Caste system among Indian Christians

Taken From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Caste system among Indian Christians often reflect stratification by sect, location, and the castes of their predecessors.[1] Social practices among certain Indian Christians parallel much of the discrimination faced by lower castes in other religious communities, as well as having features unique to this community.

Caste distinctions among Indian Christians are breaking down at about the same rate as those among Indians belonging to other religions. There exists evidence to show that Christian individuals have mobility within their respective castes.[2] But, in some cases, social inertia cause old traditions and biases against other castes to remain, causing caste segregation to persist among Indian Christians.[3] About 70–80 per cent of Indian Christians are Dalit Christian, members of the Dalit or backward classes.[4][5][6][7]



[edit]Christian castes by region


Christians in Kerala are divided into several communities, including Syrian Christians and Latin Christians. Syrian Christians in Kerala consists of the members of Syro-Malabar Catholic ChurchSyro-Malankara Catholic ChurchJacobite Syrian ChurchMalankara Orthodox Syrian ChurchMalankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and a few members of the Church of South India in Kerala. Syrian Christians maintain their traditional Syrian rites and practices. They derive status within the caste system from the tradition that they are converted from high caste Hindus who were evangelized by St. Thomas.[8] In the pre-independence period, Untouchability was prevalent in the Kerala society and the Syrian Christians also practiced it in order to keep their upper-caste status. They used to go for a ritual bath to purify themselves on physical contact with the so-called inferior castes.[9][10][11] The Syrian Christians did not cooperate with the evangelical activities of foreign missionaries and they even didn’t allow the new converts to join their community since they were afraid that their noble position in the society could have been endangered.[12]

Writers Arundhati Roy and Anand Kurian have written personal accounts of the caste system at work in their community.[13][14] Syrian Christians tend to be endogamous, and tend not to intermarry with other Christian castes.[15]

The Latin Rite Christians were among the scheduled castes in the coastal belt of Kerala, where fishing was the primary occupation. They were actively converted by missionaries in the 16th and 19th centuries. These missionary activities were carried out by Western Latin Rite missionaries who did not understand the significance of the caste system in India. The government of India later granted this group OBC status. Anthropologists have noted that the caste hierarchy among Christians in Kerala is much more polarized than the Hindu practices in the surrounding areas, due to a lack of jatis. Also, the caste status is kept even if the sect allegiance is switched (i.e. from Syrian Catholic to Syrian Orthodox).[2]


In the Indian state of Goa, mass conversions were carried out by Portuguese Latin missionaries from the 16th century onwards. The Hindu converts retained their caste practices. The continued maintenance of the caste system among the Christians in Goa is attributed to the nature of mass conversions of entire villages, as a result of which existing social stratification was not affected. The Portuguese colonists, even during the Goan Inquisition, did not do anything to change the caste system. Thus, the original Hindu Brahmins in Goa now became Christian Bamonns and the Kshatriya and Vaishya Vanis became Christian noblemen called Chardos . The Christian clergy became almost exclusively Bamonn. Those Vaishya Vanis who could not get admitted into the Chardo caste became Gauddos, and Shudras becameSudirs. Finally, the Dalits or “Untouchables” who converted to Christianity became Maharas and Chamars (an appellation of the anti-Dalit ethnic slur Chamaar). The upper caste Gaonkar Christians have demanded that only their community be given positions on the Pastoral Council of Goa’s Catholic Church.[16]

[edit]Tamil Nadu

The cohesion of jatis among caste Christians (e.g. Paravas) and the strength of caste leadership are noted by scholars to be much stronger than comparable predominantly Hindu castes in Tamil Nadu.[17]However, discrimination still persists. Lourdunathan Yesumariyan, Jesuit activist notes that “over 70 per cent of Catholics are Dalit converts. But only four out of 18 bishops are from the Dalit-Christian community.” [18] In Tamil Nadu, Christian dalits also complain of discrimination by the Telugu speaking Reddiar minority[19]

