Hindutva, Religious and Ethnocultural Minorities, and Indian-Christian Theology
by Sathianathan Clarke
Sathianathan Clarke, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Department of Theology and Ethics, United Theological College, Bangalore, India. Used by permission of the author. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
(I want to record my appreciation to Dr. O. V. Jathanna and Dr. Jayakiran Sebastian, my faculty colleagues in Theology at United Theological College, Bangalore, specifically for their critical comments on an initial version of this paper and more generally for their consistent encouragement of my ongoing theological journey. -- Sathianathan Clarke)
In India the term "minorities" refers to religious communities present in much smaller numbers than Hindus -- Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and Parsis/Zoroastrians. According to a 1991 census of India, out of the total Indian population of 846 million, there are 687.6 million Hindus of various sects, 101.6 million Muslims, 19.6 million Christians, 6.3 million Buddhists, 3.3 million Jains and 3.1 million adherents of other traditions. Christians are thus less than 3 percent of the total population whereas Hindus number about 83 percent. "Minorities" may also allude to those communities that have traditionally been kept outside the Hindu-based caste system -- Dalits and Adivasis (or Tribals). Dalits number between 180 and 200 million and Adivasis number between 85 and 90 million in a population that has now crossed the one billion mark. While they are now included into the general category of Hinduism, these groups have been treated with overt hostility and repression, and have been the target of concerted and calculated attacks from the majority community. Christianity is also targeted violently and systematically in contemporary India, especially Christians who have been identified as Dalits and Adivasis. An analysis of the ideology and agenda of Hindu nationalism in an historical perspective will reveal the way in which the Dalits and Adivasis are perceived to present a threat to the fulfillment of this nationalist agenda. The Hinduization of India manifests itself with a propensity to eradicate all forms of variant plurality.
Indian society is divided into three communities -- caste, outcaste (Dalit), and indigenous (Adivasi). First, the caste community consists of four castes that are hierarchically ordered) The Brahmins (priests) are the preservers and protectors of the eternal laws of the Universe (Dharma); the Ksatriyas (rulers and warriors) are the defenders and the guarantors of the safety and security of the community; the Vaisyas (business persons) are the conservers and distributors of wealth; and the Sudras (the laborers) are the working majority involved in the production of essential commodities. Although there is a clear separation between the first three castes, which are ritually pure and socioeconomically dominant (referred to as the twice-born), and the fourth laboring caste, which is ritually suspect and socioeconomically dominated (referred to as the once-born), together they form the Hindu human community.
Second, related to, but outside of, these four segments of the Indian human society there exists a fifth outcaste community. Even though this populace consists of about 15-20 percent of the Indian community it is considered sub- or nonhuman; thus it is not included in the community’s composition. This large group has been ejected from the contours of Hindu society; it still lives outside the gates under the labels "outcaste," "untouchable," "exterior caste," "depressed class," and "Dalit." I use the term "Dalit" in this paper for three reasons. First, this term has become an expression of self-representation, which Dalit activists and writers have chosen both in recovering their past identity and in projecting themselves as a collective whole? Second, "Dalit" comes from the root dal meaning "oppressed," "broken," and "crushed," which realistically describes the lives of members of this community. The Human Rights Watch report has the following to say on the situation of the Dalits:
More than one-sixth of India’s population, some 160 million people, live a precarious existence, shunned by much of society because of their rank as "untouchables" or Dalits -- literally meaning "broken" people -- at the bottom of India’s caste system. Dalits are discriminated against, denied access to land, forced to work in degrading conditions, and routinely abused at the hands or the police and of higher-caste groups that enjoy the State’s protection. . . . In what has been called "hidden apartheid" entire villages in many Indian states remain completely segregated by caste.3
Finally, "Dalit" incorporates elements of a positive expression of pride4 and a resistive surge for combating oppression.5
The third community includes many more or less homogeneous indigenous communities, which are not obligated to the Indian caste system yet are marginalized by caste communities. These have been grouped under the term "Adivasis," and they are also referred to as Tribals or Schedule Tribes (ST). India has the largest concentration of such indigenous and tribal people. "India has 427 ‘scheduled’ tribes -- each unique in its own right. As many as 400 tribes exist in India... they ostensibly are a major segment of the Indian social fabric, with a legitimate share in the subcontinent’s unmatched pluralities."6 The numerous Adivasis of India can be classified under three major racial and linguistic groups, which are spread over the mountainous and the plateau regions of the country: the Austric Munda language family group; the Dravidian group; and the Tibeto-Burman Mongoloid group.7 "Adivasis" (meaning the ancient or original dwellers of the land) is utilized here to retain an awareness of their claim to being the original people of the land and to point to their cultural and religious relatedness to things of the earth. Further, according to a recent article entitled "Call us Adivasis, Please," Gail Omvedt suggests that this is the term by which they want to be known.8 The Adivasis "generally have lived through exploitative, oppressive and suppressive social and political structures in India." Mostly, they have been alienated from their land both by "greedy" caste communities and by overzealous governments, which take away tribal land for mining and big industries."9 Thus, poverty and estrangement from the means of their livelihood (the land) threaten Adivasi communities in India. Along with this, there is a serious threat to their traditional culture and worldview from the forces of modernization and Hinduization.
Investigating the Historical Roots of Hindu Nationalism: The Minorities’ Viewpoint
Hindu nationalism, which is alive and well in India today, is concertedly engaged in the assignment of absorbing minorities into its ideology, Driven by the ideology of Hindutva -- a term coined by V. D. Sarvarkar10 which has always advocated a comprehensive project involving the coming together of culture, society, and politics, it seeks to fuse all the distinct particularities and differences of religious minorities (Muslims and Christians) and ethnocultural minorities (Dalits and Adivasis) into its Brahmanic construction of an Indian nation. Thus, Hindutva threatens all minorities in the Indian nation who assert features of their distinct variance from this imagined homogeneous identity. Historically, the emergence of Hindu nationalism with its founding credo of Hindutva must be seen within the context of colonialism.
The Indian reaction to the psychosocial and politico-economic trauma of the long and complex process of colonial rule was paradoxical. On the one hand, it reproduced the myth that colonialism constructed: India is one unitary and homogeneous entity held together by its essential religiosity, which can be captured under the label Hinduism. Thus, the colonized other claimed for itself some integral features which the colonial Self ascribed to it. On the other hand, it rejected the tendencies in colonial policy to divide the Indian community into numerous divisions according to the colonialist’s own whims and fancies. The divide-and-rule tactic of British colonialism almost succeeded in making Indians believe that they were merely a disparate conglomeration of human tribes loosely held together. Thus, "[t]orn, broken up and confined in watertight compartments, the Hindus themselves had come to doubt if they were a homogenous power at all."
As a counter movement to this splintering of India, Hindutva sought to provide "a broad basic foundation on a bedrock on which a consolidated and mighty Hindu Nation could take a secure stand." In this context, Hinduization was a deliberate act of consolidation. First, Hindutva creatively utilized the binary framework of colonialism, but artfully transposed the unitary Other into the united Self. In other words, the Occidental image of the synthesized character developed by the western orientialists was accepted; however, it was transformed into an active Self from a passive Other. Second, Hindutva constructively projected Hindu India as one composite and tangible nation, which, even if fragmented by colonialism, was in the process of becoming homogenized into one sociopolitical and religio-cultural entity. Most importantly, it must be noted that in all of this activity religion was utilized as the agent and the object of such homogenization. Precisely at the time in which "most eminent scholars both Indian and English right down to the penny aliner in the daily streets . . . tried to define the word ‘Hindu,’" 12 Indians, under the banner of Hindutva, joined in the enterprise of representing themselves (the East) within the already established representational discourse of the West.
With this in mind, the writings of Savarkar may be cited as representative of an inordinately influential form of nationalist thinking which homogenized the idea of India into one region, religion, and race.13 The relevance of interrogating Savarkar is twofold. First, he is the most creative proponent of redefining Hinduism in comprehensive terms: religion encompasses the manifold dimensions of geography, society, politics, and culture. Thus, he moves away from merely representing Hinduism as a religious phenomenon confined to rituals, myths, deities, and social norms. Rather, for him, it is much larger and broader, which is why Savarkar coined the term "Hindutva." Second, Savarkar’s ideas have gained acceptance with the modern resurgence of Hindu nationalism. It can thus serve as an ideological base for understanding the main principles of the contemporary political, social and political phenomenon referred to as "Hindutva."
