Pastor and scholar talks Dalit feminist theology during brown bag lunch
by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service
LOUISVILLE — Scholar and pastor the Rev. Dr. Evangeline Anderson-Rajkumar moved to the U.S. from her native India 12 days before Michael Brown, an 18-year-old African American man from Ferguson, Missouri, was shot and killed by a white police officer. Brown’s covered body lay on the street for nearly four hours while police investigated, an act that outraged many people in the community and around the nation.
Anderson-Rajkumar, who preached during Wednesday’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity service at the Presbyterian Center Chapel, said she saw in the shooting and its aftermath parallels with India’s Dalits, who are outside that country’s caste system. She said her family moved from a village, where “oppression is so common you don’t think about it — you just accept it,” to Bangalore in the hope that family members would never again hear the term “Dalit.”
India’s 32 million or so Dalits, a word that means “broken” or “scattered,” are punished if they “transgress the boundaries” of social expectations, she said during a brown bag lunch session Wednesday. While Dalits’ bodies are considered by Brahmans, the highest Hindu caste, to be “perpetually and permanently polluting,” she said the bodies of Dalit women are considered “touchable and so accessible.”
Dalits who are Christian believe like Christians around the world that human beings are created in the image of God, she said. “That is where the image of Brahmans stands in absolute contrast to the image of the body of Christ,” she said. “The body is the site on which the battle of the caste system is fought, where violence is perpetuated.”
It took a Supreme Court ruling to allow Dalit women to enter a temple — but when they did, the temple had to be purified. Dalits are “preyed upon and violated every day, but Dalit resistance is part and parcel of who Dalits are,” she said. “That is where Dalit theology and Christology come together very powerfully. Both deal with bodies, hope, resurrection and new life.”
Anderson-Rajkumar is pastor of two churches in Corydon, Indiana — Gethsemane Lutheran Church and St. Peter’s Lutheran Church. In a question-and-answer session following her 30-minute talk, she said about 80 percent of India’s Christian population is Dalit. “Caste and Christ cannot go together,” she used to tell her students. “You choose. You cannot serve them both.”
A self-described “person of hope,” she said Jesus’ resurrection is “the starting point” for her hope, but there are others.
The woman who was healed of a hemorrhage she’d had for 12 years by touching the hem of Jesus’ clothes is “to me the story of resurrection from social death. Jesus calls her ‘daughter.’ She is reborn as a new being.”
Groups working on justice issues have goals “that inform what we do and what we are engaged in,” she said. “If our goal is just to have a relationship with people of other faith communities, then dialogue is enough. But that is an empty goal, in my opinion.”
“Our ultimate goal is life in abundance for all,” with “women and men of different faiths coming together for the common goal of justice,” she said. “How I wish the church would practice that true meaning of ecumenism! Any dialogue that contributes to this is absolutely welcome.”
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