she related the incident to her father. In response, he went out and walked by the brahman woman six times--with the result that each time, the woman poured out the water. Finally, out of exasperation, the brahman woman gave up and carried her water home. It was a wonderful reminder that resistance to injustice is sometimes necessary--but that when liberation comes, both oppressed and oppressor OPPRESSOR. One who having public authority uses it unlawfully to tyrannize over another; as, if he keep him in prison until he shall do something which he is not lawfully bound to do.
     2. To charge a magistrate with being an oppressor, is therefore actionable.
 will be set free.

Rev. Will Ingram is minister at St. Andrew's, King St., Toronto. He blogged his Thailand trip and it can be found at: www.standrewstoronto.org/wcc/thailand. Part two of his letter will continue next month.
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Title Annotation:LETTER FROM BANKOK
Author:Ingram, Will
Publication:Presbyterian Record
Date:Jun 1, 2009
Words:574
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