This is my body, this is my blood: Implications for Mission Theology from a Dalit perspective

by Elizabeth Joy

Date added: 03/11/2016

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This is my body, this is my blood: Implications for Mission Theology from a Dalit perspective


Elizabeth Joy


Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion Seminar

Lambeth Palace, 11th October 2016

Durham University, 2nd November 2016


1 Introduction

I am extremely happy to be here today and grateful to Bishop Graham Kings for this opportunity to present my paper titled, ‘This is my body, this is my blood: Implications for Mission Theology’.  As you are aware, this paper was presented at Mission Theology in the Anglican Communion at Lambeth Palace on 11th October 2016.  At the outset, I would also like to mention that I was greatly pleased to be invited to present this paper on 2nd November. Today the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church celebrates the Feast of St Geevarghese Mar Gregorios popularly known as Parumala Thirumeni.[1] He is one of the few from this Church who was engaged in Missionary outreach to communities at the margins.  Therefore, this paper is offered to him on his feast day with all humility. 

1.1 Present Context

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) or UN Refugee Agency, reports of the unprecedented account - that out of 7.4 billion people on earth today, one in every 113 is either an asylum seeker, internally displaced or a refugee.  The report titled Global Trends, notes that on average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015, which is four times more than a decade earlier, when it was six people that fled each minute.  A total of 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, compared to 59.5 million just 12 months earlier![2]

The global report on Human Trafficking issued by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) based on the data from 155 countries records that 79% of the Human Trafficking relates to sexual exploitation where majority are women and girls.[3]  The second form of Human Trafficking comprises of forced labour accounting for 18%.  These clearly expose the modern forms of Slavery. Among these children account for 20% of those that are trafficked.

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe in 2015 causing crises as the nations which they entered in large numbers could not cope with it.  2016 has been the deadliest year for migrants crossing into Europe. According to UNHCR, the number of refugees and migrants coming into Greece dropped from 67000 in January to 3437 in August with the closure of the Balkan borders and implementation of the Europe Union – Turkey Statement.[4]  However, the number entering through Italy remains more or less the same with 115,000 entering in August this year compared to 116,000 last year at the same time. [5]

Amidst this stark reality, Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees declares rightly, “The willingness of nations to work together not just for refugees but for the collective human interest is what’s being tested today, and it’s this spirit of unity that badly needs to prevail”.[6] From the UK BREXIT context, what is our response to these shocking realities that call for a humane response?  How should the Church in Europe, UK or any other part of the World respond based on our Faith affirmations and belief that Christ came into this World that we all may have life and life in all its fullness (John 10:10). In such a context as this, what implications would, ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ have for our Mission Theology or Missional Church today? Here Missional Church primarily understood as a theological concept or as Hirsch[7] puts it as the ‘rethinking of the Theology of Church in terms of the Mission of God’/Missio Dei.

This paper addresses the implications of ‘This is my body… this is my blood…’ for Mission Theology by narrowing down to the specific Indian context which in addition to a gross problem in Human Trafficking (related to both sexual exploitation and forced labour of adults and children) also exhibits a society that is hierarchically divided on caste basis. This evil practise has discriminated more than 25% of the Indian population as less than humans for 3500 years. In this caste ridden society, the terms ‘Body and Blood’ have degrading and shocking consequences. Christianity has been in India from AD 52 where it is believed that St Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus came and converted people in some parts of Southern India to Christianity and India now has about 25 million Christians who very reverently participate in the Holy Eucharist in different denominations. Therefore this paper tries to explore what should the words of Institution, ‘This is my body, this is my blood …’ mean to the caste ridden communities in India, Church in India and beyond today in terms of Mission Theology?

1.2 Purpose of this paper

The Church from its inception and its early history has wrestled with many heresies on the person and work of Christ. The early Church fathers and those who have led the Church have guarded the Christian Faith down the history some of which may be less debatable now such as the difference between the Miaphysite (formerly known as Monophysite) and Diaphysite groups or even the Catholic and the Protestant Churches as one can envisage from all the plans to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with its deep desire to understand each other and bridge the gap between the two denominations.  It was indeed a cause for great joy as I watched the livestream from Lund and participated from a distance in the commemoration service day before yesterday. The theme of this historic service, ‘From Conflict to Communion: Together in Hope’ brings in a lot more energy and enthusiasm to struggle for a life in all its fullness for all.  The sermons preached both by Pope Francis and Rev Dr Martin Junge the General Secretary of Lutheran World Federation endorsed much of what was presented on John 15:1-5 through this paper at Lambeth Palace on 11th October 2016. I was thrilled to hear them reflect and resonate from the perspectives of people at the margins addressing very live issues that we face today.

In the context of human beings being neglected when they are hard pressed with situations like war, civil disturbances and displacement due to poverty, or people being treated less than humans for thousands of years based on their birth, what hope of liberation will our faith in the risen Christ lead us to, based on Christ’s Eucharistic affirmation, ‘This is my body, this is my blood?’  At the outset I would like to clarify that any discussion on the denominational understanding on Eucharist is out of the purview of this paper. I would like to take an anticipatory bail at the beginning itself!   Therefore, the focus will not be on denominational faith affirmations like Trans-substantiation, Consubstantiation, Mystery or real presence or any other faith stand.  WCC from it earliest Assemblies has spelt out the need for the visible unity of the Church.  However, of late it believes that although we have reached about 75% of this visible unity, the other 25% in relation to Gender and visible unity through common Eucharist may be difficult.  However, it is believed that visible unity can be achieved through visible unity in our Common Mission.   Visible United Church is the goal of the Ecumenical Movement as we see it explicitly quoted, “The ecclesial elements required for full communion within a visibly united church—the goal of the ecumenical movement—are communion in the fullness of apostolic faith; in sacramental life; in a truly one and mutually recognized ministry; in structures of conciliar relations and decision-making; and in common witness and service in the world.”[8] We have come a long way to accept our unity in Diversity and celebrate Diversity from what was expressed in the Canberra Assembly in 1991, “on the basis of convergence in faith in baptism, eucharist and ministry to consider, wherever appropriate, forms of eucharistic hospitality; we gladly acknowledge that some who do not observe these rites share in the spiritual experience of life in Christ;”[9]  In the same statement we also find a call to overcome discriminations based on different divisive identities as we find in this statement, “The calling of the Church is to proclaim reconciliation and provide healing, to overcome divisions based on race, gender, age, culture, colour and to bring all people into communion with God. Because of sin and the misunderstanding of the diverse gifts of the Spirit, the churches are painfully divided within themselves and among each other. The scandalous divisions damage the credibility of their witness to the world in worship and service. Moreover, they contradict not only the Church's witness but also its very nature.”[10]   Therefore, without going into the faith affirmations from any denomination, this  paper will inquire what implications will Christ’s words, ‘This is my Body… this is my blood…’ have today on Mission Theology from a Dalit perspective.


2          Locating the importance of this theological inquiry from a Dalit perspective in the context of Missio Dei[11] (God’s Mission)

God’s Mission is an ongoing process of God’s self-revelation, of the active liberating presence of God in the world. We as Christians understand God’s self-communication in Jesus Christ as the basis for God’s mission. Through Christ, God invites all people to participate in this process to extend the liberating love and presence of God in their own contexts. Therefore, the Church as a community is simultaneously called out of the world and sent into the world to creatively live out God’s liberating presence in the world.  Thus our mission in this world is our response to God’s continuous interventions in our times and to participate in the process of extending God’s reign. This paper seeks how we can respond to God’s Mission from a Dalit perspective.

2.1 Definitions of important terms


For a working definition at this stage, Dalit comes from the root word ‘Dal’ in both Hebrew and Sanskrit which means crushed, split asunder, oppressed all of which express a condition of suppression pointing to dehumanisation in the case of Dalits, which is the name that the former untouchables of India chose for themselves to show their condition in the caste ridden society of India. It is both a noun and an adjective. As a noun, it can be used in all three genders – masculine, feminine and neuter. [12]

Dalit Theology

Dalit Theology is a branch of Theology that articulates faith in God from the Dalit people’s perspectives having Total human liberation as its goal.  The terms Dalit Theology and Christian Dalit Theology are used interchangeably.