[edit]Andhra Pradesh

60–70 percent Catholics are Kammas and Reddys in Andhra Pradesh; the remaining are Protestants from various castes.[20]

[edit]Under the law

Indian law does not provide benefits for “Dalit Christians”, however Christians have been agitating for the same rights given to HinduBuddhist, and Sikh Scheduled castes. Despite the activists point of discrimination due to social tag or status, which doesn’t go away, Justice K. G. Balakrishnan asked: “Could the Christians admit that they practise caste system and that Dalits (among them) face social discrimination requiring reservation to uplift their cause? This is not all that easy.”[21]

Some Christians also oppose the proposed labeling of “Christian Scheduled castes” because they feel their identity may be assimilated. Pastor Salim Sharif of the Church of North India notes “We are becoming another class and caste.”[22]

[edit]Caste discrimination among Indian Christians


Caste discrimination is strongest among Christians in South India and weaker among urban Protestant congregations in North India. This is due to the fact that in South India, whole castes converted en masse to the religion, leaving members of different castes to compete in ways parallel to Hindus of the Indian caste system.[23]

There are separate seats, separate communion cups, burial grounds, and churches for members of the lower castes,[24][25] especially in the Roman Catholic Church.[26] Catholic churches in India are largely controlled by upper caste Priests and nuns.[27] Presently in India, more than 70 per cent of Catholics are Dalits, but the higher caste Catholics (30% by estimates) control 90 per cent of the Catholic churches administrative jobs.[28] Out of the 156 catholic bishops, only 6 are from lower castes.[1][29]


Many Dalit Catholics have spoken out against discrimination against them by members of the Catholic Church. A famous Dalit activist with a nom-de-plume of Bama Faustina has written books that are critical of the discrimination by the nuns and priests in Churches in South India.[30] Pope John Paul II also criticized the caste discrimination in the Roman Catholic Church in India when addressing the bishops ofMadrasMylaporeMaduraiCuddalore, and Pondicherry in late 2003. He went on to say: “It is the Church’s obligation to work unceasingly to change hearts, helping all people to see every human being as a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, and therefore a member of our own family”.[31]

[edit]See also


  1. a b Christian Castes Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. a b Kerala Christians and the Caste System C. J. Fuller Man, New Series, Vol. 11, No. 1. (Mar., 1976), pp. 53–70.
  3. ^ Christian casteEncyclopædia Britannica
  4. ^ Struggle for justice to Dalit Christians Brojendra Nath Banerjee, Uiliyāma Kerī Sṭāḍi eyāṇḍ Risārca Seṇṭāra. Page 42: “At stake is the fate of 16 million Christians of SC origin, who form 70–80 percent of the Christians in the country”
  5. ^ Carol Henderson Garcia, Carol E. Henderson 2002:40 “Today about 70 percent of Christians are Dalits”
  6. ^ Radhakrishnan 2005:23
  7. ^ Azariah 1985:5
  8. ^ Fuller, C.J.Indian Christians: Pollution and Origins.Man, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1977), pp. 528–529.
  9. ^ Centre for Studies in Civilizations (Delhi, India) – A Historical-Developmental Study of Classical Indian Philosophy of Morals, Concept Publishing Company, 2009, ISBN 81-8069-595-6, p.484 [1]
  10. ^ The Asiatic journal and monthly register for British and foreign India, China and Australasia, Volume 13, the Bavarian State Library, p.237
  11. ^ Journal of Kerala studies, Volume 2 – University of Kerala., 1975, p.25
  12. ^ Harold Coward – Hindu-Christian dialogue: perspectives and encounters, [2], pp. 15-19. Motilal Banarsidass Pub, 1993. ISBN 81-208-1158-5
  13. ^ “Racing on the fast track”. Hindustan Times.
  14. ^ Fuller, C.J.Indian Christians: Pollution and Origins.Man, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1977), pp. 528–529.
  15. ^ Rao Babadur L. K. Anantakrishna Ayyar, Anthropology of the Syrian Christians. Cochin Government Press. 1926
  16. ^ Upper caste Catholics demand special rights, threaten to reconvert Indian Express – November 24, 1999
  17. ^ Kauffman, S. B.. “A Christian Caste in Hindu Society: Religious Leadership and Social Conflict among the Paravas of Southern Tamilnadu.” Modern Asian Studies. 15, No. 2, (1981)
  18. ^ Indian Dalits find no refuge from caste in Christianity BBC News – 13 September 2010
  19. ^ Caste Divide The Hindu – March 14, 2011
  20. ^ Anthropometric variation among the reddis of Southern Andhra Pradesh, India – B.Rakesh Babu 1984
  21. ^ Do Christians also practise caste system, asks SC Times of India – July 20, 2007
  22. ^ Sharif interview 17 November 1996
  23. ^ Michael 1999:17
  24. ^ Manickam 1988:173
  25. ^ Webster, John. 1994. The Christian Dalits: A History. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK).
  26. ^ [page needed] Koshy 1968
  27. ^ Still untouchable: the politics of religious conversion Christian Century – June 19, 2002
  29. ^ Problems and Struggles
  30. ^ A palmyra leaf that sears us The Hindu – September 16, 2001
  31. ^ Papal Address to Bishops of Madras-Mylapore, Madurai and Pondicherry-Cuddalore ZENIT – November 17, 2003



