The Vatican on October 19 sent a message to Hindu leaders asking them to resist “hateful propaganda” against Christians and allowing Christians to practice their faith in peace. A principal cause of conflict is the conversion to Christianity of Dalits or “untouchables.” The aggression against Christians stretches across much of India, from the eastern state of Orissa to the southwest state of Kerala.
Christian outreach to untouchables in India is well over one hundred years old. Christianity, like Islam, places no special value on the circumstances of birth. The government of India sets aside certain benefits for Dalits, a form of welfare for a still-despised group. Yet the same government programs deny benefits to Dalits who become Christian or become Moslem, because — the argument goes — their denial of the Hindu caste system means that they no longer consider themselves in the sub-caste (or “casteless”) position of “untouchables.” This does not apply, however, to Dalits who become Buddhists or Sikhs, although those conversions also would mean a rejection of the caste system.
Christianity also grants women a higher status than Hinduism (which historically does not regard a woman as possessing a soul until she marries) or Islam (which creates a distinctly inferior status for women). As a consequence, Christianity has a profound appeal for the most hopeless Indians, “untouchable” women. The message of Christian love finds an eager ear among the “untouchables” of India.
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