2.2 The purpose and nature of God’s Mission 

The purpose of God’s mission in our world is to establish a dynamic relationship between God, human beings and the world. Christian mission gives expression to this dynamic relationship by adopting Christ’s purpose to “bring life in all its fullness”.  The under girding principle here is to create harmonious interaction, interdependence and intra dependence between God, world, and human beings. Life in all its fullness can be experienced only when there is transformation, which manifests God’s reign where love, equality and peace with justice is experienced and affirmed in all realms of our lives affirming diversity.

The nature of God’s mission can be understood both in ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘eschatological’ terms.  Apocalyptic in the sense that there are current concrete irruptions as revelations of God’s liberating activity in the here and now and eschatological in the sense that we hope for a consummation of God’s reign in terms of love, justice and equality of all humanity.[13]   The emergence of the people’s theologies (such as Liberation theology, Black theology, Feminist theology, Womanist theology, Dalit theology, Minjung Theology and Eco- feminist theologies) enable us to go forward in our struggles for a better world.  These can be seen as signs of the apocalyptic aspects of God’s mission. These signs and expressions of apocalyptic mission are absolutely necessary for the culmination of God’s reign that is envisaged through our active involvement through God’s grace. For us to work as an ecumenical and global community, it would be good to bank on the current global ecumenical Christian views on Mission.       

3 Affirmations from TTL Document to place Dalit Theology in context

Having journeyed with Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) in 2005 and WCC at its last two Assemblies in Porto Alegre in 2006 and in Busan in 2013, where the Mission Document Together Towards Life (TTL) was initially presented and later endorsed as an official document of WCC promoting Mission in all its member Churches and affiliated organisations, this document is taken as a frame of reference briefly as follows:

In the Feast of Life: Concluding Affirmations (paragraphs 101ff), focus on the importance of mission to and from the marginalised, proclaiming good news to all humanity and creation affirming that mission begins with God’s act of creation . The first affirmation (101) says, “We are the servants of the Triune God, who has given us the mission of proclaiming the good news to all humanity and creation, especially the oppressed and the suffering people who are longing for fullness of life. Mission as a common witness to Christ – is an invitation to the ‘feast in the kingdom of God (Luke 14:15).  The mission of the church is to prepare the banquet and to invite all people to the feast of life.  The feast is a celebration of creation and fruitfulness overflowing from the love of God, the source of life in abundance. It is a sign of the liberation and reconciliation of the whole creation which is the goal of mission.” Para 102 affirms ‘Fullness of Life as the purpose of God’s Mission and therefore it becomes the criterion for discernment in mission. Paragraph 103 affirms that mission begins with God’s act of creation and continues in re-creation by the enlivening power of the Holy Spirit, Para 104 affirms that Spirituality is the source of energy for mission and that mission in the Spirit is transformative.[14]

The interconnections made between God the Creator, Christ the one who brings good news to all humanity especially those that are oppressed and suffering and the Holy Spirit as the source of energy for mission, would push our reflections further to see how Human beings fit into this and get connected to the reality of God and the World.

TTL para 106 affirms and reiterates the fact that the global Christian gravity has shifted from North and West to the South and the East. This compels us to revisit our missional affirmations and reflections, from the perspectives of the marginalised, oppressed and those that are in the global south and east.  This provides more hope and confidence for Dalit Theology to explore Mission Theology from a Dalit perspective. TTL para 107 endorses and urges for an articulation from a Dalit Theological Perspective when it says,

“We affirm that marginalized people are agents of mission and exercise a prophetic role which emphasizes that fullness of life is for all. The marginalized in society are the main partners in God’s mission. Marginalized, oppressed and suffering people have a special gift to distinguish what news is good for them and what news is bad for their endangered life. In order to commit ourselves to God’s life-giving mission, we have to listen to the voices from the margins to hear what is life-affirming and what is life-destroying. We must turn our direction of mission to the actions that the marginalized are taking. Justice, solidarity and inclusivity are key expressions of mission from the margins.”[15]

With this empowerment, this paper proceeds to explore what implications the words of Christ, “This is my body… this is my blood…” have on Mission Theology. TTL para 108 warns against replacing God of life with Mammon – the free economic capitalism as it says,

“… the economy of God is based on values of love and justice for all and that transformative mission resists idolatry in the free-market economy. Economic globalization has effectively supplanted the God of life with mammon, the god of free-market capitalism that claims the power to save the world through the accumulation of undue wealth and prosperity. Mission in this context needs to be counter-cultural, offering alternatives to such idolatrous visions because mission belongs to the God of life, justice and peace and not to this false god who brings misery and suffering to people and nature. Mission, then, is to denounce the economy of greed and to participate in and practise the divine economy of love, sharing and justice.”[16]

TTL 109 affirms that the gospel of Jesus Christ is good news in all ages and places and the centrality of the incarnation, the cross and the resurrection that accelerates the need for evangelism. [17] Finally TTL 110 reiterates the need for building relations of respect and trust between people of different faiths. [18]

3.1 Helpful suggestions to be flag-posted

Even as we begin to tease out the TTL and its importance for Mission Theology today to articulate from a Dalit Perspective, we need to be aware of where Rollin Grams points our attention to transformation by saying, “Willmer raises two concerns in particular: the meaning of the term 'transformation' appears to be used too loosely and needs clarification for a theology of mission, and the theology of transformation needs to be articulated with regard to wider discussions in theology and missions. These concerns call for robust scholarship in mission history, theology and hermeneutics with regard to a mission theology of transformation”[19]  Although this paper does not aim to look deeper into the aspects of mission history, theology and hermeneutics, the link between these need to be taken serious.

Gary Dorrien points us further to the speculative ‘cosmotheandric vision’ that can be achieved by a network of workers or rather coming together of people who can dare to dream following Raimon Panikkar.  Gary says, “The radical form of liberal theology that is needed, Hodgson says, is a post-metaphysical yet unapologetically speculative “cosmotheandric” vision. It would articulate a holistic, open, ontological vision in a non-totalizing, meta-narrative fashion, connecting the finite and infinite, nature and spirit, the aesthetic and the ethical, and psyche and culture. No singular genius, not even Hegel, can provide such a vision, Hodgson cautions; under postmodern conditions informed by liberationist movements, a radical liberal vision must be forged by a network of workers.”[20] Is this possible?  If possible, to what extent will it be relevant in today’s context from a Dalit perspective?  This will be explored in the later part of this paper by exploring the term Dalit.

4 Contributions from Dalit Theology to Mission Today

It is strongly believed that this paper that explores the meaning of the word Dalit in a new manner, will contribute to World Mission Theology by exploring what ‘This is my body, this is my blood’ means from a Dalit context and how it becomes more inclusive for all people at the margins, modern slavery, those trafficked, and afflicted on the basis of imposed identities. This will be seen in the latter part of this paper. An overview of caste structure and Dalit reality will pave way for us to explore the term Dalit and see how Body and Blood become very important.

4.1 Importance and implications of Body and Blood in Dalit Theology

Caste based discrimination is well structured on the basis of the concept of purity and pollution. The theory of Karma related to the cycle of rebirth enables the perpetuation of this evil system for thousands of years. Purity is assessed on the blood of the parents – not the types that is commonly and scientifically known to us as A, B, AB or O, rather blood based on the caste that parents belong to.  Within the caste structure you find four divisions among which the first three are said to be twice born (pure) and the fourth one is the servant caste which classifies them to be born out of mixed marriages between the first three castes.  They are relegated to the fourth caste and called Sudras. The three upper castes in order are the Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas. Dalits are categorised as the out caste.  They live outside the main villages in separate colonies and if they migrate into cities, they are mainly found in the slums or economically lowest areas with less access to everything in life. They are mostly engaged in what is called the 3D jobs – Dirty, Dangerous and Dehumanising – Manual Scavenging and the Devadasi system for example have majority Dalit populations.