In a book entitled Hindutva: Who is a Hindu, first published in 1923, Savarkar makes his case that we must move away from the label "Hinduism" and exchange it for the label "Hindutva." Hinduism, for him, is of "alien growth"’ thus "we should not allow ourselves to be confused by this newfangled term.’’14 Moreover, the term Hinduism is associated only with religious dogma; thus it fails to take seriously the inclusion of other religious offspring of the land of Saptasindhu, i.e. Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism.
For Savarkar, the term Hindutva overcomes three of the main problems with the term Hinduism. First, Hindutva speaks of a sacred geography. "The first image that it rouses in the mind is unmistakably of our motherland and by an express appeal to its geographical and physical features it vivifies it into a living Being. Hindustan means the land of Hindus, the first essential of Hindutva must necessarily be this geographic one."15 This sense of motherland is passionately described. Unless one "has come to look upon our land not only as the land of his love but even of his worship, he cannot be incorporated into the Hindu fold."16 Second,
Hindutva binds all those of the motherland together by a common blood. Again Savarkar puts this emphatically:
The Hindus are not merely the citizens of the Indian state because they are unified not only by the bonds of love they bear to a common motherland but also by the bonds of a common blood. They are not only a Nation but also a race-jati. The word jati, derived from the root Jan to produce, means a brotherhood, a race determined by a common origin -- possessing a common blood All Hindus claim to have in their veins the blood of the mighty race incorporated with and descended from the Vedic fathers, the Sindus.17
Third, Hindutva asserts that as a result of this biological community, all Hindus (must) share a common culture: "the brave and loving defense of the Hindu culture have been incorporated with and bound to us by the dearest of ties -- the ties of common blood."18 In a longer passage Savarkar expresses this third essential characteristic of Hindutva clearly:
[W]e Hindus are bound together not only by the ties of love we bear to a common fatherland and by the common blood that courses through our veins and keeps our hearts throbbing and our affections warm, but also by the ties of common homage we pay to our great civilization -- our Hindu culture, which could not be better rendered than by the word Sanskriti suggestive as it is of that language Sanskrit, which has been the chosen means of expression and preservation of that culture. of all that was best and worth-preserving in the history of our race. We are one because we are a nation, a race and own a common Sanskriti (civilization).19
Interestingly, though quite predictably, the common culture which binds all Indians together is the one common Hindu culture with deep roots in Brahmanic religion. symbolized by its sacred language (Sanskrit). Accepting and working toward the reclamation of this religio-cultural commonality is crucial to the Hindutva agenda. As Savarkar puts it, "For the first two essentials of Hindutva -- nation and jati [race] -- are clearly denoted and connoted by the word pitrubhu [Fatherland] while the third element of Sanskriti [civilization] is pre-eminently implied by the word Punyabhu [Holyland]. as it is precisely Sanskriti including sanskaras i.e. rites and rituals, ceremonies and sacraments, that make a land a Holyland."20 One geographic region is made to correspond with one race, which in turn is constructed to be religiously and culturally homogenous through the civilization engendered and developed by the Brahmins.
The interpretation of Dalit and Adivasi communities in this common nation, common race, and common civilization (religio-cultural heritage) is somewhat mixed. On the one hand, the ideology of Hindutva, as propounded by Savarkar, asserts that all communities, be they Brahmin or Dalit or Adivasi, share in a common blood. This testimony of a common flow of blood "is true not only in the case of those that are the outcome of the intermarriages between the chief four castes, or between the chief four castes and the cross-born but also in the case of those tribes or races who somewhere in the dimness of the hoary past were leading a separate and self-centred life."21 This biological connectedness among all communities in India, which affirms the anthropological basis of Dalit and Adivasi existence, is a major step in espousing the universalization of human rights for all people. In another passage, primarily referring to specific Adivasi communities (Santals, Kolis, Bhils) and Dalits (Panchamas and Namashudras), Savarkar writes
The race that is born of the fusion . . . of the Aryan, the Kolarians, Dravidians, whose blood we as a race inherit, is rightly called neither an Aryan, nor Lolarian, nor Dravidian -- but the Hindu race; that is, that people who live as children of a common motherland, adorning a common holyland. . . Therefore the Santals, Kolis, Bhils, Panchama, Namashudras and all other such tribes and classes are Hindus.22
On the other hand, there is reason to believe that the hierarchy of the fourfold caste system is maintained in Savarkar’s philosophy, even if tacitly. In fact, the relationship of the various caste groups operates on the historical principle of assimilation and absorption by which the "noble stream," the sublime Vedic blood, incorporates the "lost souls," thus saving them from "being lost in bogs and sands." In the following quotation Savarkar illustrates my point in a more nuanced fashion: "All that the caste system has done is to regulate its noble blood on lines believed -- and on the whole rightly believed -- by our saints and patriotic law-givers and kings to contribute most to fertilize and enrich all that was barren and poor, without famishing and debasing all that was flourishing and nobly endowed."23 The association of "noble blood" with the twice-born castes and "barren and poor" with Dalits and Adivasis cannot be underplayed. Further, one cannot but think of Manu when Savarkar invokes praise for the "saintly and patriotic law-giver" who brings regulation to the caste system. In the end, in this ideology of nationalistic thought, Dalits and Adivasis can claim common blood with all other Hindus as long as they abandon their religious and cultural differences and give themselves up to the synergy of Hindutva, which promises to harmoniously bring nation, race. and civilization together into a homogeneous unity. This harmony, one might add, is rooted in Vedic Hinduism, which has an amazing propensity to incorporate the lowly and base into the sublimity of the stream of noble blood. Thus Brahminization funds the process of Hinduization into which Dalits and Adivasis are calculatedly absorbed.
The Christian community, which by the first quarter of the twentieth century was identified as consisting primarily of Dalits and Adivasis, is more explicitly vilified in this theory of Hindutva. There is little ambiguity that Christians, along with Muslims, do not find a place in Hindutva, since "they belong, or feel that they belong, to a cultural unit altogether different from the Hindu one. Their heroes and their hero-worship, their fairs and their festivals, and their ideals and their outlook on life, have now ceased to be common with our own."24 Even though Christians belong to the common nation and the common race (thus fulfilling two criteria of the Hindutva), they do not meet the third criteria because they do not participate in the common civilization. Savarkar expands on this pointedly:
That is why in the case of some of our Mohammedan or Christian countrymen who had originally been forcibly converted to a non-Hindu religion and who consequently have inherited along with Hindus, a common Fatherland and a greater part of the wealth of a common culture -- language, law, custom, folklore and history -- are not and cannot be recognized as Hindus. For though Hindustan to them is Fatherland as to any other Hindu yet it is not to them a Holyland too. Their Holyland is far off in Arabia or Palestine. Their mythology and Godmen, ideas and heroes are not the children of this soil. Consequently their names and their outlook smack of foreign origin. Their love is divided. Nay, if some of them be really believing what they profess to do, then there can be no choice -- they must, to a man, set their Holyland above their Fatherland in their love and allegiance.25
Christians are interpreted as not belonging to Hindutva because they do not share in the common civilization. Nonetheless, a careful reading of the aforementioned passage will reveal that in actual fact their loyalty of belonging to the common nation is also questioned. Christians are portrayed as being more loyal to a foreign land than their own Fatherland. Christians thus cannot really be part of the Indian nation in its Hinduized polity since they are misfits in this civilization and their allegiance to the nation is divided. The fact that Christianity was becoming an attractive option for Dalits and Adivasis must have been threatening to the forces of Hindu nationalism. In this coupling, religio-cultural difference was reinforced by ethno-social difference. Variation threatens to become potently dangerous; Dalits and Adivasis must in no way reassert their difference from Hinduism by embracing Christianity. Thus, those who subscribed to the Hindu homogenization project disseminated the view that embracing Christianity was an antinational and anti-cultural act.
