Dalit Christians and Caste Consciousness in Pakistan
This study explores caste discrimination in Pakistan against untouchable (Dalit) converts to Christianity. During the nineteenth century in India, many Dalits converted to Christianity to escape caste persecution. In the 1870s in Punjab, a mass movement to Protestant Christianity flourished among the Dalit Chuhra caste. The Chuhras were the largest menial caste in Punjab and engaged in degrading occupations including sweeping and sanitation work. By the 1930s, almost the entire Chuhra caste converted to Protestant Christianity. In 1947, during the partition of India, the majority of Chuhra converts in Punjab became part of the Protestant community in Pakistan. After Partition, many uneducated Chuhras were confined to menial jobs in the sanitation industry. Today, the stigma of Dalit ancestry is a distinct feature of social discrimination against Chuhra Christians in Pakistan.`Caste consciousness' in Pakistan is connected to norms of purity and pollution. While not as pronounced as India, purity and pollution in Pakistan relates to the concept of pak (clean) and na-pak (unclean). Because of degrading occupations as sweepers and sanitation workers, many Chuhra Christians in Pakistan are associated with `pollution.' This leads to multiple forms of social discrimination. Chuhra Christians respond to caste persecution through various modes. Through an analysis of church sermons, I argue that Chuhra Christians create `counter-narratives' as a form of protest against caste discrimination. These `counter-narratives' focus on veiling caste identity and creating a new genealogical history for their community that is not connected to Dalit ancestry. These counter-narratives also affect the development of `folk theology' which focuses on the concept of izzat or `respect.' Church sermons reveal that izzat has a theological dimension and shapes Chuhra Christian self-understanding in Pakistan.
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