Why Kerala’s Dalit Christians are Ghar Wapsi targets

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Members of 37 Christian families were “reconverted” at an elaborate ceremony held at a Devi temple close to Elappara, a tea plantation town in the district.

The temple priest presided over the ceremony while Arya Samaj leaders helped in conducting the rituals.

All the converted belonged to the Pentecostal Mission, a non-Catholic denomination active in the working class communities in the plantation areas of Idukki, Kottayam and Wayanad districts. In another instance of Ghar Waspi, 27 members of five Christian families near Kayamkulam in Alappuzha district were converted at a re-conversion ceremony held at a local temple, the VHP claimed.

Last month, a dozen persons had been converted near Kayakulam.

Though a few Muslims were also converted, this was denied by Muslim organisations.

Group focus

The Ghar Wapsi campaign in the State is said to be focusing on Dalit Christians, as they had been mostly converted to Christianity from “untouchable” Hindu castes in the past two or three generations.

A major section of Dalit Christians belong to non-Catholic denominations, such as the Pentecost and Church of South India, or to the socially-backward Latin Catholic Church.

While the majority of the “converted Christians” have gained education, social upliftment, economic progress and personal dignity after conversion from the “untouchable” castes, Dalit Christians complain they are not treated on par with the mainstream “traditional” Christians.

There have been reports of Dalit Christians being buried in separate corners of church cemeteries, indicating their lower social standing.

Several Dalit Christian organisations have openly rebelled within the Church over this discrimination. Though attempts have been made to integrate them into the mainstream Christian society, the progress has been tardy.

Poorest lot

Dalit Christians continue to be the poorest, less empowered section within the otherwise prosperous, educated and empowered Christian society in Kerala.

Education has been the best means of Christians in Kerala over the past one century to gain empowerment and to get exposure to opportunities. In the case of Dalit Christians, their past continued to weigh them down.

Also, though they had belonged to SC/ST communities before conversion to Christianity, they are denied the government’s SC/ST benefits in education and job reservation.

Church campaign

The Church has for decades campaigned for SC/ST status for Dalit Christians, but government after government failed to allow this. SC/ST organisations, often with the support of Hindutva organisations, have opposed any move to grant Dalit Christians SC/ST status, on the plea that this would dilute the current quota for Hindu SC/STs in education and jobs.

The Sangh organisations are said to be exploiting these two grievances — lower social status than the traditional Christians and the denial of SC/ST status. The Sangh Parivar is said to be promising to get them SC/ST benefits if re-converted. K P M Basheer in The Hindu

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