Contemporary Hindu Nationalism: The Wooing and Wounding of Minorities
Nothing can be more alarming than the resurgence of the Hindutva today?26 It has gradually evolved from a counterideology that sought to destabilize colonialism into a ruling ideology that seeks to consolidate political power. Thus, the ramifications of its expansive growth are concretely felt every day through the functioning of the Indian nation-state. While Hinduization of the Indian nation has a long history it has become a particularly grave threat to minorities over the last decade with the political ascendancy of the presently ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The BJP, in turn, is firmly supported by its Hindu communal network of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The RSS (National Volunteer Corps), founded in 1925, also works through many other related political and sociocultural organizations such as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal (BD), and the Shiv Sena party (SS). This means that the state has become susceptible to the devices of Hindu nationalism; Hindutva has covertly and overtly gained a foothold in the everyday workings of the nation. The agenda of the Hindutva, sometimes working in collusion with the mechanism of the nation-state, can be seen to operate at two levels. First, there is the persuasive approach, which entices minorities to renounce their cultural and religious differences and embrace the all-encompassing Indian identity in its Hindu visage. Dalits and Adivasis (Christians included) are the targets of a well-orchestrated campaign. There is a systematic effort to educate them at the grassroots level of their religio-cultural space within Hinduism. The RSS has started village- level educational units that enable teachers well-versed in the ideology of Hindutva to live with and instruct minority communities about their nation, heritage, and civilization. It is estimated that there are at least 2.4 million pupils and 80.000 teachers in these Vidya Bharati schools run by the RSS-VHP coalition. And "much of the text being taught" in such schools "is designed to promote bigotry and religious fanaticism in the name of inculcating knowledge of [Indian/Hindu] culture in the younger generation."27 Arguing from a study in South Gujarat, Arjun Patel’s conclusion is explicit:
The influence of Hinduism on the social and religious life of Adivasis has been considerable, particularly in the last 10-15 years . . . the BJP and other Hindu organizations such as the Mandir, the Arya Samaj, saints and sadhus, and some Adivasi politicians have succeeded in inculcating the Hindutva RSS, the ABVP, Bajrang Dal, Shiv Shena, the Hindu Milan ideology in the minds of the Adivasi people?28
There are ongoing efforts of various Hindu nationalist organizations to "reconvert" Dalits and Adivasis from non-Indian religions (Christianity and Islam) back to their original Hindu fold. For example, on 2 June 2000 as many as 72 Christian Adivasis reconverted to Hinduism in Manaharpur village in Orissa’s Keonjhar district?29 The reconversion is bolstered by a similar presupposition that all those who live in the geographical limits of India are nothing other than Hindus, even if there is a dominant and credible argument made by these communities that they are not only non-Hindu but pre-Hindu in composition.
There is also an attempt to utilize government institutions to hinduize all segments of the nation so as to forge a unitary consciousness at the heart of the nation. This involves the task of restoring the essentialized identity of being Hindu-Indian which was somehow lost through capture (colonialism),conversion, and rebellion (Dalits’ and Adivasis’ self-assertion). The October 1998 proposal of a commission of educational experts appointed by Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi (BJP, Cabinet Minister, Human Resources Development Ministry) is a stark example of this objective to hinduize all of India. In a comprehensive plan to restructure education, the commission suggests that the government "introduce Sanskrit as a compulsory subject in schools" in order that "the primary to the highest education should be Indianised, nationalised and spiritualised." 30 It further adds that since "Hindutva is a way of life and not a religion . . . India’s invaluable heritage of the Vedas and the Upanishads should find a place in the curriculum from primary to the higher level courses, including the vocational courses."31
Second, the coercive left of Hindu nationalism complements the persuasive right. If the latter is meant to entice and cajole, the former is meant to admonish and punish. There can be no doubt that the violence unleashed on minority communities that resist the pan-Hindu identity has increased. In a methodical and widely-researched monograph published recently, Human Rights Watch documents the increasing violence directed against Dalits: "Between 1994 and 1996, a total of 98,349 cases were registered with the police nationwide as crimes against scheduled castes. Of these, 38,483 were registered under the Atrocities Act. A further 1,660 were for murder, 2,814 for rape, and 13,671 for hurt."32 It goes on to paint a frightening picture of the rise in recent mass murders in Bihar and Tamilnadu, which is directly related to the emerging assertion of an authentic and resistant Dalit social, political, and cultural identity. The violence directed against the Adivasis in Northeastern India has also been escalating. Of course, the rationale of insurgency has been used. There can be little doubt that it demonstrates the hinduizing nation-state’s heavy-handed approach as it contains, thwarts, and crushes differences of ethnicity, culture, and worldview.
In recent years Christians have also become the targets of rape, murder, church bombings, Bible burning, and severe beatings. The killing of priests, raping of nuns, and torching of prayer halls and churches are means to terrorize, denigrate. and threaten people of different religio-cultural traditions that Christians represent in India. This violence, incited by the BJP/RSS/VHP/Bajrang Dal/SS, was documented in the cover story of Communalism Combat of July 2000:
Physical attacks and intimidation of minorities have resurfaced with a vengeance. Incidents in the past three months alone -- between April and June 2000 -- have crossed the three dozen mark. Christian religious persons running educational institutions or health centres have been singled out for murder or other forms of mistreatment.33
In another article, T. K. Oommen purports that "there has been unprecedented violence against [the Christian community in India] in the last one year." He elaborates further: "It is not true that there was no anti-Christian violence in the past. But they [such instances] were few and far between. In the last 50 years there have been only 50 instances of physical violence against Christians. But in the last one year there have been 110 cases of atrocities against them."34
It must be emphasized that the attack against Christians appears concentrated in Dalit and Adivasi settlements. For example in the Dangs District of Gujarat "the Hindu right was behind a wave of harassment of [Adivasi] Christians in the Dangs, beginning in late 1997."35 From November 1997 to January 1999 there were as many as 36 cases of burning and looting of churches, 20 cases of disturbances of some sort between Christians and non-Christians, numerous cases of Christians being beaten and looted, and one killing.36 Reflecting on the question as to why Christians are the victims of violent attacks in the Adivasi regions, K. N. Panikkar has the following reasons to offer. First, Christians, through their sustained service among the Adivasis, "enjoy considerable appreciation of and support for their work from the local population."37 This presents an obstacle for the Hindutva organizations to infiltrate the Adivasi areas. "The advance of the Parivar [Network of Hindutva organizations] in the tribal area is, therefore, possible only if the Christians are discredited and displaced." 38 Second, Christians are targeted because of the secular position they have increasingly taken over the last decade. In the context of Hindu communalism’s fascist potential, Christians present a counter model In their "reaching out to secular, liberal and Left formations for joint initiative."39 Christianity, especially among Dalits and Adivasis, must be stopped at any cost from being presented as an alternative option to Hindutva. Panikkar’s discussion, I believe, is in line with my claim that Christians are being persecuted because their work among the Dalits and Adivasis is perceived as an effort to thwart the homogenizing aim of Hindutva.
The point being asserted has to do with the tendency in contemporary Hindu nationalism through the various units of the Sangh Parivad (the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] ,the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh [RSS],the Vishwa Hindu Parishad [VHP], Bajrang Dal [BD] and the Shiv Sena party [SS]) to further the process of taming all heterogeneous and plural forms to fit into the unitary construction of a religiously synthesized India, while defining the core of this disciplined pan-Indian identity in Hindu (specifically Brahmanic) terms. On the one hand, the Dalit and Adivasi assertion of distinctiveness and particularity becomes the inner threat to the consolidation of the Hindu nation. On the other hand, Christianity, particularly in its identifications with the Dalits and Adivasis, becomes the external threat that provides an alternate set of religious and cultural meaning systems to the promotion of a unitary nation held together by Hindu-ness.
Indian-Christian Theology: Reflections on Resistance-Liberation Movements of Minorities in India
In seeking a solution to this unitary and homogenizing ideology of Hindutva one must be careful to repudiate it as a paradigm. The current efforts should be to reject models that sanction the undercutting of a plurality of religious, cultural, political, and social expressions and to imagine alternate models that legitimate and empower multiple religious, cultural, political, and social self-expressions of the various communities that make up the Indian nation. Minorities, such as Dalit and Adivasi communities who experience and assert their cardinal differences from the Hindutva ideology, are particularly equipped and obliged to project and promote worldviews that are more amiable to plurality and thus less hostile to difference. The words of Amir Ali are apt here: "The concept of multiculturalism can prove to be an effective counter to the hegemonising project of Hindutva and there exists, on account of this very reason, a strong case for its promotion and encouragement in this country."40 Such models are extant in the lives of local Dalit and Adivasi communities. They merely need to be recognized and lifted up as worthwhile, serviceable, and satisfactory paradigms for collective human living.