All identities of a person are affected as caste has its impact on the socio, economic, political, geographical, linguistic and faith status.[21] As mentioned above, caste system operates mainly based on the concept of ‘Purity and Pollution” of Brahminism that enables the Brahmins with the power to dominate, exploit and exclude marginalizing all other castes with worst impact on the untouchables or Dalits.[22] Apart from the domination, social exclusion and economic marginalization, this social hierarchy manifests itself in occupational segregation, economic deprivation, untouchability, political powerlessness, social immobility and economic instability. This also in a hierarchical gradation gives power to the caste that occupies a higher position to rule over the ones lower to them and the ones in a lower position to serve without question the caste that occupy a higher position to theirs.  Thus we have four castes in a hierarchical level one above the other while the fifth one (Panchama) lies outside this system and inferior to all these four, hence were called outcast, untouchables or the fifth caste.  So the people are divided on the basis of their birth, and caste operates as a social and religious hegemonic structure relegating lower positions to women within each caste.  The three upper castes in the hierarchical structure are the Brahmins at the top of the caste pyramid wielding the maximum power and authority over all other castes and outcastes. They are the most privileged ones having the best resources as well as access to education, employment the socially the most superior status and the custodians of the Hindu religion.  Then come the Kshatriyas who represent the ruling class having the political power followed by the Vaisyas – the business people and then the Sudras who are the working class that have to serve all other castes. 

The outcastes are the untouchables called by several other names such as the depressed class (conferred on them by British), scheduled caste (coined by Simon Commission), Harijans (coined by Gandhi). In such a context where Dalits have been oppressed and dehumanised for thousands of years, Dalit reality and the quest for liberation makes it an issue of justice.  Dalit Theology was a response to this yearning.

The emergence of Dalit Theology (Dalit Christian Theology) in the late seventies has changed the theological landscape of India so radically.  It is becoming a strong tool in the hands of the people who have been in a state of oppression, exploitation and marginalization for generations together. James Massey one of the pioneering Dalit Theologian and Historian says, “Where the question of archaeological and literary sources is concerned, our story of the roots of the Dalits goes back to 3500 years”.[23]  

The basic questions that we start with are - how does the issue of human identity and dignity shape Dalit Theology in the late seventies and early eighties?  What are the forces that bring about the change in the way Dalit Theology began and is in the present and what are the possible directions it will take or necessarily has to take to remain true to its initial goal?  These are the few questions that would enable us to understand the roots, origin and milestones in Dalit Theology, trends since the eighties and the current issues in the Theological debate.  This will enable us to trace the Milestones and trends in Dalit Theology and lead to explore current debates in Dalit Theology which in turn will take us to ground breaking paths to discover positive identity to reclaim the lost human identity and dignity in the last 3500 years.  Genetic research revealed in its report published on 8th August, 2013 that different genetic populations began mixing 4200 years ago in India and they stopped mingling 1900 years ago.[24] So this theological inquiry of what ‘This is my body… this is my blood…’ mean to Dalits in their lived realities full of struggles in and through Dalit Theology seeks to reclaim a positive identity and dignity through Christ.

 4.2 Caste as an evil Structure

It is believed that Manu is the sole culprit for imposing caste based discrimination as a code of ordinances.  There is a lot of controversy on his time period and BR Ambedkar put it between 170-150 BC. With the rise of Hinduism, it is believed that intellectual authoritarianism increased. The code of Manu took shape and undermined the values of humanity, promoting upper caste domination.[25]  By this time the caste system was clearly established with four castes and the outcastes coming from mixed marriages -  Anuloma (male belonging to upper caste and the female to lower castes) and Pratiloma (where the male belonged to the lower caste) who were considered the most degraded.  James Massey also quotes their plight as follows:[26]

“The dwelling of the Chandalas and Cavpacas (should be) outside the village; they should be deprived of dishes (apapatra) their property (consists of) dogs and asses.  Their clothes (should be) the garments of the dead, and their ornaments (should be) of iron, and their food (should be) in broken dishes, and they must constantly wander about.”

While the above contribute to earlier developments, the period from 700 to the present make up the later developments. Therefore, we need to remember that the Dalits have been reduced to their present state, by several centuries of exploitation and servitude.  Thus when Dalit Theology emerges from the bitter inhuman experiences of Dalits, the goal was ‘Total Human Liberation’.  Though Dalit theology originated from the Liberation Theology of Latin America and the Feminist theology of America, this goal made its departure from the liberation theology and Feminist theology. So the caste system and the discriminations based on  the exploitative nature in which it operated  provided the strong reasons along with the faith that came from within Christianity enabled Dalit Theology to come out as a counter Theology to the Indian Christian Theology that had not addressed this issue of caste and untouchability until that the late seventies.  The Christian faith that stands for the fullness of Life in Christ which should bring identity and freedom in and through Christ forced Dalit Theologians both from the Dalit background and otherwise to reflect from Dalit perspectives either on their status as Dalits or on the status of Dalits to challenge the social structures that stood firm for thousands of years.  This has given the energy for Dalit Theology to act as a counter theology in the caste ridden Indian society.

4.3 Statistics to have a glimpse of Dalit Oppression 

The liberation of Dalits constituting about 260 million known as untouchables in South Asian (200 million in India) is purely a justice issue and needs to be addressed at an international level giving it a Theological and Mission priority.

A Human Rights study published in 2006 reveals the following shocking truths – giving evidence for the existence of 140 forms of practices based on untouchability under discrimination of Dalits:[27]

In Government services - In 37.8% of the villages, Dalits are made to sit separately in Government schools; 27.6% of the villages prevented from entering police stations, 25.7% of the villages prevented from entering ration shops, in 33% of the villages, public health workers refuse to visit Dalit homes; 23.5 % of the Dalit villages don’t get mail delivered to their homes, 14.4% of the Dalit villages are not permitted to enter the ‘panchayat’ local government building; 12% of the Dalit villages denied access to or forced to form separate lines at polling booths; 48.4% of Dalit villages are denied access to water resources,

In Market Access – 35% of the villages surveyed are barred from selling produce in local markets; 47% of the villages with milk cooperatives prevent Dalits from selling milk, and 25% prevent Dalits from buying milk. In work places, Dalits are paid lower wages than non Dalits, work longer hours, get delayed wages, and suffer more verbal and physical abuse; in 37% of villages, Dalit workers are paid wages from a distance to avoid physical contact.

In Religion and Rites – 64% Dalits are restricted from entering Hindu temples; almost in 50% of the villages, Dalits are prevented from accessing cremation grounds. In private spheres – 73% of the villagers are not allowed to enter non Dalit homes, in 70% of the villages, Dalits and non-Dalits cannot eat together, 38.8% of Dalits are denied entry into village shops.

Indian crime statistics averaged between 2001-2005 reports that 27 atrocities are committed against Dalits every day, 13 Dalits are murdered every week, 5 Dalit homes or possessions burnt every week, 6 Dalits are kidnapped or abducted every week, 3 Dalit women are raped every day, 11 Dalits beaten every day and a crime is committed against a Dalit every day. It needs to be noted here that this is reported on a National scale but it is only the tip of the iceberg. Majority of the cases are never reported or allowed to be reported by dominant groups, government or political parties that stand against Dalit liberation. In spite of all these the official records itself reveal such a devastating truth.

In the light of the shocking information on the experiences of Dalits on a day to day reality, there is no wonder that the Historical Dalit Consciousness gave rise to Dalit Theology with Arvind P Nirmal as a pioneer Dalit Theologian. For centuries Dalits bore the brunt of their imposed identity and, experienced oppression. They could not question the system as they took it for granted as deserving and lived with its bitterness all along one’s life. It is this historic consciousness and pain that led them with repeated questioning of their plight to come to the awareness that their suffering was not God ordained but a grave act of injustice. This awareness enabled them to discuss, debate, get support and as of now rally for their rights as Human rights beyond their borders. So some extent we can say that the hermeneutics of suspicion that the Feminist Theologies use was indeed used here after ages. Social reformers and Political leaders paved the way for this. It was much later that they began to construct Christian Dalit Theology articulating their faith in the triune God in the light of their bitter inhuman experiences. With the historic memory and the personal experiences of the present, a Dalit realizes and resists all discrimination, deprivation, destruction of the whole personhood or challenges or confronts the oppressors which, becomes the datum for Dalit Theology.

