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Federated Theological Programme of North-East India

Campus: Discipleship Bible College


Dimapur: Nagaland

Topic: Dalit Theology


Guide: Asso. Prof. Mar
Subject: Person and Work of Christ
Presenter: Chumdemo, Charlis, Subrana , Pihotoli
______________________________________________________________________________
Introduction

Theology literally means “the science of God”.1 It is an attempt to understand and interpret the
story of God what He did for humanity. Therefore, the presenters would like to discuss and bring
the understanding of Person and Work of Christ from the Dalit Perspective. This paper will deal
on the meaning of Dalit, origin of Dalit, Dalit theology and Christological Significance.

1. Meaning

The root for the word ‘Dalit’ if found in Hebrew ‘dal’ meaning the lowest, poorest tribe or
individual and in Sanskrit ‘dal’ which means to split, break, crack etc. The word is often used to
describe a person who comes from any lower caste, even though technically authentic, Dalits are
kept outside the caste system as unworthy to enter the social and religious life of society. It refers
to people who are socially, religiously, economically and politically oppressed, deprived and
exploited in India. 2 The word Dalit means oppressed at present, it refers only to the
untouchables of India who are known as depressed classes or Harijans (Children of God) and
Scheduled Castes (SCs). 3

2. Origin

According to the archaeological and literary sources the origin of caste and of untouchability is
said to have originated from India. Consequently, scholars have been forced to engage in
considerable speculation in their effort to reconstruct the past history of untouchability. What we
now have are not hard and clear facts but a variety of competing theories, all of which have
proven difficult to substantiate in a convincing manner. While J.H. Hutton concluded this major
work, ‘Caste in India’, by locating the origin of caste in the taboos and divisions of labor in the
pre-Aryan tribes of India as well as in their effort at self perseveration in the face of invasion.
The Aryans, a series of related and highly self-conscious tribes sharing a common language and
religion, began their invasions of India from the northwest around 1500 BC. For centuries they

1
Ezamo Murry and Eyingbeni Humtsoe Nienu, “Theology”, The Concise English Kyong Lotha Dictionary of
faith: Khristan Lungtsu Yishupro (Jorhat: Barkataki and Company, 2015), 135.
2
Joseph Dsouza, Dalit Freedom Now And Forever: The Epic struggle for Dalit Emancipation
(Secunderabad: Dalit Freedom Network, 2012), 25.
3
J.A. David Onesimu, Constructing Dalit Theology For Dalit Liberation (Delhi: ISPCK, 2012), 32.

1
remain in seemingly constant conflict with the indigenous peoples, whom they looked down
upon as culturally inferior and excluded as ritually unclean. In the post Rig-Vedic literature there
are more frequent references to primitive forest dwellers like the Candala who were kept on the
fringes of Aryan society in conquered region. Although the Candala were severely stigmatized in
later Vedic age, it was only in the period between 600 BC and 200 BC that untouchability
appears as such.4

3. Dalit Theology

Dalit theology is a new way of doing theology and also be can be called Liberative Theology or
even regarded as Indian Liberation theology. It provides a policy for vigorous action to attain
their liberation. It begins with the poor and the oppressed like the Black and other Liberation
theologies, these theologies recognize God’s presence in the struggle to get rid of oppression.
The experience of the poor and the oppressed, such as the Black and the Dalits is the
hermeneutical starting point. It is firmly grounded on transformation, liberation and change. It
seeks to work out a theology of liberation for Dalits in Indian context. Dalit theology is based on
social analysis and empirical investigation.5

4. Dalit Consciousness

It was a constant reminder of their age-old oppression and their ancient glorious past, when their
forefathers were a free people. This has become an expression of hope for them in recovering
and enhancing their past identity by expressing their suffering through drama and poetry. The
Maharastra movement which has been producing Dalit literature since 1970s has been said to be
a protest in nature as its main theme is total human liberation.6

5. Christological Significance

Dalit Christology is of utmost importance. Dalit Christology finds its uniqueness as it is


developed through the dialectical encounter between the Jesus of Faith and the context of the
Dalits in which he has experienced. For Dalit, the God whom Jesus Christ revealed and about
whom the prophet of the Old Testament spoke is a Dalit God. Thus Dalit Theology affirms both
divinity and humanity of Jesus in His ‘Dalitness’.7 According to Nirmal even the genealogy of
Jesus itself is suggestive of Dalit conditions, despite him, being a Jew. His reference as carpenter
Son also is suggestive of his ‘Dalitness’. The solidarity of Jesus with the poor and the outcast
finds its Christological symbol in the incarnation. The Dalit Christological also acknowledges

4
John C.B. Webster, The Dalit Christians: A History (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), 1-2.
5
J.A. David Onesimu, Constructing Dalit Theology for Dalit Liberation . . . , 33.
6
Roger E. Hedlund, Christianity In India: The Emergence of an Indigenous Community (Delhi: ISPCK, 2000),
143.
7
Vemaiah Beesupogu, Dalit Theology; An Indian Christian Attempt to Give Voice to the Voiceless,
http//vemaiahenglish.blobspot.in/2011/10/dalit.theology.indian.christian.attempt.html?, (accessed on
02/03/2018).

