When a class is Impostors
Have you ever heard of the Dalit? Sometimes called the “untouchables,” the Dalit are a class of people in South Asia (notably in India where there are some 130 million Dalits) who are considered inferior human beings. Here are the layers in the Hindu society of India, and one must know that even terms like these can evoke strong reactions in India:
3% Brahmins (priestly caste)
3% Kshatriyas (ruler caste)
3% Vyashiyas (business caste)
52% Sudras (low caste, or OBCs: “Other Backwards Classes”)
In that 52% of Sudras, 16% are Dalits and 6% are Backward Tribes. This stratification is considered “essential human nature” (sambhava). (If you are curious, the rest of the Indian society are Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and other religions.) The Hindi word dal in Dalit means “crushed” or “suppressed” or “held in check.” Because a Dalit is so classed, most have menial jobs in society that are connected to ritual impurity, like handling human feces and street cleaning and cleaning toilets. Such jobs made the Dalits impure and ostracize them even further from society. Crimes against Dalits often go unnoticed and unreported. Perhaps most notably, Dalit children absorb a sense of unworthiness very young and those Dalits who do attain success often feel like impostors in society.
Tragically and in spite of the genuine efforts by folks like V.S. Azariah who required Christians of all castes to drink from the same communion cup,[ii] the Impostor Syndrome occurs inside the Indian church. Truth be told, almost 33% of Christians in India are Dalits and denominations can be shaped by the caste system. An Indian colleague of mine, Rajkumar Boaz Johnson, helped me with my facts above and he wrote this to me in an e-mail. In speaking about the church’s struggle to create equality, he said, “Unfortunately, the missionaries did not do much better [than the Hindu society]. The masses who converted to Jesus came from the low castes (the Shudras).” And, “Western Missionaries trained the High Caste people to be leaders. Therefore, the church in India mirrors the rest of society. Sad, isn’t it?”[iii]
I must tell a story here. When I wrote the first dra
ft about the Dalits, I sent a note to my colleague, Boaz, and he wrote the above lines back. About fifteen minutes later I was still editing this section, when I got a letter from Johnson Thomaskutty, at Union Biblical Seminary in Pune (India). Mr. Thomaskutty sent me one of his studies of the Dalit. I assumed Boaz, my colleague, knew Mr. Thomaskutty and had written him. But I wasn’t sure, so I wrote to Mr. Thomaskutty in India and asked him why he sent his study to me. Mr. Thomaskutty told me that he happened to be thinking of me and just sent it to me. (You can interpret this as you want. I see it as one of the acts of the Holy Spirit.) Thomaskutty’s study shows that the Dalits used writing to protest the injustices of the caste system but what is exciting today is that the Dalit are doing their own Christian thinking. It is the “People’s Theology” and Mr. Thomaskutty calls it “real Indian Christian theology.” It is a “theology of the people, by the people and for the people.” This sort of theology is lifting the Dalits out of their sense of being impostors in churches in India and granting to them a sense of a Spirit-shaped and gospel-soaked sense of God’s kingdom – now, on earth, as in heaven.
We can hope and pray and work for the Dalits of India to find the church to be a place of equal opportunity and justice and inclusion and equality. We’re only beginning, but one thing is clear: followers of Jesus are bound to work against the impostor syndrome by creating the Beloved Life.