4.4 Dalit Theology and the historic Deuteronomy Creed (Deut. 26:5-12)

Dalit Theology has the historic Deuteronomy creed (Deut.26:5-12) as its point of reference and it gives the paradigmatic value for the Dalit Theological Construct by making Dalits aware of their roots to reflect their confessional faith in God who leads them towards liberation from all brokenness. Bring in a few quotes here from Nirmal, Prabhakar and Devasahayam. When Dalits are ashamed of their forced identities that dehumanise them, many a times they do not want to reveal their identity when the least opportunity comes, they would like to be silent and shun away from this truth that they are descendants of Dalit ancestors. This is where the challenge to Dalits come – they are ripped open as they remember their historical roots which they wish to forget, bypass and do anything to cast it out. Here Nirmal brings in a Biblical text, which demanded from people of Israel not to forget about their past history when their ancestors were wandering Aramaeans (v5) and then were enslaved in Egypt (v6), then how God hears their cry and rescues (v 7&8), God brings them into a rich and fertile land (v9) then v10 sets the reason for the first fruits to be brought into God’s presence and v11 is important that demands people of Israel to share their first fruits and celebrations with both Levites (Church in Dalit Context) and Foreigners (they enter the promised land as foreigners but God’s compassion to make space for other people/s who may be in varied forms of enslavement and finding refuge as migrants or refugees in today’s context. It becomes more real especially in the wake of war in different parts of the world caused by Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and wars in other parts of the world leading to the Refugee crisis and the West debating on how to respond to this crisis others. WCC is trying to demand a safe passage for refugees on the global ecumenical scene now.

Although crucial and important, this paper does not look into this issue for constraints in limitation).  What is intended here is just to capture the spirit of Ecumenical Mission in our context based on our Faith in Christ.

4.5 Impact of caste discrimination

4.5a Impact of caste discrimination on Dalit Christian Women

On 29th October 2015, a group of 35 bishops and church leaders from 20 countries gathered in Munich, Germany to discuss about refugees and the role of the churches in Europe with a recommendation for safe passage to those seeking refuge. Together, in one voice they have stated, “As Christians we share the belief that we see in the other, the image of Christ himself (Matthew 25), and that all human beings are created in the image of God (Genesis 1. 26-27),”[28] Those present in Munich represented Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions in the most affected regions from most of the church families in Europe.

This was indeed a proud moment when the global ecumenical movement could together make this statement of faith that has been all along a non-negotiable principle in Christian Faith and Theology. However, the unwillingness to accept the non-negotiable and the core principle within the Christian understanding that all human beings are created in the image of God, leads to perpetuation of gender discrimination as well as caste oppression among many others such as those based on colour, race, region or religion. When as Christians we deny the image of God in ourselves or others, it leads to structural oppressions and injustice.

Caste oppression is a structural oppression that systematically perpetuates dehumanisation in history denying and destroying God’s image in God’s people whoever they may be. This denial leads to oppression, marginalisation, alienation and exploitation by dehumanising one section of the people as untouchables or outcastes. The image of God is borne by the person in and through his or her body. This was inscribed by God. When this inscription is replaced with other oppressive identities such as caste, class, region and gender, it perpetuates oppression and dehumanisation.

Imposing the identities of lower position given to woman based on the woman’s body or to a Dalit based on Dalit’s body (his parents position in the caste system) leads to gender and caste based discriminations with continuous outbursts of gender and caste violence.

Majority of women face discrimination in relation to wages, and also finding employment in top level management team. A woman becomes more vulnerable when other identities inscribed on her such as her caste, class or colour, stratifies her more rigidly deepening her suffering within existing social, economic, political and religious structures. Therefore, it is not just the gender where as a woman she faces severe discrimination but it gets compounded as other categories get added on to her complex identity. These factors add fuel to the increasing Social, economic and religious injustice. The Christian Dalit woman is thus discriminated and alienated 4 times being in the bottom most rung of the caste pyramid based on caste, class, gender and religion.

Similarly, when the earth is also relegated to a lower identity and position, ecological injustice continues and overpowers ensuring destruction and ecological degradation. The intrinsic relationship between humans and the environment should therefore consider the human response to ecological degradation very serious as the earth becomes a part of our body, an extension of our body. To be more precise, a miniature of the environment is within our bodies and we can be defined to be part of earth’s body, which in turn becomes part of the solar system that is part of the galaxy or milky-way which is part of the grand universe that holds many galaxies together! So the nexus between woman and earth needs to be reinterpreted in positive and liberating terms. Here the problem of dichotomy is to be seen and addressed. Is there a need to strike at some of the dichotomies like Male-Female, Heaven and Earth, Reason/Mind and Body (Rational and Emotional), and Soul and Body in order to see if a positive, inclusive and liberating identities can be inscribed on ‘Body’ as a tool in constructing local theologies with special reference to Dalit Theology? So, the problem of ‘Body’ being seen as an enslaving tool needs to be questioned and addressed to make it a liberating tool.  When ‘Body’ becomes the site of violence, entire communities are targeted, enslaved and kept in bondage for thousands of years. Theological reflections need to bring about a change in the heart, mind, attitudes and behaviour of the faithful community? Therefore this paper raises the central question, ‘Why, when and how does body become an important tool in constructing local theologies?’

4.5b Impact of caste discrimination within the Indian Church

Dalit Christian Theological reflections began only in the late seventies and we do not have a considerable volume of literature that deals with the many aspects of this theology. It is still in the making, struggling to respond to the changing contexts that keep reinforcing caste discrimination. Initially Dalit Theology struggled to bring about a radical change in the faith and belief of the Christian Church in order to bring healing and wholeness to the Dalit communities. The Dalits formerly (until one or two centuries ago) had internalised that they were less than humans. Therefore, they never had the courage to question the social structure that was solidly built on the Hindu Vedic tradition which found its way into the Church under the mask of culture. So, even though the Church (especially the Dalit majority Churches) has begun to question the age old rigid system that stood for about three thousand years, they are still looking at ways and means as to how they can get a grip on the methodology to successfully dismantle this caste structure and put an end to caste discrimination. So there is so much more to be done to address many of the issues that make it so difficult for Dalits to encounter caste issues.

4.5c Gap within Dalit Theology

From among the works available, Dalit Theology comparatively has a lot of research done at the ideological level exploring the concepts, themes and theories that support Caste discrimination and caste structure. Many theologians have articulated on the Dalit history, while others have done remarkable work through analysing Dalit narratives, exploring Dalit hermeneutics and interpreting the Christian Scriptures from Dalit perspectives. On the one hand Dalit feminist Theologians like Evangeline Anderson Rajkumar and Monica Melanchthon have done research delving into the ‘Body’ interrogating and mediating the agency of the ‘Body’ while the Ecofeminist theologians like Pracey Varghese following the footsteps of Sally McFague have contributed much to Eco-theology talking about the world as the body of God and the need to protect and respect the created world. Also Feminists and Economists have affirmed the connection between women and utter poverty. However, attempts are less to link the body and blood as elements that can transform not just Dalit communities but all those that are marginalised and at the periphery – be they those who are trafficked or in forced labour etc.  This can be a liberating tool in relation to economics, environment and embodiment of God in the divine plan of salvation.  

6.  Bridging the gap: Exploring an alternate metaphor to one body and many parts Dalit

This gap in exploring the need to make ‘Body’ as an essential tool to promote building positive, inclusive, just and peaceful communities (as expressed in TTL para 107), continues to pose a challenge to Dalit Theology in particular and other liberation theologies in general. Using body as a liberating tool in Dalit Theology brings about a transformative Mission that will affirm identity and freedom in Christ for all. It is believed that in order to bring about transformation in the world in general and transformation in the life of Dalits, a need to look at the concept of Body as well as blood become essential and inevitable.