2
Christ as the sources and way, the heart and soul, the ground and goal of the task.8 They find
significance in the events of Christ life ministry.

5.1. Ministry of Jesus Christ

Jesus of Nazareth, the Lord of the Church, made his preferential option for the poor and the
oppressed, namely, the Galilean peasant, the publicans, the sinners, the Gentiles, the Samaritans,
the children and the women who were treated as out caste of the society in the land of the
Palestine two thousand years ago. He has not only identified himself with the disinherit and the
rejected masses of the society, but had deliberately chosen to spend most of his time with
illiterate masses of Galilee who were dehumanized and deprived without leadership. He
considered and called them his own brothers and sisters (Mark 3:34). His identification was with
the Dalits in this day.9

5.2. The Cross of Jesus Christ

Jesus’ death o the cross of Calvary was a death of true Dalit, crushed and broken while yet being
innocent and not deserving such punishment under any cause, which was acknowledged even by
the Roman Governor Pilate. The suffering of Christ on the cross was an innocent suffering for
the benefit of others. This is understood as Christ’s identification with the innocent suffering of
the Dalits under the hands of the oppressor. 10

5.3. The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Jesus not only suffered and died but rose again from the death. It was Dalit Jesus who suffered
death through the cruel hands of the oppressor, but this Dalit Jesus was resurrected. It is this
encounter with Jesus Christ of the oppressed in the suffering that gives hope to the hopeless for
their liberation. The crucified and risen Jesus stood as their center of their faith. It is the Jesus
who gives meaning to their miserable and wretched life, strength to suffer and revolt, hope in the
midst of hopelessness, hope in a new life for a new world which they dream. Jesus death was not
the end but the beginning of a new life and not the end of the history. Suffering and hope is thus,
the texture of Dalit Theology. 11

The Dalits, as oppressed community, finds the Christological significance in Christ’s ministry,
cross and resurrection. For them, Jesus was born as downtrodden, lived and ministered to the
outcaste in his days and finally was crushed on the cross at the hands of the oppressor. He was

8
Franklyn J. Balasundaram, Contemporary Asian Christian Theology (Delhi: ISPCK, 1995), 165.
9
Maong Lemtur, Christ in a Changing Context (Dimapur: Tribal Development and Communication Center,
2008), 130-131.
10
Maong Lemtur, Christ in a Changing Context . . . , 130-131.
11
Kuncheria Pathil and Dominic Veliath, An Introduction to Theology (Bangalore: Theological Publications
In India, 2007), 219-220.

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truly a Dalits of the Dalits in whom the Dalits today find meaning and draws hope for their
liberation. 12

Conclusion

As Dalit Theology claims to be practical, contextual and liberational, almost all the Dalit
theologians, especially Nirmal, draws out parallel inspiration to the Dalit community looking
into the light of the Person of Jesus Christ. Much has been discussed above of how their agonies
were challenged from the life of Jesus Christ. Thus we can profoundly conclude that the
redemptive work of Jesus Christ plays a vital significance for the discriminated and marginalized
society especially to the context of Dalits which offer them the assurance of salvation from the
bondage of sin and also from caste system that stimulates them to struggle for freedom from
caste bondage. Therefore, as Christian, it is our responsibility to work the liberation of the Dalit
at the Socio Economic and political level without separating.

Bibliography
Balasundaram, Franklyn J. Contemporary Asian Christian Theology. Delhi: ISPCK, 1995.
Das,Somen. Christian Ethics and Indian Ethos. Delhi: ISPCK, 1994.
Dsouza, Joseph. Dalit Freedom Now and Forever: The Epic struggle for Dalit Emancipation.
Secunderabad: Dalit Freedom Network, 2012.
Hedlund, Roger E. Christianity In India: The Emergence of an Indigenous Community. Delhi:
ISPCK, 2000.
Lemtur, Maong. Christ in a Changing Context. Dimapur: Tribal Development and
Communication Center, 2008.
Murry, Ezamo and Eyingbeni Humtsoe Nienu, “Theology”. The Concise English Kyong Lotha
Dictionary of faith: Khristan Lungtsu Yishupro. Jorhat: Barkataki and Company,
2015,135.
Onesimu, J.A. David. Constructing Dalit Theology For Dalit Liberation. Delhi: ISPCK, 2012.
Pathil, Kuncheria and Dominic Veliath. An Introduction to Theology. Bangalore: Theological
Publications in India, 2007.
Webster, John C.B. The Dalit Christians: A History. Delhi: ISPCK, 1994.
Webliography
Vemaiah Beesupogu, Dalit Theology; An Indian Christian Attempt to Give Voice to the Voiceless,
http//vemaiahenglish.blobspot.in/2011/10/dalit.theology.indian.christian.attempt.html?,
(accessed on 02/03/2018).

12
Somen Das, Christian Ethics and Indian Ethos (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994), 47.