Caste system among Indian Christians

The caste system among Indian Christians often reflects stratification by sect, location, and the castes of their predecessors.[1] The caste system today is beyond Hinduism (Hindu society) and it exists in most religions in India.[2]

Caste distinctions among Indian Christians are breaking down at about the same rate as those among Indians belonging to other religions. There exists evidence to show that Christian individuals have mobility within their respective castes.[3] But, in some cases, social inertia causes old traditions and biases against other castes to remain, causing caste segregation to persist among Indian Christians.[4][5][6][7][8]

Christian priests, nuns, Dalits and similar groups are also found in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.[9]

There are sections of Christians in India like in Odisha, West Bengal, etc. who do not belong to any caste having lost caste at conversion. Sometimes, this practise from generations has contributed to an integrated society.



In the Indian state of Goa, mass conversions were carried out by Portuguese Latin Catholic missionaries from the 16th century onwards. The Hindu converts retained their caste practices due to the involuntary nature of the mass conversions. This led to a lack of conscientious belief in Christian practices which perpetuated the existence of the social stratification. The Portuguese colonists, even during the Goan Inquisition, did not do anything to change the caste system. Thus, the original Hindu Brahmins in Goa, the only caste that could be ordained, now became Christian Bamonns and the Kshatriya and Vaishya Vanis became Christian noblemen called Chardos . Those Vaishya Vanis who could not get admitted into the Chardo caste became Gauddos, and Shudras became Sudirs. Finally, the Dalits or "Untouchables" who converted to Christianity became Maharas and Chamars (an appellation of the anti-Dalit ethnic slur Chamaar).

Tamil NaduEdit

Christians in the state belong to the Paravar, Mukkuvar, Udayar (caste), Nadar, and Adi Dravidar.Mass conversion of Paravars date back to the Portuguese era and the conflict over the Pearl Fishery Coast between the Paravars and Arabs in the 15th century A.D.The Paravars converted 'en masse' to Christianity and became the subjects of the Portuguese King. The Nadar conversion to Christianity dates back to the British Colonial era in the 18th-century. The first to initiate the conversion was Mylaudy Village by Sir Ringle Taube. Later in the 19th century, the Vellalars, the Udaiyars and Schedule castes embraced Christianity. The cohesion of jatis among caste Christians (e.g. Paravas) and the strength of caste leadership are noted by scholars to be much stronger than comparable predominantly Hindu castes in Tamil Nadu.[12]

Under the lawEdit

Indian law does not provide benefits for "Untouchable Christians", however Christians have been agitating for the same rights given to Hindu, Buddhist, and Sikh Scheduled castes.[13] Despite the activists point of discrimination due to social tag or status, which doesn't go away, K. G. Balakrishnan asked: "Could the Christians admit that they practise caste system and that Dalits (among them) face social discrimination requiring reservation to uplift their cause? This is not all that easy."[14]

Some Christians also oppose the proposed labeling of "Christian Scheduled castes" because they feel their identity may be assimilated. Pastor Salim Sharif of the Church of North India notes "We are becoming another class and caste."[15]

Caste discrimination among ChristiansEdit


Presently in India, more than Soctant. In the Catholic church high caste Catholics control 90 per cent of the Catholic churches administrative jobs while the majority Roman Catholics are dalit christians . According to Dalit Christianswebsite, out of the 156 catholic bishops, only six are from lower castes.[16]


Untouchable Catholics have spoken out against discrimination against them by members of the Catholic Church. A Dalit activist with a nom-de-plume of Bama Faustina has written books that are critical of the discrimination by the nuns and priests in Churches in South India (CSI).[17] During 2003 ad limina visits of the bishops of India, Pope John Paul II criticized the caste discrimination in the Catholic Church in India when addressing bishops of the ecclesiastical provinces of Madras-Mylapore, Madurai and Pondicherry-Cuddalore, the three archbishops of Tamil Nadu. He went on to say: "It is the Church's obligation to work unceasingly to change hearts, helping all people to see every human being as a child of God, a brother or sister of Christ, and therefore a member of our own family".[18][19]

Dalit ChristiansEdit

Mass conversions of lower caste Hindus took place in order to escape the discrimination. The main Dalit groups that participated in these conversions were Chuhras of Punjab, Chamars of North India (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh), Vankars of Gujarat and Pulayas of Kerala.[20] They believed that “Christianity is a true religion; a desire for protection from oppressors and, if possible, material aid; the desire for education for their children; and the knowledge that those who have become Christians had improved”.[21] Christianity was thought to be egalitarian and could provide mobility away from the caste. Even after conversion, Dalits were discriminated against due to the “residual leftover” practice of caste discrimination.[22] This is attributed to the predominant Hindu society they lived in.The environment and power structures of the society they engaged in was the same. Sometimes the only change seen was their personal religious identity. In many cases they were still referred to by their Hindu caste names. Example Pulayans in Kerala, Pariah in Tamil Nadu and Madigas in Andra Pradesh.[23]

