KAIROS INDIA 2000
A PROCESS OF REFLECTION FOR SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

JAMES MASSEY *

 

At the outset I would like to offer my thanks to the organisers for inviting to deliver this keynote address at this very important Consultation on the theme "Kairos India 2000 - A Process of Reflection for Social Activists". I am happy with the theme of this Consultation, because I have been reflecting on this theme for more than two years now. One of the results of my personal reflection, was a draft study document namely 'Indian Kairos Document1 (A Theological Comment on the Socio-Political Crisis in India). This draft document has been published for the study purpose by Community Contextual Communication Centre, Delhi and a copy of the same has been made available to the participants of this Consultation. This document is addressed to the Indian Christian Church and through this an attempt is made to recapture the sense and meaning of Kairos as experienced especially by those belonging to tribals, Dalits and other weaker sections of Indian society (Dalit-Bahujan), living in the rural and remote hilly areas of India. Based on the present ongoing contextual crisis, an attempt is made to develop an alternative biblical and theological model, which hopefully should help the Indian Church/Christians not only to respond to the present time of crisis, but also to play her/his role in restructuring the socio-cultural and political life of India, which is responsible for keeping a vast majority of the population, particularly Dalits, tribals, women and other backward classes captive. This draft document can also help the social activists to enter into a process of reflection, because it draws our attention to the experience of historically oppressed Dalit-Bahujan communities for the last 3500 years.

Added to the centuries old oppression, Dalit-Bahujan communities are now targeted by recently re-emerged religion based phenomenon namely 'cultural nationalism', and also most modern phenomenon of globalisation of human society. The roots of the first phenomenon are in our ancient Indian religious traditions (part of the classical Hinduism) and the roots of the second phenomenon are in the historical context of the northern countries. We will be limiting our comments to these two phenomenon, but will be also looking to the nature of the demand of 'social justice', which is being made by the various Dalit-Bahujan communities. But before we do that, let us see, briefly, what is the meaning of word 'Kairos' and how it is related to the theme of this Consultation.

'Kairos' is a Greek word and it has been often used in the New Testament (the Bible) to express the meaning of 'time' in general sense, but at the same time it has been used in the special sense also, means times appointed by God, the opportunities given by Him to human beings. (Mark 1:15, Luke 19:44, Acts 17:26, 2 Corinthians 6:2, Ephesians 1:10, 5:6, Colossians 4:5, Titus 1:3 and 1 Peter 1:11). The experience of Kairos began in the New Testament with the birth of Jesus Christ and his ministry in this world. For example according to St. Mark Jesus began his ministry by proclaiming; "the time (Kairos) has been fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God draws near. Repent and believe in the Gospel". (Mark 1:5). The purpose of divine Kairos in Jesus Christ according to St. Paul marks the crisis of God's purpose. (Ephesians 1:10). Here St. Paul used the expression "the fullness of times" (Kairos). In his other letters to the Christians of different congregations, St. Paul told such is the moment or time of opportunity, which God offers, which Christians must fully seize it. (2 Corinthians 6:2, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 4:5). In all these places Kairos is used with the meaning 'favourable time' or "decisive point of time". Jesus himself used Kairos with this meaning as part of his lamentation on the people of Jerusalem, who refused to accept God given opportunity in him, because of which they will face a serious punishment, because they "did not recognise the time of God's visitation (Kairos)". (Luke 19:44).

Perhaps, we too in India - like the people of Jerusalem - have failed to recognise the Kairos from God. People of India in general, and Christians in particular, have all along been indifferent to the suffering, oppression and pain of Dalits, tribals and various other weaker sections of our Indian society. But at this point of time in our history, when impact of globalization is increasing on all the weaker sections in different forms; when Dalit-Bahujan including religious minorities are under various forms of violent attacks in different parts of the country; when the whole inhabited earth and the life on it, is faced with a serious threat; Kairos, the moment of truth, but at the same the moment of grace and opportunity, a favourable time in which God issues a challenge should be perceived by the Church and social groups, and a decisive action taken in response to it. Because as we approach to what is this Consultation has addressed as "Kairos India 2000', to which I want to call a precarious juncture in our history where, if the opportunity to take up the challenge is missed or allowed to pass by, the loss for the Church in India (including the social groups), for the Gospel, and for all the people of our country belonging to all faiths or no faith will be immeasurable.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem, because the people of Jerusalem did not recognise their Kairos. Does we who belongs to various social groups (including Church), to-day see our Kairos, which is at hand, which is in fact long begun. This is the opportune time when we need to begin of serious process of reflection, we need to analyse carefully signs of our times and different theologies or ideologies that we have been following till now. Yes, we have to begin a serious process of reflection immediately and I would like to make this beginning by reflecting on three issues, which is to me going to bring an on going challenge both to the social activists (groups) as well as to the Church in India in future:

I.        The Socio-Cultural System of India
II.       The Phenomenon of Globalization
III.      The Demand of 'Social Justice'

Among these three issues, the first issue is old one, which continues to be unchallenged; the second issue is, which has become visible in its present form at the end of this century and the third, the demand of 'social justice' by Dalit Bahujan has come on the surface, during the last quarter of this century and it is going to pick up further momentum as we will enter next century. So these three basic issues, are going to pose serious challenge to various social movements or groups (or social activists) as we approach 'Kairos India 2000'. Therefore at this moment, when we are approaching to the close of this century and moving toward the next century, we need to inter into a process of reflection on these issues in order to prepare ourselves, as social activists for the ministry of involvement and participation.