Therefore, this paper attempts to take Dalit Theology as a model and aims to look at how and when does Body and blood become a tool in constructing transformative Mission Theology and to  reinforce the connection between God, humans and the world where responsibility and accountability comes in the celebration of unity in diversity. This unity in diversity can also be traced as an ecumenical theme which aims at fostering the Christian Unity that upholds the conviction that ‘Unity is NOT UNIFORMITY’. This unity in diversity includes the ‘superior and inferior’ ideology that stratifies human beings in a hierarchical gradation. Although it promotes the inclusive character for identity and freedom in Christ, we are still challenged to overcome the hierarchical gradation to see all humans as equal. Identity and freedom in Christ comes with healing, wellbeing and wholeness. How is this wholeness understood? How does the idea of One God, One Church and One Baptism enrich this vision of healing, wellbeing and wholeness? In the Christian Ecumenical context while the concept of One God is understood with the model of Trinity, the concept of One Church still remains a puzzle. Even the metaphor of One Body and many parts do not give a satisfactory feeling of oneness especially in the Indian context where the Body of Brahma is divisive and Church still holds onto this myth in practicing caste discrimination. This puts ‘Body’, Blood, Dalit and Caste as important categories in the forefront to bring out the importance of cultural hermeneutics in the Biblical interpretations to bring about a transformation.

Dalit Theology on a theoretical level has done a lot to root out the caste discrimination from within the Indian Church, the Indian socio-cultural fabric and wherever Indian communities co-exist beyond India. However, a look at the Church and its witness shows a wide gap between what Dalit Theology proclaims and what is practiced within the Church. This gap needs to be bridged to enable Dalit people and especially Dalit Christian women who face the four fold discrimination occupying the bottom most position in the Indian caste ridden society on account of their gender, class, caste and religion. Violence that is meted out to them is enormous and inhuman. So, if body is taken as a liberating tool seriously to construct local Theologies, it will transform our Theologies, mission as well as our lives.

So the attempt is to bridge the gap between the academic exercise in Dalit Theology and the practical implications on the life of the Dalits in experiencing transformation. This transformation necessarily needs to be inclusive and positive to make it visible. This transformation comes with the question, not as to how we make meaning in our Christian life but how can we discover meaning in our lives from Christ who lived in history, his ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and through the Risen Christ, his Church and her mission? The Church is constantly called to be actively involved in socio-economic, political and spiritual issues that include racism, casteism, sexism, poverty and environmental degradation.  It is in this context that the Church in India has to shape itself discovering the meaning of Christ and his Church through Christ words, ‘This is my body… this is my blood’ in order to bring freedom and identity in Christ. Church as the body of Christ cannot be divided. So Christ, his Church and her mission will be the source for Dalits in the context of caste discrimination to regain their identity and freedom. If we live and work in and through Christ then the Liberation and Transformation that we experience need to be experienced by all especially even those who persecute us or oppress us.

Theology is the faith reflections of a community based on its experiences of God in relation to their lived realities – the way they perceive God to interact with them, defending, providing, protecting and affirming to a great extent what the community believes. This belief system coming out of a cultural, linguistic, economic and political background shapes Theology and also gets shaped by theology. In Christianity, the theologies in the past as well as most in the present are anthropocentric as well as androcentric. It is really absurd that for a faith that believes in God's creation and relationship with the entire world, most of its theologies ignore the interdependence and the intra-dependence of species within the ecosystem. If we want to be responsible in relation to ourselves as human beings, to our environment on which we are dependent and to God who created us and the entire universe, interacting and intervening in history from the beginning, it is not enough to believe that God created the entire world and the universe but to acknowledge that God expects much more from us as responsible stewards.

We as part of this creation have a responsibility towards it. If as Christians, we believe that Christ came that we may have life in all its fullness, it cannot be limited to males or human beings. When we take experience as an important source in constructing Theologies, we cannot but include the ecosystem and the environment in which we live. No experience of a human being can be shared in isolation and apart from the environment in which we live. So, no theology that excludes environment can talk about salvation or liberation of the human beings apart from the environment and the world that we live in as we are intrinsically related to each other.

Therefore, when a Theology such as Dalit Theology speaks of ‘Total Human Liberation’ it needs to take into account the liberation of all men, women, children as well as the world that we are a part of. Therefore, it becomes inevitable to ask what does this ‘Body’ mean? Is it limited to the ‘Body of males or whites or High caste people or just human beings alone or does body mean the entire universe as the body of God?  If it is inclusive, then it becomes more meaningful to affirm that  “Body is the site of violence and it has to become the site of liberation”. Then to achieve total human liberation which is the goal of Dalit Theology, it is essential that Total human liberation be experienced in concrete terms. It can be experienced in concrete terms only when liberation is extended to all people (that will include women and children), as well as the world we live in. In the context of Empire and caste, it is not possible to have a total human liberation as long as the language and culture of caste and empire speak of entities that are governed, ruled over and dominated in a hierarchically graded society where power, position, and exploitation flow from those above in this structure to those below them resulting in exploitation, oppression and dehumanisation.

Caste is a major determinant factor that decides on the basis of birth where one should live or reside, one’s occupation, one’s marriage partner (who one can and cannot marry), what political powers one can aspire for or wield, what material possessions can be owned, what jewels one can wear, if one can use footwear, enter temples, be buried in a particular cemetery. It also decides on the right to touch and to be touched in relation to other castes and outcastes. Dalits are in the bottom most rung of this caste hierarchical structure. So, there is exclusion and alienation with respect to Dalits in relation to resources, opportunities to education, employment, health and development measures. On the whole, the dignity of the human person is denied and the person is relegated to a subhuman level. Dalits cannot participate on par with the so called high caste people in relation to any aspect of human development, economic, political or religio -cultural activities.

The contention of this paper is that the Indian Church still continues its praxis upholding its faith and belief consciously or unconsciously more on the Dividing Body of Brahma than on the uniting Body of Christ. A positive and dynamic understanding of the key term ‘Dalit’ is essential as it can bring about a Transforming Dalit Theology not just for Dalits but beyond crossing the barriers of race, caste, colour and gender. There is also a gap in the exploration and understanding of this key term ‘Dalit’ itself. This paper takes a departure at this point to make Dalit theology a Transformative Mission Theology by becoming more practical, inclusive and embracing to achieve Total Human Liberation by exploring the term Dalit and looking at ‘This is my Body, this is my blood’ from a Dalit perspective.

This is sought through the following three sections:

1. The dividing Body of Brahma and its impact on the Indian Society

2. The uniting Body of Christ and its relevance to Dalits & others

3. Exploring a dynamic and positive meaning of the word ‘Dalit’ and its impact on ‘Constructing a Transforming Dalit Theology’.

6.1 The dividing Body of Brahma and its impact on the Indian Society

At the outset it is important to clarify the title in relation to the dividing and the uniting factors. In this paper, the dividing factor refers to the ‘Body of Brahma’ the Creator God in Hindu Religion and Mythology. The uniting factor refers to the metaphor that Paul uses to explain the unity of Christ with the believers (I Cor. 12:12) explaining Christ and his relationship to the Church (one body and many parts).  Although this metaphor of one body in relation to Christ is uniting as according to I Corinthians 12:12, when we look at Ephesians 6: 23, body parts are also hierarchically divided where Man as husband or male members get a higher place in the gradation based on their gender while women as wives or women are relegated to a lower place even within the Church. This forces us to explore another metaphor that is more inclusive and liberating in relation to one body. Therefore, this paper explores if John 15:5 where Jesus said, ‘I am the Vine and you are the branches’ will be a more inclusive metaphor to show the union of those who abide in Christ and Christ becoming more a unifying factor than a divisive one.

Body is a very important tool when it comes to constructing Theology as Theology is the collective reflection of the faith of a community based on their experiences of God in their lives. The Dalit experience is very much related to their bodies that are given the bottom most position in the caste hierarchy and thereby subjected to horrifying oppression and alienation. The Dalit Body is constructed, viewed and disposed as a polluting body that deserves the marginalization, degradation, deprivation and dehumanization.