Let me share an experience from a Dalit Christian community that exhibits traces of such a pluralistic model. I was the priest of fourteen small Dalit congregations in Karunguli, Chingelput District, Tamilnadu. On a July morning I decided to visit one of my congregations at Nagapuram (a pseudonym) to consult with the teachers of our mission school and the elders of the community about a proposed project to reconstruct the school building. I left home at about 9:30 AM. on my motorbike. About halfway to the village I met the headmaster of the school coming from the village on his bicycle. He seemed quite surprised and very uncomfortable to meet me. I asked him if it was a school holiday. He said that it was not, but that he had some business at the school administrative office in the city. He informed me that since he was on official work, his assistant teacher was conducting school during the forenoon. He then attempted to persuade me not to visit the school since he wanted to be there to welcome me. Also, his assistant would be too busy to spend time with me. However, since I was already halfway there I decided to proceed on to the village. I assured the headmaster that I also intended to visit some other parish members to talk with them about the building plan. He was not convinced and started with another line of reasoning as to why I should not go to the village. He insisted that many of the community members were busy with the yearly colony festival to the local goddess, Gangamma. He assured me that it was a real waste of my precious time. Much to the dismay of the headmaster, his reasoning had the opposite effect on me. I really wanted to see some of the village festivity, so set off toward the village, leaving behind a bewildered and unhappy headmaster.
When I reached the village I realized why the headmaster was so upset at my visit to the school. The building was closed and there was no school, not because the headmaster had official duty, but because the whole village community was celebrating the yearly festival of Gangamma, the goddess of their colony. The headmaster, who was also the catechist for the congregation at Nagapuram, was too ashamed to admit to me that all the Christians were also part of this Dalit celebration in the colony. The mission school characterized the ambiguous relationship that Christians in India have toward celebrating Dalit festivals. On the one hand, Christian school officials were not willing to admit that they had anything to do officially with the Dalit goddess. Thus, the school was technically open. On the other hand, the headmaster was realistic enough to realize that there would be no children in school that day. He had ignored the reason they were not in school and set up some official duty which would allow him to turn a blind eye to the wholehearted participation of his Christian congregation in the yearly festival of Gangamma. When I went around the colony I encountered a similar embarrassment among my congregation members. Upon inquiry I discovered that they were very much a part of the festive celebration. First, they had contributed liberally to the cost of the festival. A month before the festival all the Dalits of the village come together as a community. On the day designated for the community meeting by the elders the drummers go around an hour before it is time and invite the entire community (both Christians and Hindus). The purpose of this meeting is to set the date for the festival and to decide upon the amount that each family will contribute towards the event. Second, although they did not take leadership roles in the ritual of carrying the goddess, the members of the congregation at Nagapuram did offer their services as drummers and participants in the procession. Third, some shared in the feast at the conclusion of the festival in which the entire community ate the food, which was cooked and offered to the goddess. Although Dalit Christians joined their neighbors in various symbolic ways to indicate their unity in invoking the protection of the colony goddess for their community, they were reluctant to admit to their pastor that they played any significant role in the celebration of their Dalit religious heritage.
On that day, many years ago, I was confronted with a truth that operated practically among rural Christians from a Dalit background: the church’s effort to estrange Christians from their Dalit religio-cultural roots and their Dalit Hindu neighbors had not been successful when it came to community practice. The worldview that was functional for them was a pluralistic one: it was fluid and incorporated otherness with some ease. Sabastian Kappen puts this well when he says,
It is generally believed that the Indian Christians are beings apart, having little in common with Hindus. Such a perception is, in fact, zealously instilled in them by the churches from very early in their lives. But, anthropologically, they are first Indians and only then Christians. They are children of the soil as much as any Hindu.41
More specifically, as the above-mentioned case illustrates, from the Dalit communities’ point of view the economic, social ,cultural, and religious distance between Christian and non-Christian Dalits is exaggerated, if not altogether spurious. This is particularly true in rural India where Dalits live together in the same geographical space away from the main village. Because of their deliberate marginalization from the caste Hindu village and Hindu sociocultural and religious world, Dalits, whether Christian or not, share in a togetherness that is both imposed on them by the dominant caste Hindu worldview and constructed by them in solidarity over against all forces that continuously seek to demean and disrupt their communal life. Through a recent, well-researched ethnography on the culture and religion of the Paraiyars of Tamilnadu, Robert Deliege confirms the symbiotic relationship between the religion of the Christian and Hindu Dalits. He states:
The religious difference between the Hindus and Christian [Dalit communities] is not as deep as it seems at first sight. For both, religion is pragmatic. The Christians only go to church for a few ceremonies. They have maintained a fair amount of traditional beliefs; in the same fashion, the Hindus have easily come to terms with the cult of Virgin Mary who is the dominant figure in the religious life of Christians.42
In a reference that is also inclusive of Dalits and Adivasis, and that lays emphasis on the living practices of common people in India, Achin Vanaik states: "The great redeeming grace of Hinduism lies not so much in its philosophy or in its Brahmanism as in the simple ecumenism of its largely non-Brahminical and popular forms of existence."43
At least one characteristic of a pluralistic model must be highlighted when we take into consideration the heterogeneous inclination inherent in Dalit communities: conceptions of pluralism stem from the lived reality of Dalit communities. I believe that this can give us directions for a notion of pluralism that will be relevant at a national level. Rather than being an abstraction from a priori postulates or a theoretical model that arises from philosophically determined first principles, pluralism for Dalits is a way of being in the world. More pointedly, pluralistic living in the community is tactfully maintained in spite of the instruction of exclusivity that Christian teachers and preachers promulgated and that the advancers of Hindutva propagated. Interestingly, one may make the distinction between a model of being in the world that advocates inclusion and one that advances absorption. The Dalits’ form of pluralism is not an absorbing of the Other, so that the Other is assimilated into the Self. Rather, there is willingness in this form of pluralism to allow difference to remain even while participating in each other’s activities. Mutual acceptance of difference and mutual participation in such difference without attempts to assimilate it is the main feature of the sort of pluralism that is lived out and offered up by Dalit communities. Such a pluralistic orientation is incorporative, participatory, and cooperative: thus, communitarian. This is interpreted against the backdrop of Vedic-based Brahmanic and Bible-centered Christian unitary, cultural, and religious worldviews, which heralded victory for the exclusive, distancing, and homogenizing ones.44
Christian reflection on its social and historical context finds itself located in a crucial and strategic position. Christianity is already outside the walls of the Indian community. Thus, as I have argued earlier, it is positioned alongside the Dalits and Adivasis. In the self-understanding of its role in India, Christianity has sometimes been guided by the philosophical objectives that I have attributed to the Hindutva. Thus, it has tried to eliminate the religious and cultural particularities of its Dalit and Adivasi converts and initiate them into a universal Christian culture. Christian missionaries, in converting Dalits and Adivasis to Christianity, set about instilling a worldview that attempted to surmount all differences and particularities. Accordingly, there still exists in Indian Christianity the hope that all religions will find their ultimate home in their own one true religion, namely Christianity. Yet there can be another contrasting aspiration for Christian theology in contemporary India. This would involve strengthening and networking the liberating energies that are forging spaces for their own survival -- a survival that includes a particular expression of human identity. When this common goal is linked with the desire of Dalits and Adivasis to preserve their respective ways of being in the world, the essence of theology (resistance-liberation) is engendered.
