Why dalit feminism? That’s the question any layman in the church would ask. Being a theologian who for many years was out of theological circles and in the church, I’ve realized that all that we learn in theological colleges often stays there. So let me start this little reflection as though I was introducing dalit feminism to the youth of a church in an urban setting who haven’t heard of it before.
‘ Dalit’, the word which means “the broken”, evokes a lot of conflicting emotions in the church today. There are those who would not consciously acknowledge it as it is not a part of their experience and there are those who may want to hide the pain that it evokes. Whatever the reason, while it is part and parcel of the church’s life, it remains a taboo subject and is not discussed from the pulpit or in study groups .Another reason this is so is because religion like everything is so personal and individualistic that it has lost its relevance to society and communities.
Dalits in India have been oppressed from centuries and dalit women as the least of the least are in the most pitiable situations. Justice and freedom have been denied to these people for centuries and it is so even today. In India today every fourth woman is a dalit. A dalit woman has no voice and no face; she is like cattle or property that is owned. In a patriarchal and casteist society dalit women bear on their bodies and souls the marks of India’s sin.
So can the church which claims to be the body of Christ remain uninvolved? There is an urgent need for the church and Christian women in India to respond to this situation. By not taking a stand on this issue we the Church in India further condemn ourselves to a state of lifelessness that will ultimately sever our lifeline with God.
Theology is our relationship with God, our discovery of the nature of God and the demands God places on our lives. In this time of Lent leading up to the cross, let us examine Jesus and his stand on being one who was despised, dehumanized, oppressed and a victim of injustice.
Like the dalit women of India, Jesus bore on his body the violence of the sin of others. Like dalit women in India today, Jesus was the object of pointless and undeserved hostility, hate and cruelty. Abuse was piled on his body. Jesus was stripped, humiliated and beaten. His basic rights were violated. He had false witnesses brought against him; his life was traded for that of a criminal. The law keepers who had the power to save him deserted him and washed their hands off the matter. He was framed and unjustly executed because he talked of justice. The rest of the community – decent, ordinary people, without any thought – howled for his blood caught up in the moment. Jesus’ death is a supreme example of injustice. His was judicial murder perpetrated by the people in power.
Jesus is a DALIT. He chose to be one. What does he say to us then? He says “Do not weep for me, weep for yourselves”. Weep because we cannot resist violence when faced with a victim. Weep because we rather sacrifice an innocent than upset the power balance and peace. Weep because even though we can make a difference you will not fight for justice. Weep because we would rather form small little groups engaging ourselves in religious exercises to improve our souls, which in truth actually deaden us.
We cannot observe the cross of Christ objectively; we need to respond to his death. In the same way we cannot remain detached from the plight of dalit women in our churches and in India today. We need to see Jesus in the Dalit women and their plight and respond to it as if they were Jesus. For Jesus said “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”Matt 25:40.
If we alienate his broken body as personified by the dalit women with us, we can no longer truly claim to be the body of Christ.