Jai Bhim Network

Dalit Theology

2011.07.15. Categorized: Uncategorized   

How Dalit Christians can combine Ambedkarism and Christian theology?

Dalit Liberation Theology: An interview with James Massey

Q: What role does Ambedkar play in the writings of Dalit Christian theologians?


Prof. Dr. James Massey

Rev. Prof. Dr. James Massey currently is the Director of the Centre for Dalit/Subaltern Studies and Community Contextual Communication Centre, New Delhi and Hon. Secretary of the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College (University), West Bengal. Privatdozent, the Faculty of Protestant Theology at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. He is also working actively for inter-faith dialogue in the Indian context with special interest in Sikh religion. For his work in Sikh religion he was awarded Doctor of Philosophy by Johann Wolfgang Goethe-University, Frankfurt, Germany, and again Post-Doctoral Academic Degree (Habilitation) in the field of “Religious Studies” by the same University.

Dr. Massey is the translator of the Punjabi Bible and has authored and edited more than 20 books, which include: Masihiata: Ika Paricaya (Punjabi, 1976); Doctrine of the Ultimate Reality in Sikh Religion (1990); Towards Dalit Hermeneutics - Re-Reading the Text, the History and the Literature (1994); Dalits in India: Religion as a Source of bondage or Liberation with Special Reference to Christians (1995); Roots of Dalit History, Christianity, Theology and Spirituality (1996); The Movement of the Spirit (1996); Down Trodden: The Struggle of India’s Dalits for Identity, Solidarity and Liberation, (1997); Current Challenges and Church Response (1998); Dalits: Issues and Concerns (1998); and Minorities in Democracy: The Indian Experience (1999). His recent publications include Minorities and Religious Freedom in a Democracy (2003) and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar: A Study in Just Society (2003) and Church in Dialogue with the

A: It is very unfortunate that traditional Indian Christian theology has completely ignored Ambedkar while reflecting on the Christian faith in the Indian context. This is because most of these theologians have been of ‘ upper’ caste origin. So, instead of taking inspiration from people of Dalit or Shudra background like Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule, they used the writings of ‘ upper’ caste writers and reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy or Keshub Chandra Sen or Gandhi in order to develop a contextual Indian theology. This is so despite the fact that Ambedkar wrote extensively on the Christian faith and church history and their relationship with the Dalits. Similar is the case with Mahatma Phule. In his Gulamgiri ( Slavery’) Phule develops a very interesting concept of Christology, the person of Christ. He refers to the story of the non Aryan king Bali, whose kingdom was snatched by the Brahmin Vamana. Vamana goes on to rigidly enforce the law of caste, converting the natives into Untouchables and Shudras. Phule tells us that in rural Maharashtra the ordinary village folk still long for the return of the righteous rule of Raja Bali, and he identifies Jesus as Bali. He says that Jesus and his disciples, the Christians, have come to India to rescue the Dalits and Shudras from Aryan or Brahmin hegemony. All this has been ignored by ‘ upper’ caste Christian writers.

See: http://cpiarticles.blogspot.co​m/2005/02/dalit-liberation-the​ology-interview.html

Dalit Theology: An interview with Sathianathan Clarke

Q: What role does Ambedkar play in Dalit Christian theology?

A: What we share with Ambedkar, and what needs to beresurrected today, is the potency, value and usefulness of religion as a symbolic framework. This comes out very strongly in Ambedkar. Ambedkar believedthat true liberation for the Dalits was not possible without religious change, or, in other words, are interpretation of who the Dalits were. So, in this link between religion and social emancipation, Dalit Christian theology and Ambedkarism share much incommon. Where the two might differ is on the question of the world-view of the Dalits themselves, something that Ambedkar does not really explore. It almost seems that he believed that it was completely overwhelmed by the dominant Hindu ethos. But what recent anthropological studies have done is to look a the”good sense” preserved in the world-views of Dalit communities that are not just fragment of Brahminical schema. This suggests the possibility of retrieving liberative elements from the world-views of the Dalits themselves while constructing a Dalit liberation theology.

