christianity and the untouchables


Something that many consider a flaw in Indian culture is the caste system. Two thousand six hundred years ago one of the greatest men to have ever lived was vehemently opposed to it. Siddharta Guatama, best known as The Buddha, would hear nothing of it in his fledgling community The Sangha. Wind forward twenty six centuries and another of India’s greatest men, Mohandas Gandhi, did all he could to put a stop to it. In 1947 when India became independent the caste system was officially outlawed, and yet still it is prevalent everywhere in society and religion.

If a dilate, as the lowest class are known, happens to be meandering along the street enjoying the fresh morning air and bird song just a brahmin – a man of the highest priestly caste- wanders out of his house and the brahmin has the misfortune to soil his eyes with the ghastly sight of the retched dilate, the brahmin is quite within his rights to give the dalit a good sound thrashing. And the pesky dilate must accept the trashing with good humour. Should the dilate be so careless as to allow his shadow to fall upon the shadow of the brahmin then all hell will break loose.

So one can well imagine that the poor old dilate, bored with the tedium of being walloped from one end of the village to the other every time the brahmin nips out for a smoke, was pleased as punch when promised by a wandering missionary a spiritual path where a good whelping was not the daily norm just because of birth lineage.

There also existed a system in this region back in the merry days before the existence of Kerala State where by miscreants and wrongdoers would be cast out of the community in which they lived and left to wander destitute, alienated, and despised by all. Bumping into these poor lost souls the missionary would quickly explain to them that this was indeed their lucky day as he was on a mission from a most merciful god and they were welcome to join him and his band of nervous dalits. One can well imagine that once the idea began to take hold the growth of such a community was rapid and wide spread. Hence the plethora of churches in Kerala.

Interestingly I noted churches of many different denominations and wondered why, so i asked. It turns out that the situation is that it didn’t take long before the good old brahmin, the disruptor of sound justice to those careless with their shadows, spotted the chance of a fresh new flock and so he, and many of his brethren, converted to christianity. All very good, except, the Brahmin felt understandably uncomfortable praising god in a church where his delicate eyes and shadow were at risk of bumping into a grubby dilate. And with the memories of swift justice fresh in his mind we can well imagine the long suffering dilate being somewhat on edge every time the sun shone through the stain glass and lengthened his shadow. And of course one had to be careful leaving valuable silverware on the alter in a church full of miscreants. There was though, as the brahmins quickly pointed out, a solution. A different church for each former caste of the hindu system. And so now one can barely turn a pedal without coming across another church. There are Roman churches and Latin churches, there are Anglican churches and Lutheran churches and Mennonite churches. There are so many churches of different denominations that if you were to begin shaking a stick at them at sunrise you would have a frantic day of stick shaking ahead of you were it your intention to shake a stick at even a fraction of them before darkness took hold of the land and the dilate once again felt safe to emerge from the Lutheran chapel and wander skittishly down the street without fear of his shadow dropping onto a brahmin as he emerged from the church of Rome.


an old building high in the tea plantation


tea, a tree, and a tea worker


tea bushes and a church


a chapel


these glass cases housing saints are all the rage outside the churches


a moustache wearing saint george is very popular here.


after all, someone has to slay those troublesome dragons

the glass on this case had been smashed, i wondered why.


early on a sunday morning and the church grounds are locked; odd i thought


a fine gate


a small chapel


a garden in cochin


a door and window in cochin


dawn on cochin beach


4 thoughts on “christianity and the untouchables

  1. David! Loved reading that! So funny and true not only in India. I wonder whether the ‘classes’ in England have gone too. But, who am I to ask that question as foreigner in the land?! Maybe that is why I am saying it, because I am foreign. What are we like as human beings, usually just flocking with our own feathers and so intolerant of difference? The Brahmin had overlooked, and we doe often too, what is written in Colossians 3: 10-12: This is the new being which God, its Creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself. As a result, there is no longer any distinction between Gentiles and Jews, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarians, savages, slaves, and free, but Christ is all, Christ is in all. You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.
    Take care. Greetings from your vicar friend đŸ™‚

    • I am pleased that you enjoyed the read Etienne. My observation is that the class system in the UK is non existent compared to the caste system. There will always be divides, that is natural in all animals. But in Europe people from a working class background go to university, can go to Cambridge or Oxford, can be a doctor lawyer or politician.
      I once travelled with a Dutch couple. They had worked in India and when they began they asked for a car. it was suggested that they should take taxis but they insisted on a car. This caused something of a kerfuffle and in due time it transpired that the MD of the company had a Maruti Suzuki. The Maruti Suzuki was and probably still is the cheapest car available in India, it was bottom of the car pile and no one could have a car that was equal to or better than that of the MD. So no one had a car. The Dutch couple remained insistent that they should have a car and so, eventually the MD relented. He got a Vauxhall Astra (or something very similar). Suddenly the car park filled up with Maruti Suzukis. It wasn’t that people could not afford or did not want a car, it was that the hierarchy would simply not allow it.
      This is a simple example of something very very deep. Of course the other major hold on development is corruption, or baksheesh as it is affectionately termed.



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