ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Older than the Church

Christianity and Caste in The God of Small Things

Despite Christianity that made inroads into Kerala nearly two millennia ago, and communism that emerged as a powerful egalitarian force in the last century, caste continues to exercise an insidious, all-pervasive influence in Kerala. While the novel The God of Small Things attempts to subvert patriarchic norms that sustain caste and gender domination by its use of subversive comparisons and analogies, ancient hierarchies that sustain the caste and the gender question still remain assertive, unresolved even by the healing and redeeming powers of fiction.

Lancy Lobo in the essay ‘Visions, Illusions and Dilemmas of Dalit Christians in India’ (2001) deals with the Christian dalit dilemma in India. According to Lobo in the 20 million Christians in India about 70 per cent, that is 14 million are dalits (p 243). The converts suffer from four distinct types of discrimination: from the church, state, upper castes and from the lower castes (p 246). So even conversion, their last resort had betrayed the historically wronged masses of India, for as Lobo says, caste is older than the church: There exists in each religion a wide gap between belief and practices. Christianity has no caste but Christians have caste. Therefore it is necessary that reservations are delinked from the Hindu religion. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and a dalit should be free to practise any religion he or she wants. As of now if a Christian dalit reverts to Hinduism he becomes eligible for reservations. This has made some dalit Christians in Andhra revert to Hinduism. The bias of the state in favour of Hinduism is clear in a state that boasts of secularism (p 251).

Dalit Christians have developed a kind of dual identity. They have their caste identity, like mahars and vankars, and at the same time hyphenated labels such as Christy mahars and Christy vankars (p 252). In general in the context of patriarchy and caste, it is admitted that just as the upper castes look down and oppress their own women, dalit women have to bear labour pain, produce labour power and suffer the brunt of poverty more than the men. Besides dalit women are easy targets of rape and other atrocities from males, especially of the dominant castes (p 256). Unfortunately the Christian intervention in India has produced little to improve the cultural and social status of the Bahujans, apart from evangelist educational efforts,1 but further deteriorated the cultural crisis and the human dilemma related to identity and egalitarian dignity.

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