The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Caste problem exists in Christianity in TN

Alaphia Zoyab

Monday, December 25, 2006 (Chennai):

For many Indians of lower caste, Christianity was a way out of the oppressive nature of the caste system.

But as Christianity took on the trappings of Hinduism it also internalised caste hierarchies.

A fisherman of Dooming Lane has a special Christmas guest - the Archbishop of Madras-Mylapore.

If you think his welcome is traditional, look inside Santhome Basilica.

"We light agarbattis. It makes no difference. It's still a prayer," said a devotee.

The signs of the Indianisation of Christianity and Christmas are everywhere. While the Catholic church has embraced few practices, Protestants frown upon them.

"First and foremost is the fact of allowing them to have statues for the various figures for the saints and others, including for Mother Mary, Jesus as a baby, Joseph and that kind of a thing. It's idol worship," said Retired Reverand M Azariah, former bishop, Church of South India.

"Following Hindu religion is different. Following Indian culture is different. We are Indians, we are not foreigners. Our blood is Indian, and we are trying to follow whatever is good in Indian culture,” said Reverand Father PJ Lawrence Raj Parish Priest, Santhome Basilica

Church politics

The debate is rooted in the caste and church politics of Tamil Nadu. Christianity came via sea with the arrival of St Thomas in 52 AD.

The first converts naturally were the fishermen living on the coast. But the real push began in the 16th century. And by the 19th century missionaries had homed into the frustrations of the lower castes.

As they converted enmasse, ironically, caste too found its way into Christianity.

Seventy-five per cent Christians in Tamil Nadu are from lower castes. And they continue to feel the pinch.

In the nine years that Reverend Azariah was Bishop of Madras, he had more than 100 cases filed against him.

''It's in the very consciousness of every Indian, caste consciousness or outcaste consciousness. There is a divide. It is the people who are opposed to this who suffer because of the superiority complex of the caste conscious people,'' said Reverand Azariah.

Even in the clergy the schedule castes fail to rise to the ranks. Barely three per cent priests are from the lower castes.

''If I say that there is no caste problem, I will be a liar. I don't want to do that. This problem is made worse by politicians offering reservation. So this evil is coming into the church also,'' said Reverand Father Lawrence Raj.

The failure to create a casteless church has forced many back to Hinduism. It is a complex reality that perhaps forces the Archbishop to keep the Christmas message simple - laugh and be merry.

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