The challenge for Christian theology appears in the mirror dimly. Traces of a pluralistic model are manifest in minority communities as they live their lives in quiet defiance against the agenda of Hindu nationalism. In the face of threats to assimilate Christians, Dalits, and Adivasis into a homogeneous Hindu identity, as well as the violent attacks against these minorities, how can Christian theology tap into the energy that fuels the obstinate expression of their religious and ethnocultural difference? What is the role of Christian theology in a context where human beings strive to be free in their expressions of difference within a unity that Hindu nationalism demands today? In order to answer these questions it may be pertinent to offer a tentative definition of Indian-Christian theology within this particular historical context. Indian-Christian theology involves a critical and constructive reflection on the contextual resistance-liberation movements in India, especially those arising from the dynamics of religious (Christian) and ethnocultural (Dalit and Adivasi) minorities, as they counter the reach of the dominant ideologies of Hindutva and contribute in creative ways to circulate themes of their particularized experience of the Divine One (in Her/His relatedness to human beings and the world), in light of the paradigm of Jesus Christ. This contextual definition locates theology both within the intercommunity (with Dalits and Adivasis) resistive-liberative momentum of minorities in India and within the intracommunity dynamism of Christian celebration of the source and sustainer of this activity, Jesus Christ. It must also be underscored that theology is not content with merely describing that which is lived out by Christian communities. Rather it aims toward constructing viable possibilities, which of course involves imagining relevant configurations for meaning and action out of and for the specific world of Christians in India.45
Let me expand on the two dimensions implied in my definition of theology before I connect them to two traditional sites of theological activity (mission and liturgy). First, the content of theology is intrinsically connected with liberation. Thus, in the Indian context, it cannot but be related to the resistive-liberative striving of the Dalits, Adivasis, and Christians in the contemporary situation of Hinduization. Liberation is posited as being synonymous with the fabric of Christian theology. As Cone put it in liberation theology’s earliest formulation, "liberation is not only consistent with the gospel but is the gospel of Jesus Christ." 46 In placing this pivotal term at the nucleus of Indian-Christian theology there must be contemplation of the historical resistance-liberation striving of religious and ethnocultural minorities in India. Christian content and resistive-liberative context intersect to supply the locus for and substance of Indian theology. This dynamic undergirds the struggles for the unqualified acceptance of Dalits and Adivasis as equal members of Indian human society and demands their fuller participation in all dimensions (social, economic, political, and cultural) of the processes of building the nation-state. But, of course, one must ask a basic theological question: What is the theological rationale for consciously and concertedly bringing the Dalit and Adivasi dynamic of resistance-liberation with all its religio-cultural and socioeconomic dimensions into the realm of Christian theology? The rationale, as I understand it, stems from our understanding of the everlasting and exhaustive working of God that directs all of creation toward liberation. The everlasting or perpetual dimension points to the chronological inclusiveness, which joins God’s activity from the inception to the telos of creation. While the exhaustive or encompassing dimension emphasizes the geo-spatial comprehensiveness, which extends from the incarnation of Jesus as the Christ to the groaning of every particle of creation. Instead of saying that where the word "God" is named the Divine dynamic is present and active, I am saying the reverse: where resistive-liberative forces work toward gathering creation toward the fullness of life, God is present and active. In other words, the theater of the working of God encompasses the entire historical and geographical world; and the resistance-liberation striving of Dalits and Adivasis is a significant occasion of this all-embracing working of God.47 Thus, theology involves a community’s decision to take stock of and its offer to join in with the intercommunity dynamic of God, which is understood to be the divine directionality toward life in all its related fullness.
Second, because the overwhelming majority of Christians come from Dalit and Adivasi communities, all of their experiences and expressions of God, world and human beings will be interpreted through the paradigm of Jesus Christ. In a formal sense, Christian theology as advocate for the worldview of the Dalits and the Adivasis is also constricted by its meta-symbol of interpreting the God-human-world configuration. It is estimated that about "72% of the Indian Christians come from tribal and dalit backgrounds."48 Thus, these minority communities comprise almost three-fourths of the Christian population. On the one hand, if theology must be relevant in India it must not only incorporate but also define it along Dalit-Adivasi lines. "Without taking into account the experiences and aspirations of the tribals [and Dalits], Indian Christian theology would be incomplete. Their voices will have to be heard."49 On the other hand, Christian theology cannot but allow its deliberations to be modified in such a manner that they are interrelated with and interpreted through the symbol of Jesus Christ. Dalit and Adivasi communities who have intentionally embraced the Christian system of symbols will not accept anything short of this. On a positive note we must record that this is already happening. Thus, it can be noticed that the Indian-Christian theologians are attempting to actualize a more conscientious, contextual theology that appropriates much more seriously the Indian people’s religion and culture, which is notably Dalit and tribal in character. Michael Amaladoss is referring to Dalit and Adivasi worldviews when he talks of theology basing itself in popular religions: "In the ongoing dialogue between gospel and culture we must devote special attention to popular religion. With other great religions one seeks to dialogue and collaborate. But popular religion is the base with which the gospel as it has developed today has to find integration." 50
Continuing our earlier discussion concerning the theological rationale for bringing the Dalit and Adivasi dynamic of resistance-liberation into the realm of Christian theology, another related question arises. On what basis does the Christian community judge which of the elements of Dalit and Adivasi resistive-liberative dynamic manifest the presence and activity of God whom they know in Jesus Christ? I suggest that such criteria emerge from within the Christian community through a dialogical discernment of the working of God as it is outlined by the life and teaching of Jesus. Thus, using the key of the life and teachings of Jesus, Christians tend to decide continuously which religio-cultural beliefs and practices represent the God dynamic and which do not. For example, native beliefs and practices, which exclude persons on the basis of caste, race, color, and gender, are not reflective of the presence and activity of God as revealed by Jesus, whereas symbols, rites, and religious motifs that challenge such exclusions are in continuity with the transformation characteristic of the God dynamic expressed in Jesus. Similarly, Dalit and Adivasi religio-cultural beliefs and practices that celebrate accessible love and solidarity with the marginalized are closer to the God-dynamic as manifested by the life and teachings of Jesus than those that highlight the overpowering, destructive, and violent characteristics of God. Theology thus involves a community’s decision to recognize and join in with the intracommunity discernment of the activity of God. which is understood to be inline with the life and teachings of Jesus, the embodiment of life in all its related fullness.
A word of clarification is needed on the phrase "life in all its related fullness." First, it is a symbolic theological construct of the goal of liberation that is extrapolated from the activity of God as discerned from the pattern of the life and teaching of Jesus the Christ. It is a contextual interpretation of Jesus’ offer of "abundant life." Second, it brings life to the center of theological discourse. In a subtle manner this moves the locus of theological reflection away from the patronizing posture of deliberating only on the issue of survival (existence) when it comes to the Dalits and Adivasis. The marginalized communities also imagine life in the midst of threats to life, of which survival (existence) is an important part. Third, the life that is daringly and hopefully imagined and worked towards implies a life in all its related fullness. It is life in abundance that does not exclude any from its refreshing wellspring. It is life that mediates fullness in relationship to all creation, particularly for those denied it through systematic and calculated means. The offer of life in all its related fullness thus includes the dimension of abundance and relationality. In fact this notion presents fullness of life as intimately intertwined with the idea of inclusive and cooperative living, which is an alternate worldview to the homogenizing and hegemonizing one promoted by the Hindutva.
Mission and Liturgy as Dual Loci of Indian-Christian Theology
In order for Indian-Christian theology to benefit from the intercommunity (with Dalits and Adivasis) resistive-liberative momentum of minorities in India, as well as the intracommunity discernment of Christians (that aspects of this activity manifest the agency of Jesus Christ), it must reclaim and revitalize its two traditional domains of mission and liturgy. Christian mission involves identifying and participating in the ongoing activity of God in the world. This is also mirrored in the trajectories of resistive-liberation in its yearning for life in all its related fullness. Liturgy is the Christian community’s celebration of this activity of God as interpreted through the pattern of the life and teaching of Jesus, who is affirmed to be the human embodiment of the resistive-liberative dynamic in its journey toward life in all its related fullness. I believe mission and liturgy are the twin fountains that can nourish the enterprise of Indian-Christian theology, and I will now argue this in a more detailed fashion.
Theology as Praxis I: Reflections on the Action of Mission
Let me start with a short reflection on Christian mission. As I see it, Christian mission involves faithful devotion to participate concretely, reflectively, and joyously in the ongoing working of God in the world in its journey toward life in all its related fullness. One significant activity of God in India, I argue, is revealed in the resistive-liberative efforts of the Dalit, Adivasi, and Christian communities to counter the colonizing propensities of hinduizing forces and to contribute their human resources for life in all its related fullness. The Christian model of radical and full-scale human adherence to this ongoing mission of God for the welfare of God’s entire creation is embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ. And this advocacy for resisting forces of dehumanization and for strengthening the potential for becoming the free and complete human beings that God created us to be was central to Jesus’ life and teaching. That same power of God continues to inspire Christians to endure and follow the path that Jesus revealed, which promises abundant life for every human being and for all creation. Thus, while Christian mission is intimately tied up with the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth, it nonetheless invites and equips Christians to live collectively the implications of such a model in their own particular historical context. But this cannot mean that God is wholly dependent on the Christians for advancing this resistive-liberative mission of God in the world. God is continually working in various forms of resistive-liberative activity outside of the contours of the Christian community, which unites a multitude of forces that strive for the fullness of life of all creation. These are living signs of God’s mission, which directs all creation toward fruition. The Indian Church therefore needs to commit herself to being the embodiment of Jesus Christ among God’s people today. This is implemented by identifying the stirrings of the resistive-liberative spirit among her fellow Indians in order to join with them in strengthening the forces that cooperate with God in advancing life in all its related fullness in this world. If this activity of participating in the resistive-liberative dynamic of God’s mission is the first act then theology becomes a reflection on this action.
