Saturday, March 17, 2018

India’s Dalits: A Yearning for Freedom

June 17, 2010 by  
Filed under Going Global, Monthly Articles

One by one, 68 adults in the North Indian tribal village knelt for prayer. They had heard that Jesus offered freedom-and that’s what they yearned for.

Life in their village wasn’t easy. Known as Dalits, or “Untouchables,” they often were mistreated by neighbors and forced to do menial jobs to eke out a living.

But when they learned about Jesus, they found a hope they had never known before. Then a GFA pastor began to meet with them regularly, and a vibrant church was soon started.

This little group of Dalits, mostly cobblers, is a small part of about 300 million people-a population larger than the United States-who endure a life of slavery under an ancient social system. More than 3,000 years old, the Hindu-based caste system continues to permeate Indian society today, even though officially banned by India’s constitution. Even in the twenty-first century, caste discrimination leaves no area of life untouched.

What Does It Mean To Be a Dalit?

To grow up as a Dalit is to be told every day, in a thousand different ways, that you are worthless. Polluted. Inferior. And as life goes on, you may begin to believe it would be better if you had never been born. Under the subjugation of higher-caste people, you are forced to believe that it is your birthright to suffer prejudice, abuse and mistreatment until your dying breath. Considered the lowest of the low, a pariah in your society, you will likely be denied access to the village temple and even the community well.

As a child, you may be sold into bonded labor and work in cramped quarters with no ventilation, carry heavy loads that permanently injure your growing body, or weave carpet threads until your fingers bleed—all just to receive pennies toward paying off your family’s debt.

Receiving an education is a distant dream—if dreamed at all—and you have little chance of evenlearning to read. In your community, 90 percent of the people are illiterate.

In order to earn a living as an adult, your job may be disposing of human waste, scavenging for rags or digging graves to bury the dead. As long as you live, you have no hope of ever being free from this slave-like existence. You know nothing of basic rights and human dignity. You are “untouchable.”

But then one day you hear news of a loving Savior who paid a price to free you. It is nourishment for your soul, and you are hungry to know more.

Stepping Toward Freedom

After centuries of suffering under higher-caste groups, Dalits are stepping forward to speak out for their basic rights and dignity as human beings.

Thousands of India’s Dalits gathered in Delhi on November 4, 2001, to announce the beginning of a mass exodus from the caste system. Dalit leaders spearheaded the event, making a statement to their nation and the world that their people could choose any faith they wanted. In addition to endorsing Buddhism as a religion that offered social freedom, they expressed their openness to Christianity. These leaders also mentioned their appreciation for the love and support Dalits had received from the Church in India in their quest for freedom and dignity.

This one-day event has given the Body of Christ an unprecedented open door to reach millions with the Gospel. India’s 300 million Dalits are joined by other low-caste groups who face similar prejudice, injustice and oppression—and who also yearn for liberation. Together, approximately 700 million men, women and children are open to hearing the Good News.

Responding to the Opportunity

Gospel for Asia has responded to this huge opportunity with an increased number of missionaries, radio broadcasts and a higher volume of literature reaching Dalit and low-caste homes. And through the GFA Bridge of Hope outreach to children, the message of God’s love is being spread as well—one child at a time, one family at a time.

Today, little children in Dalit communities are receiving an education and learning English, which helps them break out of the cycle of poverty and oppression. They enjoy one or two hot meals a day and receive a free yearly medical checkup. Most of all, children who believed they were worthless are learning of their great value to a Creator who loves them dearly.

Because of GFA Bridge of Hope, churches now meet in areas previously hostile to the Gospel. Often, when parents see that missionaries care about a need that is very important to them, their opposition melts away. And as children come home singing Christian songs and telling Bible stories, entire families are joyfully embracing salvation in Christ.

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