Different Societies or communities construct the ‘Body’ in different ways and it has its impact on its cultures or vice versa. In order to have an understanding of the Body of Brahma and Christ, it is essential to see how they are constructed. Early Christianity was portrayed against a background of Greco-Roman or Jewish religion and culture. Christianity was explained with borrowing from surrounding cultures too.[29] Boyd says, “the third great and final confrontation of Christianity is with Hinduism. Christianity stands or falls as it fares with Hinduism. For one thing, as no other religious or philosophical tradition Hinduism has both a very developed intellectual and closed system of thinking added to that, it also had its own sociological system and world-view. In another context we have already seen that Sanskrit contains more philosophical and theological words than all the terms in Greek, Latin and German put together. That means that any theology, anywhere in the world, which interprets the message of the gospel of Christ, cannot be complete without the Indian contribution. Thus Indian Christian theology adds not only to the fullness of the Christian gospel but also a depth so far unknown to”.[30]The first confrontation was with Judaism and the second with Hellenism and beyond. The third and the final confrontation is with Hinduism. While it is true on one hand that the Indian philosophical system and theology has much to offer, it is also true that the Hindu philosophy and Vedas (Scriptures) support its own sociological systems and worldview that nourishes, supports and sustains the Caste system. Caste system is the greatest hegemony in history still operating for more than 3500 years built on the theory of Karma on functioning on the concept of Purity and Pollution dividing people on the basis of their birth, pinning them to a particular caste.

According to the Hindu religion Adi Purusha (the original person) created the universe with a Yawn! He wanted monitoring of this universe and therefore created two Gods as two sides of the same coin - Vishnu with the specific function of preservation and Shiva with the function of re-creation (sometimes he is referred to as God of destruction). Vishnu created Brahma who in turn created Human Beings from his body:

1. Head – Brahmins (entitled to read and interpret Vedas, do priestly role)

2. Shoulders – Kshatriyas (Warriors)

3. Thighs - Vaishyas – Traders

4. Feet - Shudras – Servants

5. Out castes - Mixed births from the above and born within the mixed group


The outcastes were termed untouchables on the basis of being impure and being polluting agents by touch. They were also called by other names. The government called them as ‘Depressed classes’, Census taken in 1931 called them ‘Exterior castes’ the Simon Commission in 1935 called then ‘Scheduled castes’, and Gandhi called them Harijans.

6.2 Role of  ‘Head’ in imposing hierarchical and oppressive nature in caste system

The Indian Society exhibits a hierarchical caste structure with Brahmins at the top of the triangle constituting a minority and the Shudras or servant class at the bottom constituting the majority. In every tier males enjoy an upper position in the hierarchical structure as a privileged group while women are relegated to a subservient role. The Dalits are the outcastes and are outside but placed at the bottom of the caste structure. Thus Dalit women bear the brunt of the burden structurally and in reality facing the four-fold discrimination!

The Brahmins having the privilege of coming out of the head of God Brahma, had the access to education, priestly role and the supreme position in the caste system. They imposed their supremacy by ordering all the castes to serve them. They divide the society on this principle that according to their caste rank, they had the right to rule over those below them and serve those above them.

6.3 Impact of the body of Brahma 

Thus we see that the body of Brahma is divisive by nature and keeps the people divided in terms of their stipulated roles in life and expected to fulfill dharma (duties) for each specific caste. The Brahmins at the top are the most privileged as they do not serve any other caste. The next two castes other than the Shudras are expected to serve the castes that are above their caste and rule over those below them. The servant class or the Shudras serve all the three castes. The difference between the Shudras and Untouchables is that while Shudras are touchables and non-polluting, the Dalits are both untouchables and polluting.

Therefore the Body of Brahma contributes to dividing people on the basis of caste marked from birth and inescapable. Unfortunately as in a class ridden society, there is no mobility from a lower level caste to a higher one. You can be thrown into the outcaste by inter-caste marriage.

6.4 The uniting ‘Body’ of Christ and its relevance to Indian Society and beyond  

The metaphor that Paul uses in I Corinthians 12:12 to describe the unity of Christ and his believers through the imagery of ‘One body but many parts’ and referring to Christ as the head within the body offers a very promising and radical way in which all people crossing all barriers of hierarchy can come together and experience joy and peace by celebrating the unity in diversities.

6.4a One Body but many parts as according to I Cor 12:12

Christ is a single Body with many parts. We are all baptised into that body of Christ and form the different parts of the Body of Christ. Here the many parts of the body that unite to form the body are all of equal value although their roles may be different. No one part of the body is given a higher rank over above the rest. Every part is dependent on others and no part of the body can say to another, ‘I do not need you’. Also when one part or member of the body suffers, the entire Body suffers with it and likewise when one part of the body rejoices, the entire body rejoices too. The interdependence and intra-dependence brings unity in diversity affirming every part of the body.

6.4b Role of ‘head’ as the leader in abolishing the hierarchical system

The role of the ‘head’ which in the secular as well as the Church’s life in all realms is conceived as having the highest position in a hierarchical manner to the other parts of the body with more power is very clearly explained by Christ at the last Supper when he demonstrates how power, positions and ranks need to be put at the heart of service to the least or those below that rank. Jesus emphasised that anyone who wants to be a leader needs to serve their followers, or disciples as Jesus did. What Jesus did was washing the feet of his disciples. Here we see the head at the service of the feet and not vice versa as we see in the caste system where the feet (shudras) are at the service of the head (Brahmins) and the others (Kshatriyas and Vaishyas).

6.4c Impact of the ‘Body’ of Christ on the Indian Caste-ridden Society

The body of Christ with reference to service, dependence and sharing the pain if any member of the body irrespective of how big or small the member may be is the central framework of reference.

Through this metaphor ‘One body but many Parts’ offers a revolutionary and a radical change to the ‘Body of Brahma’ that divides. While the ‘Body of Christ suggests and offers the unity in diversities where when one member of the body suffers, the entire body or all members suffers, the ‘Body of Brahma’ rules over creating domination, segregation, discrimination, dehumanisation, discarding people outside the villages, outside the market systems, outside the economies and opportunities as human garbage. The birth of a person in a particular caste is justified on account of the theory of karma and therefore their servitude and subjugation is also justified paving the way for perpetual and unending slavery.

Incarnation of Christ, his birth in a stable with the cattle and outside the main city, the poverty which he opted for and the plan of salvation not just including those at the periphery or margins but embracing the underside of history becomes life affirming and all inclusive. It proclaims the new creation that took place just by the birth and life of Jesus Christ. Therefore our calling today needs to be rooted in the particular commissioning that we receive for extending God’s reign on earth in all aspects of our life. Thus Oliver Davies rightly points to this saying, “This is thus a re-enactment of the incarnation at the level of each individual: a Trinitarian sending which is made actual to each and every one of us in the humanity of Christ’s embodiment which the Spirit makes present to us”.[31]  The Holy Eucharist provides a deeper meaning to the Dalits especially comparing it to the Body of Brahma which divides people, excludes and subjugates. On the contrary, even the bread that is broken representing the breaking/dividing of the Body for all people ultimately unites us all in Christ. Christ unites us with him and one another and the Father by giving his Body to all. So here breaking of the body of Christ unites us and should enable us to celebrate diversities with respect, love for one another and honouring each other.

7 Exploring the term Dalit and applying it to ‘This is my body, this is my blood’  through John 15:5

Exploring a dynamic and positive meaning of the word ‘Dalit’ and its impact on constructing a “Transforming Theology”

7.1 History of the usage of the term ‘Dalit’ in Indian and Hebrew Contexts

Jyotirao Phule born in 1827 was an activist, thinker, poet, social reformer, philosopher, writer, scholar, theologian, educationist and a revolutionary. He was the first one to use this term in India as he and his wife Savithribai gathered the Bahujans, Outcastes, Muslims and Adivasis to fight against Caste hegemony. The root word of Dalit in both Sanskrit and Hebrew is ‘Dal’. This word Dalit in both Hebrew and Sanskrit have a range of meanings as mentioned above. In Sanskrit, as a noun it can be used for masculine, feminine and neuter genders. As mentioned in the earlier chapter, while Phule used it in the social reformation to describe the condition of Dalits as , Arvind P Nirmal, the pioneer in Dalit Theology used it in articulating a Christian Dalit Theology in 1970. After him several Theologians from the Indian Soil have worked to make Dalit Theology a liberation Theology that focuses on the ‘Total Human Liberation of Dalits’ who are denegrated to a sub-human status.