The first people converted by Jesuits of the Madura Mission to Christianity were members of Nadars, Maravars and Pallar .[24] Caste based occupations held by Dalits also show a clear segregation which perpetuated even after becoming Christian. Occupational patterns (including manual scavenging) are prevalent among Dalit Christians in north-west India are quite similar to that of Dalit Hindus.[25] Occupational discrimination for Dalit Christians goes so far as to restrict not only employment but also clean sanitation and water.[26] Inter caste marriage among Christians is also not commonly practiced. For example, Syrian Christians in Kerala do not marry Dalit Christians. Even intermarriage between Bamons and Sudras in Goa is quite uncommon. Sometimes marriage to a higher class Hindu is preferred to marriage to a Dalit Christian. Discrimination against Dalit Christians also remained in interactions and mannerisms between castes for example ‘lower caste christians’ had to close their mouth when talking to a Syrian Christian.[20] Even after conversion segregation, restriction, hierarchy and graded ritual purity remained. Data shows that there is more discrimination and less class mobility in rural areas.[20]

In many cases, the churches themselves perpetuated the caste system. Some churches referred to the Dalits as ‘New Christians'. It is a derogatory term that classifies the Dalit Christians in order to allow other Christians to look down upon them. In many churches in south India Dalits had either separate seating or had to attend the mass from outside.[27] Dalit Christians are also grossly underrepresented amongst the clergy.[28] There are a few churches that accept the reality of castes in Christianity and discrimination towards dalits. Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and the National Council of Churches in India have backed changes in the church and law to benefit Dalit Christians.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Christian Castes Archived 2006-11-29 at the Wayback Machine Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. ^ "Beyond Hinduism: Is caste a religious or a regional problem?".
  3. ^ Fuller, C. J. (March 1976). "Kerala Christians and the Caste System". Man. New series. 11 (1): 53–70. JSTOR 2800388.
  4. ^ "Christian caste". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved 14 June 2015.
  5. ^ Struggle for justice to Untouchable Christians Brojendra Nath Banerjee, Uiliyāma Kerī Sṭāḍi eyāṇḍ Risārca Seṇṭāra. Page 42: "At stake is the fate of 16 million Christians of SC origin, who form 70–80 percent of the Christians in the country"
  6. ^ Carol Henderson Garcia, Carol E. Henderson 2002:40 "Today about 70 percent of Christians are Dalits"
  7. ^ Radhakrishnan 2005:23
  8. ^ Azariah 1985:5
  9. ^ Panchanan Mohanty; Ramesh C. Malik; Eswarappa Kasi (2009). Ethnographic discourse of the other: conceptual and methodological issues. Cambridge Scholars. pp. 39–116.
  10. ^
  11. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-28. Retrieved 2015-11-09.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  12. ^ Kauffman, S. B. "A Christian Caste in Hindu Society: Religious Leadership and Social Conflict among the Paravas of Southern Tamilnadu." Modern Asian Studies. 15, No. 2, (1981)
  13. ^ "By 2050, India to have world's largest populations of Hindus and Muslims".
  14. ^ "Do Christians also practise caste system, asks SC". Times of India. July 20, 2007.
  15. ^ Sharif interview 17 November 1996
  16. ^ Problems and Struggles
  17. ^ A palmyra leaf that sears us Archived 2007-10-13 at the Wayback Machine The Hindu – September 16, 2001
  18. ^ "Address to the Bishops of India on their ad Limina visit". Retrieved 17 November 2003.
  19. ^ Papal Address to Bishops of Madras-Mylapore, Madurai and Pondicherry-Cuddalore Archived 2008-09-22 at the Wayback Machine ZENIT – November 17, 2003
  20. ^ a b c Dalit Christians In India Sobin George 2012
  21. ^ South Indian Missionary Congress. 1908. ‘The Report of Conference Held at Madras’
  22. ^ [‘Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and its Implications’, Complete Revised Edition, Chicago: Chicago University Press] Dumont, Louis. 1980.
  23. ^ [‘Caste-based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the Need for Reservations’, Working Paper Series, II(04): New Delhi: Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.] Louis, Prakash. 2007.
  24. ^ [The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Vol. 2, No. 3 (Sep., 1996)] David Mosse.
  25. ^ [ ‘Rural Christian Community in North West India’, New Delhi] Dogar, Vidya Sagar. 2000.
  26. ^ Jose, Kananaikil. 1990. [‘Scheduled Castes Converts and Social Disabilities: A Survey of Tamil Nadu’]
  27. ^ Louis, Prakash. 2007.[ ‘Caste-based Discrimination and Atrocities on Dalit Christians and the Need for Reservations’, Working Paper Series, II(04): New Delhi: Indian Institute of Dalit Studies.]
  28. ^ [Indian Dalits find no refuge from caste in Christianity] BBC, sept 14 2010


  • Azariah M. The Un-Christian Side of the Indian Church. Alit Sahitya Academy, 1985.
  • Kenneth, Ballhatchet (1998). Caste, Class and Catholicism in India, 1789–1914. Routledge. ISBN 0-7007-1095-7. Retrieved 2007-04-24.
  • Fuller, C.J.Indian Christians: Pollution and Origins. Man, New Series, Vol. 12, No. 3/4. (Dec., 1977)
  • Henderson, Carol. Culture and Customs of India. Greenwood Press, 2002.
  • Koshy, Ninan. Caste in the Kerala Churches. Bangalore: Christian Institute for the Study of Religion and Society, 1968.
  • Manickam, Sundararaj. Studies in Missionary History: Reflections on a Culture-contact. Christian Literature Society, 1988.
  • Radhakrishnan, P. Perfidies of Power: India in the New Millennium. TR Publications, 2005.
  • Michael, S.M.Untouchable: Dalits in Modern India. Lynne Riener Publishers, 1999. ISBN 1-55587-697-8
  • Webster, John. The Christian Dalits: A History. Delhi: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK), 1994.

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