About The Voice Of Bombay's Catholic Laity

Bombay Laity Ezekiel’s Chapter 3 Task as Watchman 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for[b] their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.
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7 Responses to Caste system among Indian Christians

  1. Very interesting indeed.I believe that this even prevails in the Administrative Hierarchy of the Catholic Church. You have the East Indian, Goan,Mangalorians ,parish priests,bishops and even Cardinals who are given postings where their tribe is a plenty, and of course they do all they can to help them. This must cease, and the clergy needs to be neutral. We are all one in the eyes of The Master

  2. cutie says:

    A man is great by deeds not by birth.

  3. cutie says:

    We always talk about religion and castesim but in reality there is no any caste and religion. We all are same our blood are same.then why we believe in discrimination. God never created any caste they made simple human being.. Mentally sick people take the path of fundamentalism and spread casteism and communism. They suffer from inferiority complex and divide the society into “we” and “they”. They (belonging either to higher or lower ranked caste) have a fear in their heart that if they do not get a higher place for themselves in society, “other” people are going to exploit them and going to put them down.They don’t have believe on themselves and their own work. They have doubt own their capability. People with negative mindset suffer from inferiority complex and divide society into compartments like higher castes or lower castes.and can’t tolerate “others” progress or well-being. They cannot work hard and cannot tolerate anybody else’s achievements. These are the people with negative mindset who believe in ranking some belonging to higher castes and/or some to lower castes. They are coward and they are unable to protect themselves…

    • Very true indeed and I fully agree with you.However there are areas in India especially Goa where the clergy clearly mention the caste division. Secondly in India we subdivide the laity as Goans, East Indian, Mangaloreans etc etc. Then the Goans say we are from bardez, they are from salsette, then its further divided that we are from Aldona and they are from Quepem, once these lines are clearly drawn, then its we are Brahmins and they are Kubes. So the division and subdivision and sub subdivision is clearly known even in the Catholic Church.
      Yes last of all, have you notices that even the PP and Bishops are posted where there is a higher number of his own clan.
      Take the survey and find out for yourself.. So lets kill the disease and please don’t cut off the arm in hope that change will happen. Change must begin right from the top.

  4. cutie says:

    Be a nice human being is important not to have a good or high religion and caste.We need to work towards uniting the nation instead of splitting it. Work towards a society in which there will be no lower castes and no upper castes. We need to respect the way people live instead of looking at where they were born.

  5. cutie says:

    “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

  6. davidjohn says:

    Roman christians are not syrian christians both are different.
    Only malankara christians are belongs to syrian christians in india.

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