7.1a History of the usage of the Word ‘Dalit’ in the context of Dalit theology

The meanings of the word ‘Dalit’expounded thus far even after nearly four decades focus on the meanings such as crushed, split, rent-asunder, broken and destroyed. James Massey rightly points out the similarity in Hebrew and Sanskrit in relation to the root word Dal and other forms. In both languages they mean ‘poor’ and afflicted too. In Hebrew, the word Dal is used in a less Masculine form. It is used for both the branches of Olives as well as Vine but more in reference to vine. So Dalith is also a name for girls in the Jewish culture and denotes the slender, gentle and young branches of Vine.

7.1b History of the usage of the Word ‘Dalit’ in the Hebrew language in the OT context

The word Deleth in Hebrew refers to something that hangs – a door, the leaves/pages of a book from it spine, a bucket that hangs with a rope to draw water, it also refers to hair (again probably s it hangs in the case of long hair). In Ezekeiel 17:5&6, the word Dalith is used for the branches of a vine in a metaphorical way as a bride and bridegroom. There are other places in Jeremiah and psalms they are used to denote branches of Olive and the door to the lips. Although it both languages it is used to denote poor, crushed, oppressed etc, I am more interested to explore the meanings such as gentle, slender , beautiful and one that has the capacity to connect with and bear fruit. So, just as Paul on his first visit to Athens interprets the one altar dedicated to the unknown God among hundreds of idols that the city was filled with. He could lean on this one altar to preach the message of good news and salvation that Christ brought about. In a similar manner, I strongly feel that holding on to this one – one of the many meanings of Dalit that differs from Sanskrit, namely ‘Slender and gentle branches or branches of Vine’. This is the Kairos moment for the Dalit Theology to experience and extend the energy, and the revolution that this positive meaning can bring or promises to bring not just for Dalits but for all people. This will extend God’s reign that we have seen at the beginning of this paper as the eschatological message and the promise that ‘Liberation’ needs to bring.

7.2  Dalit  identity and human dignity: prospects and possibilities

For four long decades, Dalit Theology has been struggling to give meaning to all Dalits, leave alone the others from the dominant castes that flare up when they even hear the word, Dalit. The discussion on the appropriateness of using this name for the Dalits has been in discussion and debate for long time. Even Dalits who are in the urban areas and Dalits who have escaped from this identity by moving away from their native places are hiding this identity, reluctant and hesitant to accept this identity. Although Dalit consciousness forms an important datum and source for doing Dalit Theology, a majority of Dalits do not want to be reminded about their past life or oppression that their forefathers have gone through or even what they have been through. While the name Dalit is the only identity that the Dalits have chosen for themselves to represent both their condition and desire to be liberated from such a humiliating experiences, the following factors also widen the gap between the academic articulation of Dalit Theology and the practical way in which the life and witness of the Church testifies to the liberation of Dalits and other people:

1. While it is true that initially Dalits were happy to have the power to name themselves and find an identity that perfectly described their situation and desire to be out of it, increasingly, Dalits themselves shy away from this name and debate if they should be identified as Dalits at all.

2. The harsh and negative meanings of the word Dalit makes it harder for people who understand their plight and want to come out of it to still hold on because of the stigma that this name, identity as well as ambiguity that it carries with it for people who think they have crossed their worst forms of experience and just want to forget it and not be reminded of the negative thought, feelings and pain that is associated with the oppression of Dalits.

3. A model that is exclusive leaving out the oppressors, dominant people and those who do not believe in Dalit Liberation need to find a positive, encouraging and constructive meaning in the same word to uphold it, appreciate it and accomplish ‘Total Human Liberation’ that will include all people definitely the Dalits initially and foremost to taste the Liberation and let others join in make Liberation complete as it is compelling that we work together (Model at river Nile in relation to Moses where the women with different identities come together for liberation).

4. The word Dalit needs a break through just as the symbol of cross went through from shame to glory, failure to success/victory, from death to life, from crucifixion to resurrection in order to make sense for Dalits themselves initially and to all others too.

It is strongly felt that looking at the Dalit as branches of the Vine in relation to John 15:5 will bring in a new perspective of Dalit leading us to acknowledge the pain that Dalits have gone through or still go through and at the same time make it a symbol of success, fruition and practical Liberation for the oppressed as well as the oppressive communities! When Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches, those who remain in me and I in them will bear much fruit.”. This productive indwelling, interdependent nature making the branches fruitful in a relationship not just with the Vine but the external environment, drawing the inner strength from the vine that sustains gives Dalits not just the outcastes and untouchables but all who live, move and have our existence in Christ to show that by bearing the fruits of the spirit too (Gal 5:28).

8 Implications of Body and Blood for Mission Theology from a Dalit perspective

From a Dalit perspective to take the Dalit as branches of vine in relation to the indwelling aspect of Christ and all who follow Christ, once again extends the call for mission, a call to live in Christ and do what Christ taught us and showed us as a model.  This gives a new mission model too.  While we have seen how the Vine and the branches provide a new metaphor for one Body, we also need to look at the wedding at Cana to capture the essence of what Christ’s blood can mean in addition to all what has been understood so far.

8.1 Wedding at Cana

Wedding at Cana becomes very significant not just as the first miracle or ‘Sign’ that Jesus performed.  It is not just a sign that provided more and best wine when wine ran out.  We see that Mother Mary intervened and Jesus says, ‘it is not yet my time’.  Here as Devasahayam, one of the pioneer Dalit Theologians points out, Jesus’ time comes when it is time for the last, least and the lost.  It is the time when the uninvited or people at the periphery or margins are invited to the centre to be partners in God’s mission.  It is not just in relation to people as the servants who were at the periphery were asked to go to the centre to the chief Steward with the contents from the jars.  It is extended even to the non-living things such as the jars whose content until then was only used at the periphery for ritual cleaning purpose.  The stone jars permanently stayed outside with its contents being used for washing feet and not drinking.  Jesus uses very ordinary people and ordinary things for his extra-ordinary mission as important instruments or partners.  So it both that God’s salvation is for the entire creation and the creation also participates with God in this process.

So mission from the margins is seen in this sign.  This is what probably Jesus reminds us in addition to all what is understood from last supper from different perspectives.  Jesus reminds us that participation in god’s mission is inclusive, collective and wipes out social stratification.  This is what Jesus calls us to be engaged in to make Mission transformative and liberating.

Finally when Jesus says, this is my blood, we need to remember that only the branches that abide in Jesus can bear fruits but ultimately, the fruits that we bear, is what is identified as his blood. Here the fruits are gathered and crushed and end up in Jesus’ hands as his blood’! The imagery of the Jesus as the Vine, we (people, Churches) as the branches bearing fruit by abiding in him and God being the Vine dresser who prunes the branches to bear more fruit, brings in a beautiful oneness in Christ’s body.  The branches unlike parts of the body will not have a hierarchical gradation.  This provides a better metaphor for one body and many parts.  This will break open new paths to define God’s mission to be engaged in Transformative Mission that is justice oriented, in solidarity with all people especially those at the margins and inclusive – including the oppressors (being mindful of their liberation too) to achieve total human liberation which cannot otherwise be done leaving out some people or the created world.

 8.2 Grain of wheat and the call to be in God’s mission

As Jesus says in John 12:24, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit’ and calls us to be prepared to suffer and die when we follow Christ and be in his mission. Wheat has a lot of significance here in relation to final judgement.  As according to Matthew 25:31-44, we see two groups of people being judged on the basis of what they did and did not do.  Here whatever was done to the least was done to Jesus himself.  Here we see that the least are part of Christ’s body.  The bread that Jesus took can also signify the fruits of the one grain of wheat ready to fall into the earth and die to bear more fruits.  In one sense this denoted Christ who died and brought everlasting fruits.  In addition this could also mean the harvested wheat that was collected, cleaned, crushed and made into bread – here all the meaning of Dalit can be found in relation to splitting and crushing.  This crushed wheat is in the hands of Jesus as bread when he says, ‘This is my body’.  This can once again not just call us into his mission but also warn us that if we are like weeds or like those who did not do God’s will and care for the last, least and the lost who are part of his body, we can be condemned too.  So it stands out as a reminder, a call, a warning and an assurance that Jesus gives his own body for us but he also reminds us that this body is to remind us of what he has taught us about the grain of wheat, bread of life and the reason to love and care for those at the margins.