This “good sense” to be found in Dalit world-views isto be distinguished from what Gramsci calls “commonsense”– something that is placed hegemonically on the dominated. I do this in my discussion of the role ofthe drum in Dalit religion in my book on Dalit theology. There I show that according to some the drumis simply a Brahminical design or device to force the Dalit drummers to reiterate their low status, because with the drum they had to deal with the skin of deadanimals, which was considered a source of “pollution”. But you can twist that around and consider the subjectivity of the Dalit drummers themselves. In acontext where they were completely denied access tothe written word, where all communication was centredround the temple which they could not enter, here you have a people who, based on what they do every day,can pick up an instrument and use it in such a waythat it starts mediating, just like the scriptures do,between them and God.

See: http://www.countercurrents.org​/sikand071007.htm

New Challenges for Dalit Theology By Jesudas M Athyal

2. The Relevance of Ambedkar for theologising

Following B. R. Ambedkar’s birth centenary in 1991, there was a renewed interest in the relevance of this champion of the downtrodden people for theologising in India. Gurukul itself organised a seminar in which it was affirmed that ‘any version of Christian Dalit Theology has to come to grips with his (Ambedkar’s) thinking and face its challenges and appropriate its insights.’[20] In a brilliant exposition of the significance of Ambedkar for theologising in India, P. Arockiadoss outlined, at the Gurukul Summer Institute in 1996, the relevance of Ambedkar’s words and deeds in doing Christian theology in India today. [21] It was affirmed that from Ambedkar we learn that it is imperative to adopt the Dalit perspective and reject the elite perspective in order to do theology in India. Ambedkar has given concrete as well as valid principles required to make a liberating religion which should be “earthy, historical and political to make the earth resemble the heaven in which we believe.” Through his mission and message, Ambedkar’s life project became one with God’s own historical project. God’s liberating actions became present in Ambedkar’s liberative praxis. Therefore, “though Ambedkar has not spoken about theology or engaged himself in glorious euologisation on God”, his life and mission are more than mere source materials for theologising; they in themselves have a deep theological significance.[22]

Arockiadoss’s affirmation that Ambedkar’s life project became “one with God’s own historical project” is likely to generate a serious debate in the theological circles on the validity of Ambedkar’s method for theologising. Samuel Thambusamy, while agreeing that Ambedkar has great significance for theologising in India - particularly theologising from a dalit perspective - feels that liberation alone does not warrant the task of theologising. Using the Tillichian criterion for theological system[23], he contests Arockiadoss’s position that Ambedkar’s life and message are more than source material for theologising in India. According to Thambusamy,

A serious limitation of this (Arockiadoss’s) view is that it is tilted towards speaking to the ‘context’ and does not relate it to the Gospel ‘message’. It is true that Ambedkar’s theoanthropic praxis cannot be ignored, and his concerns and agenda are valid for the theological task in India. But, this needs to be unified with the ‘eternal truth’ of the gospel in order to balance the two poles. Fr. Arockiadoss’s contention seems untenable if we apply Tillich’s criteria for a theological system.[24]

Whether as source material for theologising or as the base for a new theological methodology itself, it is undisputed that Ambedkar cannot be ignored in the faith-reflection of Indian Christians.

References:
[20] Arvind P. Nirmal & V. Devasahayam (Ed.), Dr. B. R. Ambedkar: a Centenary Tribute (Madras: Gurukul, 1991), p. i