I would suggest more concretely that Christian mission involves joining Dalits and Adivasis in their resistance to the homogenizing world vision of Hindutva while at the same time enabling them to posit their particular subjectivities into a framework of human community for the nation-state. Christian identity and practice is not isolated from the resistive-liberative activities of other minorities in India. The worldviews held by these minorities are steeped in their religious and cultural life, which in turn reflect their collective identity. Thus, any framework of human community for the nation-state ought to allow for the multiple experiencing and symbolizing of the Universe (usually involving the triadic realities of world, human being, and God) in accordance with the various representations of its people. Indian-Christian theology, by being part of this mission of resisting Hindutva, is also involved in the task of locating, protecting and circulating resources for a more pluralistic model of collective living by valorizing the worldview of religious and ethnocultural minorities. But the issue is not as simple as it sounds. In order to probe further this aspect of theology, I will briefly enter the debate that is taking place in Indian intellectual circles between those who support the secularization option and those who advance an antimodern or critical traditionalist option. 51
The political school of thought that supports the view that secularization is the only way forward argues against the Hindutva proponents who aim to revive and recast the role of religion in contemporary India. Needless to say, the rise of Hindu nationalism has also resulted in the strengthening of Muslim fundamentalism. To counter this resurgence of religious identity politics it submits that the turn to the option of "secularization" is inevitable and judicious. Building on the western historical foundations of the term "secularization," this option has been interpreted to involve at least three components. First, some religious historians suggest that modernity has ushered in a decline in the social significance of religious institutions, beliefs, and practices. Thus, religion is gradually losing its hold on the evolving modern human being. Second, secularization increasingly carries with it a relative separation between religious space and socioeconomic space, resulting in a disentangling of religion from other public aspects of community life. Finally, secularization’s move toward rationality leads to the reevaluation of traditional religious modes of authority in the light of more varied and bureaucratized forms of the same. However, secularization in India, even according to proponents of this view, does not mean a nation-state that is antireligious but rather one that stands equidistant from all religions. The secular and sacred lines are drawn clearly, so that in multireligious India "this can mean either a fundamental separation of the state from religious activity and affiliation, or impartial state involvement on issues relating to religious interests of different communities.52 The problem with this school of thought from the point of view of religious (Christian) and ethnocultural (Dalit and Adivasi) minorities is obvious. Minorities safeguard their particularities in the religio-cultural realm, which is under threat through the homogenizing tendency of Hindutva. The resources of religion and culture cannot be separated from the minorities’ social, economic, and political activity of resistance-liberation. Moreover, instead of allowing religion to be disguised in the functioning of the so-called secular nation-state, it is better for minorities that it be out in the open where it can be marked, named, and interrogated. After all, the BJP as a national government has found it convenient to uphold the secularization option while at the same time covertly encouraging its Sangh Combine (RSS, VHF, Bajrang Dal, and SS) to pursue the Hindutva agenda.
Arguing that the whole notion of secularization is modernist, western, and tinged with connotations that come from a Christian, antichurch context, some move to oppose the separation of religion from the state and instead push for a national polity that would "use the ‘authentic’ resources of faith to sustain a socio-political culture with a deeper tolerance for diversity and pluralism than ‘Western secularism’ can ever generate."53 One notable and eloquent theorist of such an antimodern alternate theory to secularization is Ashis Nandy. Offering a rereading of Gandhi in terms of an antisecularization proposal, Nandy’s "critical traditionality" seeks to get back to a theoretical framework of pluralism that flourished before the colonial and modem epoch. In order to subvert the pathological processes dictated on India by colonialism there is a need for Indian political scientists to recover and reiterate its prior civilizational paradigms, which are rooted in the premodern religio-cultural worldviews. Such antimodern models of "critical traditionality" come out of the life experience of ordinary people in India and provide working examples of tolerance and pluralism not by ejecting religio-cultural particularities but by utilizing them for the good of all.
Much of my discussion on the constructive role of Indian-Christian theology is related to what Nandy is proposing, particularly with regard to taking seriously the religio-cultural realm of communities as sites of particularized patterns of meaning. And yet there are some differences. On the one hand, I am unable to posit an alternate framework for tolerance and pluralism in the premodern and precolonial heritage of India’s civilizational past. In fact, Dalits and Adivasis experienced systematic dehumanization, severe marginalization, and structural oppression through centuries of Indian history. Rather, I am willing to locate such elements of a pluralistic mode of living in the everyday religio-cultural and sociopolitical lives of contemporary minority communities. These may or may not be related to the grandiose civilizational patterns of the past, but they may exist in the symbolic universe of Dalits and Adivasis and thus provide an alternate model for thinking and living in the world of difference and variety. On the other hand, I see a much more dynamic relationship between the inherited worldviews of these communities and the traditions presently practiced by them. All rituals, symbols, and practices are concrete expressions of that which is inherited interacting with what is contextually experienced. Thus, there is not much scope for the activity of recovery of the pure traditions of the past; instead there is a plethora of hybridized, living religio-cultural symbolic systems. These are contextual avatars of the wisdom of the past, but they are pragmatic enough to negotiate meaning in the complexities of the present. Christian theology can tap into these and offer them up as resources for the community life of the nation-state as living alternatives to the vision of Hindu nationalism.
Dalit and Adivasi religion and culture (and local Christianity, which is predominantly Dalit and Advasi in constitution) are storehouses of such symbolic expressions of the particularity of minorities in the face of Hindutva’s homogenizing and universalizing propensity. Alternate frameworks for collective living in India must be in the business of detecting the elements of distinctiveness (even if through difference) of Dalit and Adivasi culture and religion, which are inscribed into the communicative practices of the community, in order to represent its collective identity to itself as well as to the nation-state. Thus, through a meticulous study of the Pallars, a Dalit community in Tamilnadu, Kappadia demonstrates how in their "religious orientation" and "politics of everyday life" they both undercut the valuation of the dominant caste (Brahmanic) values and register their own interpretation of the same.54 It is the task of theology to reflect on the mission activity of religious and ethnocultural minorities in resisting Hindutva. But theology also involves reflection on the productive task of mission activity that locates and circulates religio-cultural resources of such minorities for developing more pluralistic frames of collective living in the nation-state. The words of Felix Wilfred, who emphasizes both the special need for such a pluralistic paradigm among minorities and the fact that it is among these same communities that one can locate such models, are an apt conclusion to this section:
The bright light of future falls upon the victims when they begin to see the prospects of their identity and difference being recognized and affirmed. It is understandable, then, why the claims of the oppressed identities are coupled with the assertion of difference. . . . In other words, the difference is crucial for the construction of their subjecthood as the principal agent for shaping their own future. In short, like community, difference remains the unanswered question of the victims and that is why pluralism means hope for them:55
Theology as Praxis II: Reflections on the Action of Liturgy
I also suggest that Christian worship is the other appropriate site for drawing in and celebrating the Dalit and Adivasi religio-cultural worlds, which in turn can be a source for the theological enterprise. The liturgical space for Christians can be reimagined as a safe haven for the symbolic representations of minorities that are threatened by the homogenizing co-option of Hindu nationalism. In this sense, worship keeps alive the religious and cultural expressions that reflect the distinctiveness of minorities in India. As mentioned earlier, liturgy is the Christian community’s celebration of the God-dynamic, which, as outlined by the life and teaching of Jesus, is affirmed as the pattern and goal of the resistive-liberative dynamic in its journey toward life in all its related fullness. However, the domain of liturgy in Indian Christianity is hardly a reservoir of people’s expressions of their experience of the Divine in its relatedness to human beings and the world. Instead, the dominant paradigm of worship is rooted in the myth of the necessary mediatory role of an ecclesiastical specialist to generate proper homage to God. This mediatory role in fact is continuously transformed into an authoritative and regulatory one. Thus, the liturgy, by which many of the established and traditional churches organize corporate worship, is passed down from the creative workshop of the church specialists. The duty of the priests is to discipline the common worship life of the people so that it conforms as closely as possible to what has been prescribed as "proper" liturgical practice by the church hierarchy. This older model can be interpreted as arising from the ethos of monarchy, which was prevalent both in the western world and in India during the last few centuries. Accordingly, the figure of God as king must only be approached in prescribed ways and the specialists who belong to the king’s court and council are given the duty of making sure that all those who come into contact with the king, especially the commoners, are groomed in the art of the "proper" approach to the king so as not to insult the king’s honor and esteem.