So the factors that TTL depicts specially in relation to the gravity of Christianity having shifted from North and West to South and East, as well as the important paradigm shift of Mission from the margins or periphery moving to the centre rather than mission to the margins alone is crucial.  One should also take note of the recent UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)[32] that can be seen as a project that Christians in union with people across religions, cultures, regions and languages can do Together Towards Life.  These two documents – TTL and SDGs should go hand in hand, they should be brought together for the Churches to be engaged in a dynamic mission by becoming and witnessing to what Jesus said as ‘This is my body, this is my blood’.

9 Conclusion

Thus the dividing body of Brahma brings in divisions, discrimination and dehumanisation whereas the uniting Body of Christ to which we belong to as members brings life, connectivity and communion not just with our own people but people with different identities as we are all one in Christ (Gal 3:28). If we are in Christ then we cannot serve Caste.  So it is either Christ or Caste. When we choose Christ we then form a community of communities in Christ serving one another in Love. It then becomes not an option but an obligation for the head to serve the feet. The values seen in the dividing body of Brahma are totally reversed assuring affirming the communion with God the Father and the Holy Spirit through Christ. This will lead to bearing the fruits of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).

Positive contributions of exploring a dynamic and positive meaning of the key term Dalit will help in making Dalit Christian Theology a Transformative Mission Theology by offering life affirming and liberating Theology that will bridge the gap between the articulation of Dalit Christian Theology and the praxis within the Church in India and beyond. This exploration will take Dalit Theology in new important directions and contribute to critical debates and constructive renewal both in the academic as well as the life and witness of the Church at the underside of history. This will provide an inclusive, empowering and embracing model which we require to cross the many barriers that challenge our communities in this pluralistic world beyond the Church.

We become one in Christ through ‘Holy Eucharist’.  Christ reminds us of the last judgement that whatever we do to the least we do that unto Christ, so they are in his hand as the bread and the body.  So ‘this is my body’ also in additions to everything gives us a reminder of our judgement and to do what we need to do.

Dalits – We are all Dalits in a very positive sense as branches attached to Christ the Vine.  No hierarchy.  This is Good News.  The fruits we bear ultimately becomes Christ’s blood that he nourishes us with.  It is not the polluting blood rather life-giving and purifying blood.

When we do this, we participate in the Eucharist and foretaste the banquet that Christ sets before us where people from North, East, West and South (NEWS) will be there.  This calls us for a transforming Mission and Evangelism.  Mission here calls us to Empower downtrodden, Embrace Oppressors giving a space for repentance, Explore new meanings, Experience Christ and become his body and blood. Thus when we are one in Christ, from a Dalit perspective, Mission becomes Exciting, Embracing, Efficient, Empowering and Effective.

Elizabeth Joy



"St Geevarghese Mar Gregorios", North East American Diocese of MOSC

Unodc Report on Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form of Slavery.

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"Nu Sustainable Development Goals"

"Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes." International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 2 (April 2014 ): 68-70.

Un Refugee Agency: 2016 Is Deadliest Year for Refugees Crossing to Europe Via Central Mediterranean. September 2016.

Adrian, Edwards. Global Forced Displacement Hits Record High. Geneva: The UN Refugee Agency, June 2016.

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Deshponde, Satish and Geetika Bapna. Report Prepared for National Commission for Minorities. Delhi, 2008.

Devasahayam, V. Frontiers of Dalit Theology. Delhi: ISPCK, 1997.

Dorrien, Gary. "Book Review - 'Liberal  Theology:  A  Radical  Vision' by Hodgson, Peter C." The Journal of Religion 88, no. 4 (October 2008): 541-542.

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Joy, Elizabeth. "Mission in the 21st Century." In World Mission Conference. UCZ Theological College, Zambia, 2004.

Martin, D B. The Corinthian Body. Michigan: Crafters Inc, 1995.

Massey, James. Roots: A Concise History of Dalit. Revised ed. Delhi: ISPCK, 1994.

Massey, James. "Historical Roots." In Indigenous People: Dalits, edited by James  Massey. Delhi, India: ISPCK, 2006.

Massey, James Roots: A Concise History of Dalits. Revised ed. Delhi: ISPCK, 1994.

Prebble, Edward. "Missional Church: More a Theological (Re)Discovery, Less a Strategy for Parish Development

" Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review 46, no. 2 (November 2014).

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[1] "St Geevarghese Mar Gregorios", North East American Diocese of MOSC

[2] Edwards Adrian, Global Forced Displacement Hits Record High (Geneva: The UN Refugee Agency, June 2016).

[3] Unodc Report on Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form of Slavery.

[4] Un Refugee Agency: 2016 Is Deadliest Year for Refugees Crossing to Europe Via Central Mediterranean (September 2016).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Unodc Report on Human Trafficking Exposes Modern Form of Slavery.

[7] Edward Prebble, "Missional Church: More a Theological (Re)Discovery, Less a Strategy for Parish Development

" Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review 46, no. 2 (November 2014).

[8] Resource Book: World Council of Churches,10th Assembly, Busan, 2013 (WCC, 2013). P.34

[9] " The Unity of the Church: Gift and Calling - the Canberra Statement, 20 February 1991"

[10] Ibid.

[11] Missio Dei - The word Mission comes out of the Latin word missio meaning ‘a  sending’ with reference to what an individual or group wants to do or is convinced to do.  We distinguish between “mission” (singular) and “missions” (plural).  While the first term refers to the missio dei (God’s mission), that is God’s involvement with the world; the latter refers particular forms, related to specific times, places, or needs of participation in the missio dei. Ultimately God’s mission remains indefinable, it should never be limited by our narrow confines. But, the most we can hope for is to formulate some approximations of what God’s mission is all about for our times, and the realities that persist today. It is these harsh realities that compel us to reformulate our response to God’s presence in the world. (Paper presented as Keynote address by Elizabeth Joy at the World Mission Conference held in Zambia in April 2004, organised by the UCZ Theological College in Zambia).


[12] James Massey, "Historical Roots," in Indigenous People: Dalits, ed. James  Massey(Delhi, India: ISPCK, 2006). P.6.  Also see the Sanskrit-English Dictionary quoted here by Massey.

[13] Elizabeth Joy, "Mission in the 21st Century," in World Mission Conference (UCZ Theological College, Zambia: 2004).

[14] "Together Towards Life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes," International Bulletin of Missionary Research 38, no. 2 (April 2014 ).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Rollin G. Grams, "Transformation Mission Theology: Its History, Theology and Hermeneutics," Transformation 24, no. 3/4 (July & October 2007). PP 193-212.

[20] Gary Dorrien, "Book Review - 'Liberal  Theology:  A  Radical  Vision' by Hodgson, Peter C," The Journal of Religion 88, no. 4 (October 2008).

[21] V. Devasahayam, Frontiers of Dalit Theology (Delhi: ISPCK, 1997). P18

[22] Satish and Geetika Bapna Deshponde, Report Prepared for National Commission for Minorities (Delhi: 2008). Pp…

[23] James  Massey, Roots: A Concise History of Dalits, Revised ed. (Delhi: ISPCK, 1994). Pp 5-9

[24] Tia Ghose, "Genetic Study Reveals Origin of India's Caste System", Live Science

[25] katti Padma Rao, Charavaka Darshan: Ancient Indian Dalit Philosophy (Madras: Gurukul Lutheran Theological College & Research Institute, 1997). p32

[26] Massey (1994), p31 quoted by J Massey from Moon, Vasant (ed): Dr. Babasaheb  Ambedkar writings and speeches, vol 7, 1990, p.315.

[27] Human Rights Watch Special Report (Hyderabad, 2006).

[28] Marianne Ejdersten, WCC

[29] D B Martin, The Corinthian Body (Michigan: Crafters Inc, 1995). PP Xi & Xii

[30] Sumithra Sunand, Christian Theologies from an Indian Perspective (Bangalore: Theological Book Trust, 1990). P239.

[31] Oliver Davies, "The Interrupted Body," in Transformation Theology: Church in the World, ed. David Oliver Paul Janz, Sedmak Clemens(London & New York: T & T Clark, 2007). P55.

[32] "Nu Sustainable Development Goals" 

Elizabeth Joy

Elizabeth Joy



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