[21] Fr. Arockiadoss lists ten areas where Dr. Ambedkar’s life and message are relevant for theologising in India today: 1. Ambedkar’s Life Project is a Theological Project, 2. From Ambedkar we learn the Right Perspective for Theologising, 3.Ambedkar provides us with the Right Option for Theology, 4. He Provides a Paradigm for Identifying and Interpreting the Signs of the times, 5. Ambedkar helps us to Identify the Messianic People of India, 6. From Ambedkar we learn that the Dalits, and their Likes, are the Real Subjects of Theologising in India, 7. From him we also learn that the Language of Dalit Theology will be Angry and Conflictual, 8. Ambedkar Gives the Basic Norms for Critiquing Religions and Entering into Inter-Religious Dialogue, 9. Ambedkar Provides the Right Yardstick to Evaluate the Church in India and its Various Missionary Efforts, 10. He also supplies a Critique for Judging the Erstwhile Indian Theologies and Inculturations. (Refer: V. Devasahayam (Ed.), Frontiers of Dalit Theology (Delhi: ISPCK & Gurukul, 1997), pp. 290-313

[22] Ibid, p. 291

[23] “According to Paul Tillich, any theological system must satisfy two basic needs: the statement of the truth of the Christian message and the interpretation of this truth for every generation” (Source: Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p.3) Quoted: Samuel Thambusamy, The Significance of Ambedkar for Theologising in India (Unpublished Paper)

[24] Samuel Thambusamy, The Significance of Ambedkar for Theologising in India (Unpublished Paper)

See: http://jmathyal.tripod.com/id1​.html

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Jai Bhim is a cheerful greeting. Ten million Indians greet each other in this manner. They're the Dalits who are a proud community. They inherited an extremely difficult life. Their parents and grandparents and untold generations before them were outcasts in society. Even today they still encounter prejudice and experience helplessness.
For more than a millenium their ancestors lived as outcasts. People had a horror of touching them. Others even avoided being in their proximity as their shadow was considered polluting. If they went to school they were seated separately, If they were able to obtain work they did the dirtiest and lowest paid jobs.

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With their greeting of Jai Bhim they remind each other of their own successful revolution in 1956 for their human rights. Their cause is sacred. It inspires us here in Hungary, as we also face segregation and prejudice today. We would like to know discrimination is a thing of the past.
The dalit's story is like a fairy tale.

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Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there lived a seventeen year old untouchable boy in a big family, His name was Bhim. He was the youngest child among 14 siblings. He surpassed all of them because of his brilliant mind. A wealthy maharaj acknowledged his poverty and bestowed a scholarship on him. Bhim was aware that Indian schools were being discriminatory and practiced segregation. Therefore, he tried his fortune in London and New York where he achieved university degrees. He received the title Dr. Ambedkar when he returned home to serve his people as a barrister.

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Nevertheless, he was considered as an untouchable in accordance with the holy books of the Hindu religion. Therefore, he convened with his friends and publicly burned Manu's Laws, the Hindu holy script which bids the Hindu to hold the Untouchable in disdain. He became a human right fighter and his authority was constantly growing throughout the whole country. When India gained independence in 1947 he was nominated as law minister. He was entrusted with drafting the Constitution for the country. He wrote in it that discrimination is forbidden.

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In his old age the Dalit people addressed him with veneration as Dr. Babasaheb. He and his laws, however respected they were, he still stared frustratedly at the discrimination existing all over the country. He decided then to show the people a spiritual alternative. As our judgment is determined by our faith, he took an oath: "I was born a Hindu Untouchable. It was beyond my power to prevent that but I declare that it is within my power to refuse to live under ignoble and humiliating conditions. I solemnly assure you that I will not die a Hindu". He abjured hindu religion that had brought so much suffering and humiliation to the Untouchable people (today's Dalits).

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He studied thoroughly all the faiths of the world. He was seeking a religion which fitted together with reason, with modern science, and which declared liberty, fraternity and equality amongst people. He decided to follow the path of the Indian prince who lived 2500 years ago: he would be a follower of the Buddha. This was a decision of profound importance for the Dalits because the Buddha is venerated thoughout the world, and India is entitled to take pride in her great son. Dr. Ambedkar showed his astuteness: all of us can choose the way to be respected, we can change our fate for the better. Hundreds of thousands followed Ambedkar to the magnificent ceremony in Nagpur in October 1956. This was the rebirth of Buddhism in India. Babasaheb died six weeks later.

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