The conception of liturgy that I am projecting rejects such a notion of God and liturgy. It starts with the premise that there is not a single way in which God is experienced but rather there is a multitude of modes, media, and forms with which this can be expressed among people. Thus, proper worship in the Indian context is not a law that needs to be discerned by the specialist and made binding on the people. Rather, it is a gospel of the free experience of God’s engagement in the lives of God’s people, which is freely and creatively expressed according to the particularities of various human communities, especially as represented by the Dalits and Adivasis. It is a celebration of the present experience of God by the people (a majority of whom are Dalits and Adivasis) and not so much an obligation to stage the eternal experience of the God of the ecclesiastical fathers. God, in this emerging model, is symbolized as a faithful and creative companion who sustains and empowers striving people in fruitful ways and fascinating modes in their journey toward life in all its related fullness. God is involved in every aspect of life, particularly preserving those expressions of the subjectivity of human beings that are under attack. Christian liturgy in this context embraces the people’s multimodal celebration of their rich God-human experience in all its pluriformity. The drums of the Dalits become the means of invoking, energizing, and encountering the Divine in the Indian Christian liturgy. Christ as drum, thus, may be a Dalit rendition in the arena of music just as Christ as Logos is a reflection of the same in the world of reading and writing.56 So also can the dance of the Adivasis be an expression of the celebration of God’s presence with God’s human and nonhuman creation. In the words of an Adivasi theologian, "If the Lord does not dance with the tribal Christians in a victory dance procession, our joy with Him will remain incomplete."57
In such inclusion of Dalit and Adivasi culture and religion one must be sensitive to the oral and enacted dimensions of liturgical life. This may move Christian worship beyond the preoccupation with Scriptural texts and literary forms of prayer to a concern with the spontaneous religious life of its daily practitioners. This also calls for a conscious process of de-sanskritization to be set in motion in our collective Christian liturgical journey. While there was an historical period in which Indian Christian theologians attempted to project a false Brahmanic identity by copiously drawing upon classical Hindu symbols, rites, and philosophical themes, in recent years they have begun to reclaim their Dalit and Adivasi non-Brahminical heritage. The focus on opening the door of Christian worship to oral-centered and symbolic act-centered religious expression reaffirms our roots in popular and local religions in India. This nontextual character of Dalit and Adivasi traditions influences the direction of contextual liturgical expressions: instead of reaching back to the pristine and original world of the past (mostly inscribed and frozen in sacred texts), they may be intertwined with an orientation towards the future. Harvey Cox’s comments regarding the African indigenous churches are applicable in this context:
The indigenous churches draw on the past to prepare people for the future. They are not burgeoning just because they help people to reclaim ancient spiritual resources that seemed to be lost. They are growing because they help people apply those resources in a new and bewildering context.58
When Christian worship is able to embrace the religio-cultural world of Dalit and Adivasi communities it becomes an invaluable source of theology since it taps into the most productive workshop of people’s experience of God. We are generally accustomed to idea that theology happens at the level of the academy. Aidan Kavanagh reminds us that such theology, "which we most readily recognize and practice[,] is in fact neither primary nor seminal but secondary and derivative."59 Instead "primary theology" is that which happens in the liturgical life of the community. "For what emerges most directly from an assembly’s liturgical act is not a new species of theology among other. It is theologia itself."60 This primary theology will, no doubt, be closer to the unsystematic, bordering on the inchoate, intertwined with the vulgar, and tinged with the nonrational. And yet it merely represents the collective self-expression of the people in their attempt to bring themselves, as framed within their world, before their God. Indian-Christian theology, if conceived of in these terms, becomes a reflection on the action of liturgy: a meditation on the multimodal expressions of experiencing the resistive-liberative activity of God among God’s people, particularly among the Dalits and Adivasis. In doing so, liturgy also becomes an arena in which the multifaceted traces of divine-human encounters in their relatedness to the world are preserved and celebrated. Liturgy is the storehouse for the working out of peoples’ multimodal experience of the God. It projects and recaptures Dalit and Adivasi images of God, their views of God’s relatedness to God’s creation, their visions of the future, their hurts and aspirations, and their ability to hope in spite of the odds against them. And it does this in the particularized forms and media that is part of their own reflexive tradition and practice.
I cannot end without returning to readdress the role of Christian theology within the phenomenon of Hindutva explicated in detail at the beginning of this presentation. The question can be put squarely: based on what I have said about reclaiming mission and liturgy in the service of theology in India, what would be the outlines for a Christian theology of pluralistic nationhood? Though I cannot elaborate on this issue, I wish to begin a discussion by making explicit some of the implications in the treatment thus far. But I must first reiterate that these are constructive and imaginative projections of what theology can be rather than what it is in the Indian context. In my discussion of Christian mission and liturgy, I suggested that theology be conceptualized in concert with the resistive-liberative working of God that can be discerned through the minority communities’ struggle in India. Mission and liturgy occur in intercommunity and intracommunity locales respectively. On the one hand, mission points to the outward moment of theology: it reflects from its locatedness in the midst of minority communities practicing their particularities and living out their pluralities in the world in a liberated way. On the other hand, liturgy points to the inward moment of theology: it reflects from its position in the midst of the confidence with which minority communities enact their religio-cultural pluralities and perform their distinctive particularities before God and community. In the context of the colonizing forces that aim to homogenize India along the ideology of Hindutva, both these arenas operate to liberate the subjectivity of ethno-religious minorities by conserving and positing their respective particularities for the purposes of constructing a more inclusive framework for the nation-state.
Let me continue this deliberation on the theological import of mission and liturgy in the service of working toward a pluralistic nationhood by indulging in more imaginative theological play.61 What if we consider pluralistic living among various religious communities in terms of a large, traditional, rural Indian house? Many families from one lineage live in this large ancestral house each with its own appointed area. The house is rectangular with many well-designed apartments to accommodate many nuclear families from the same lineage. In their own portion of the house the members of each nuclear family live in autonomy and security. They evolve their own rites, relational patterns, language, and social practices. This space for primary intrafamily relationships is not closed. Rather this intimate space for ritualized patterns of rites and practices can also form temporary spaces of hospitality and nurture of others from the extended family. Liturgy can be conceived of as providing such space whereby particular religious and cultural heritages are harbored and celebrated even as they share in the richness of another/other religious tradition/s. In this domain there is thus much freedom for creative and contextual symbolic expression before God and community. However, these expressions must not be in contravention with the negotiated fundamentals of the entire lineage.
There are also spaces for secondary interfamily relationships in this house. Two common areas bring all members of the household together. First, there is a large, open foyer, which leads into a corridor that links each of the individual living sections from the front entrance. This foyer, along with the corridor, is used as a space for social interaction with each other and for entertainment of common visiting friends and relatives Second, there is a rear opening for each unit of the house, which serves as the residence of the respective nuclear family that leads into a common play area. This area is secured from the outer world since the various sections of the house encompass it. This is where intimate interrelationships happen between various members of the lineage. Children are safe to play here and various common facilities are shared to meet the different needs of the larger family. There must be some basic rules that govern relationships. The mission of the house (which comprises the creator and all the creatures of the household) is to guard the autonomy and security of each individual family unit and enhance the welfare and honor of the lineage as a whole. Christian mission can be conceived along these lines. Resistance to all that threatens autonomy and security of the nuclear families and liberation toward achieving the welfare and honor of the whole household exhibits the dynamic of this mission.
Religious and ethno-cultural minorities in India are under a variety of threats in contemporary India. Dalits and Adivasis, especially in their proximity to Christianity, find themselves in a long and multi-pronged struggle to resist the homogenizing and hegemonizing forces of diverse Hindutva-oriented agencies that are stridently and concertedly overpowering the nation-state. In the first part of this paper I inquire into the historical roots of Hindu nationalism that generated the ideology funding this ominous phenomenon. Through an examination of one influential text (Vinayak Damodar Savarkar’s Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?) I demonstrated the manner in which the Hindutva ideology valorized the way of life of one vision of Hinduism while undercutting any cultural and religious version that digressed from such a philosophy. I also briefly elaborated on the contemporary manifestations of such a unitary and grand vision, which takes on the guise of modern-day Hindu nationalism. There can be little doubt that this has taken a violent turn against the Dalit. Adivasi, and Christian communities. I made an effort to document some of this through a process of suggestive interpretation that attributes the continuation of such an operation to the homogenizing logic of the Hindutva. However, the religious and ethno-cultural minorities have not succumbed to the powers that be. Rather, they are involved in their own resistive-liberative struggle. And this, I suggested, becomes the locus for drawing the substance and the agenda for theology. Thus, in the second part of the paper I have proposed a positive role for theology in the context of such minority communities’ defensive struggle of resisting the ideology of the majority. I argued that by being immersed in the resistive struggle of minorities, Indian-Christian theology could also be constructively endeavoring to protect the particularized religio-cultural worldviews of Dalits and Adivasis and to offer these resources towards the building up of a pluralistic framework for common living within the nation-state. I further argue that this will require that we reclaim the two sites of mission and liturgy for doing Indian-Christian theology.
