ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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India and Sri Lanka Tamils-Crimes in the Name of Diplomacy

to view caste as a Hindu phenomenon, and resort to a conventional explanation that sees conversion as an escape from an oppressive reality, a look at the experience and social practice of other religious groups in India re-emphasises the resilience of caste, not as a religious institution but an institution that structures social relations irrespective of religious faith. This is even more relevant to the present discussion because, the section of dalits in Tsundur who were the target of attack were all Christians. We will consider the case of a dalit Christian woman who joined a convent in order to escape the oppression of belonging to a dalit family in an upper caste village, as well as that of being the eldest daughter in a family of with a dozen odd children to be cared for and nurtured while the parents were away working in the fields. This woman ran away from home and registered herself as a novitiate with the hope that she could escape both caste and gender oppression within the security of the order During the period of the novitiate training everyone was treated equally and all novitiates, irrespective of their socio-economic background, were expected to do all kinds of work. Once they were through with their training, they were sent to the various centres where their work really began. It was here that the details of their family background, caste and class began to play a major role in the kinds of work assigned to them, and the treatment meted out to them. Also, in an institution that rested on the vow of celibacy, younger nuns from poorer and more disadvantaged backgrounds were constantly open to the accusation of trying to attract the male priests who visited the centre. Caste-based oppression within the church became so intolerable after a point, that the dalits moved out and formed an order of their own. The rigidity of caste is not restricted to this order. The segregation among some Protestant groups in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh is so great that they would rather intermarry with Hindus of their own caste than with Christians of another caste. Even during service in the church, some churches have separate enclosures for dalits who have to stand through the service and receive communion only after the upper castes have left. And this is only to be expected. Christianity after all did not enter or flourish in a vacuum. The socio- historical context that received the faith without doubt shaped and still shapes it. The reasons for mass conversion of dalits to Christianity should be sought in frameworks other than the oft-repeated Statement thai Christianity (or for that matter any religion) offers an escape from oppressive institutions. This issue is complex and difficult to articulate. The attempt here is not in any way to condone the evils of one faith but to point to the complexities of our social reality. At a more immediate level it is to say that what is relevant now is not a debate about the 'value' of a faith but a comprehensive understanding of social practice.
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