Thus, Indian-Christian theology is invited to live off two fountains. On the broader side it is fueled by the intercommunity dynamic of God’s ongoing activity in the world, primarily through the resistive-liberative momentum of minorities striving for life in all its related fullness. This funds theology’s reflection on the action of mission. On the more confined side it is fueled by the intracommunity discernment of celebrating the experience of God as outlined by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ. This funds theology’s reflection on the action of liturgy. For many decades Indian-Christian theology has embraced one of these fountains without paying much respect to the other. Thus, an activist socioeconomic and political agenda for theology concerned itself solely with the activity of God in the world; it ignored the intracommunity celebration of Christian liturgical activity, which nurtured and sustained the Christian community on its journey toward a full celebration of life. Conversely, a contemplative religio-cultural and ecclesiastical agenda for theology was preoccupied exclusively with the specificities of the energy that flows from the God-human encounter; it neglected the fertile activity of God in the other realms of the world. Thus, in a sense, each of these power engines, independent of the other, maintained a truncated version of Christian theology. I believe that the future of Indian theology lies in the manner in which these strands creatively interact with each other in the arena of Christian discourse.
1. I am using the most general category of caste (Varna) since it is sufficient to place the Dalits outside of the Indian stratification of human community. I am well aware of the fact that these four castes are divided into numerous sub-castes (jaatis) which operate as the functional identities on the ground. For a recent essay on this distinction, see Simon R. Charsley "Caste, Cultural Resources and Social Mobility," in Dalits Initiatives and Experience from Karnataka (ed. Simon R. Charsley and C. K. Karanth; New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1998) 44-71.
2. For an excellent analysis of the history and politics of naming the Dalits, see Gopal Guru, "The Politics of Naming." Seminar 491 (1998) 14-18.
3. Narula, Smita. Broken People: Caste Violence Against India’s "Untouchables" (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1999)1-2.
4. Eleanor Zelliot, From Untouchable to Dalit: Essays on the Ambedkar Movement (rev. ed.: New Delhi: Manohar. 1996).
5. Gail Omvedt, Dalits and the Democratic Revolution: Dr. Ambedkar and the Dalit Movement in Colonial India (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1994).
6. Buddhadeb Chaudhuri, preface to Tribal Transformation in India, vol. 2 (ed. Buddhadeb Chaudhuri; New Delhi: Inter-India Publications, 1992) xiii.
7. Gail Omvedt, "Call us Adivasis, Please," The Hindu: Folio (11 July 2000) 10-13.
8. Nirmal Minz, Rise up, my People, and Claim the Promise: The Gospel among the Tribes of India. (Delhi: ISPCK, 1997) 9-10. This section also provides a good description of the various regions in which the major tribes live in the Indian subcontinent.
9. Ibid., 11-12.
10. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, Hindutva: Who is a Hindu? (2d ed.; Bombay: Veer Savarkar Prakashan, 1969) vii.
12. Ibid., i.
13. Along with V D. Savarkar another influential propagator of Hindu nationalistic thought was the founder of the RSS, M.S. Golwalker. His writings came much after Savarkar. Golwalker’s We or Our Nationhood Defined was first published in 1939, sixteen years after Savarkar published his Hindutva.
14. Ibid., 81.
15. Ibid.. 82.
16. Ibid.. 84.
17. Ibid., 84-85.
18. Ibid., 86.
19. Ibid., 91-92
20. Ibid., 117.
21. Ibid., 86. It must be noted that Savarkar appears to attribute the origins of Dalit communities to mixed caste marriages (‘cross-born" outcaste communities). Further, the negative connotation ascribed to independent and culturally different communities in India ("tribes or races") must also be registered in this text.
22. Ibid., 120.
23. Ibid., 86.
24. Ibid., 101.
25. Ibid., 113.
26. Some of the ideas with regard to the wooing and wounding of minorities in contemporary India have been expressed in an abbreviated form in my article: "Religious Liberty in Contemporary India: The Human Right to be Religiously Different," Ecumenical Review 52 (2000) 479-89.
27. The Asian Age (28 August 2000) 3.
28. Arjun Patel. "Hinduisation of Adivasis," in Dalits in Modern India: Visions and Values. (ed. S. M. Michael; New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1999) 204.
29. The Asian Age (June 19, 2000) 2.
30. "Joshi agenda: Sanskrit must be taught in all schools," The Asian Age (17 October 1998) 1.
31. Ibid., 2.
32. Narula. Broken People 41.
33. "Blinding reality," Communalism Combat 7 (2000) 8.
34. T. K. Oommen, "Evolving the Real Nation," The Hindu: Magazine (18 July 1999) I.
35. Satyakam Joshi, "Tribals, Missionaries and Sadhus: Understanding Violence in the Dangs," Economic and Political Weekly (11 September 1999) 2673.
37. K. N. Panikkar, ed., The Concerned Indian’s Guide to Communalism (New Delhi: Viking, 999) xix.
40. Amir Ali, "Case for Multiculturalism in India," Economic and Political Weekly 35 (15-21 July 2000) 2503. I am of the opinion that "multiculturalism" is somewhat of a weak and misleading term since it ignores the religio-cultural bases of much of the difference that exists between various communities in India. Here I am particularly thinking of the religio-cultural variance between Brahmanic-based Hinduism, on the one hand, and Dalit and Adivasi religion on the other.
41. Sabastian Kappen. "Toward an Indian Theology of Liberation." in Leave the Temple: Indian Paths to Human Liberation (ed. Felix Wilfred; Maryknoll. N.Y.: Orbis Books. 1992) 150.
42. Robert Deliege The World of the ‘Untouchable’: Paraiyars of Tamilnadu (New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1997) 301.
43. Achin Vanaik, Communalism Contested: Religion, Modernity and Secularization (New Delhi: Vistaar Publications. 1997) 149.
44. See ch. 4 of my Dalits and Christianity: Subaltern Religion and Liberation Theology in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 1998) 140-78.
45. My notions of theology are substantially influenced by the work of Gordon D. Kaufman. I am most indebted to him as teacher and mentor for the gift of freedom that he bestowed the theologian with: freedom to think, to construe, to project. The resounding appeal was "dare to imagine!"
46. James H. Cone. A Black Theology of Liberation (New York: J. B. Lippincott, 1970) 1.
47. It must be highlighted that I am not setting up the resistive-liberative dynamic as the only mode of God’s working in the world. I am only calling attention to a particular dimension of the activity of God that has been neglected in recognizing the agency of God in the world, which has relevance for reclaiming the Divine dynamic for the Dalits and the Adivasis of India.
48. A. Wati Longchar. "The Need for Doing Tribal Theology," in An Exploration of Tribal Theology (ed. A. Wati Longchar; Jorhat: The Tribal Study Centre, 1997) 2.
50. Michael Amaladoss. S.J., Beyond Inculturation: Can the Many be One? (New Delhi: ISPCK. 1998) 125. See also, Subash Anand, "The Liberative Potential of Popular Traditions," in Re-visioning India’s Religious Traditions (ed. David C. Scott and Israel Selvanayagam; Nov Delhi: ISPCK. 1996) 99-118, and Felix Wilfred. "Popular Religion and Asian Contextual Theology," in Popular Religion, Liberation and Contextual Theology (ed. J. Van Nieuwenhove and B. Klein Goldewijk; Kampen: J. H. Kok, 1991) 146-57.
51. My discussion of these two schools is drawn from the brilliant exposition of the same by Achin Vanaik, Communalism Contested: Religion, Modernity and Secularization (New Delhi: Vistaar Publications, 1997).
52. Ibid., 29.
54. Ibid. See especially Part One, "The Politics of Cultural Contestation," 3-162.
55. Felix Wilfred, "The Agenda of the Victims: The Poor Explore the Hopes for a New Century,’ Jeevadhara 30 (2000)12.
56. For a detailed argument of the proposal of "Christ as Drum" from a Dalit theological viewpoint see ch. 5 of my Do/its and Christianity, 179-217.
57. Nirmal Minz, Rise up, My People, and Claim the Promise (Delhi: ISPCK, 1997) 91.
58. Harvey Cox, Fire From Heaven: The Rise of Pentecostal Spirituality and the Reshaping of Religion in the Twenty-First Century (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. 1995) 259.
59. Aidan Kavanagh, On Liturgical Theology (New York: Pueblo, 1984) 75.
61. I first suggested this metaphor in "Religious Liberty," 488-89.