With, this I would like to close my introductory remarks about the theme of the Consultation and in the succeeding sections of this address I want to introduce the above three issues. First, I will deal with the historical development of the issue number one, which is to me a key to the problems of the Dalit-Bahujan. The other two issues are more recent ones; therefore I will deal with these very briefly particularly the last one, which I believe will be discussed in other sessions also. In the closing section, 1 will he dealing with the final question, how the 'Kairos challenges to Action'. I am not going to discuss the theological aspect of our subject, because there is going to be a separate session for this. (My theological views you can find in the draft 'Indian Kairos Document'.)

I.        The Socio-Cultural System of India:

The present socio-cultural system of our country is having the longest history. But no serious attempt has been made collectively to challenge it (except the individual attempts made by Mahatma Jotirao Phule and Dr. B.R. Ambedkar), because most of the reformers (including Church) have been concerned only about some 6f the discriminatory practices based on caste and untouchability. This is the reason that this system has not only grown stronger with the time (over 3500 years), but has given a birth to the perpetual structural inequality and injustice in our society. Some glimpses of the development of this system are given here for our reflection. (See for details: Massey, 1995, pp. 21-80).

The story of the present socio-cultural system had its historical roots in one of the earliest war conflicts, which took place between the first settlers of ancient India and the late comers. The second group addressed themselves as Arya and to first group they call as Dasa (Slave). The detail story of these two hostile groups is found in the ancient written source namely Rigveda (around 1500 BC). It is in the Rigveda, we find the first reference to the socio-cultural system, with which we are concerned today. According to Rigveda this system is having a divine origin. Because according to it, each part of our human society was formed out of the' body of the Creator God called Brahmma. A verse from the hymn which deals with this part of the story of the creation of this system reads as: "The Brahman (priests) was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya (Kshatriya, Warriors). His thighs became the Vaishya (traders), from his feet the Sudra (serving caste) was produced". (10.90.12).

But the point we need to remember here is that the above social system described in the Rigveda was only confined to the Arya, not to the first dwellers of India. Also after going through the text of the Rigveda, it becomes very clear that the first dwellers of India were, who today are addressed as Dalit and adivasi, but for Arya they were out-caste.

One result of the above war conflict described in the Rigveda was that at later stage, the opponents of the Dalit-adivasi, were able to divide them into number of communities. For examples today the Dalits alone are divided into more than 850 sub-groups. The Dalits are not only horizontally divided, but have also got vertically divided, based upon their prescribed occupations' purity or cleanliness by their opponents.

How the socio-cultural system got further strengthen, the story of this development is narrated in later Vedic literature, which includes Upanishads (800 BC - 600 BC), Bhagavad Gita (200 BC to AD 500) and Manusmiriti (AD 1-700). Again for example about Dalits, the Manusmiriti says:

The dwelling of Chandals (a Dalit community) and Sapaka (another Dalit community) should be outside the village; they should be deprived of dishes (apapatra), their property (considered) dogs and asses. Their clothes (should be) the garments of the dead, and their ornaments (should be) of iron, and their fool (should be) in broken dishes and they must constantly wonder about. (10.51.52).

The socio-cultural system, which got established with the coming of Ayra during the Vedic time, later continue to find its way strongly during the Muslim period (AD 700-1700), the British period (AD 1300-1947 and even during the post-Independence period (AD 1947 till date). For example about the Muslim period, we come to know from the writings of a foreign visitor Alberuni (AD 1030), who tells, how visibly the above system was prevailing at the time of his visit. He writes:

The Highest Caste is the Brahman. The next caste are the Kshatriya... After them follow the Vaishya... the Sudra, ... After Surd follow the people called Antyaja (Dalits), who renders various kinds of services, who are not reckoned among any caste, but only as members of a certain craft or profession. The four castes do not live together with them in one and the same place. They are occupied with dirty work, like the cleaning of the villages and other services. (Sachau 1989, Vol. 1, pp. 100-101).

After reading 'Alberuni's India', one becomes further convinced that by the time Muslim period the socio-cultural structure of our society has become stronger. This, it seem was very carefully planned, especially by controlling the right to education. About this, Alberuni in his second volume of work writes:

The Kshatriya reads the Veda and learns it, but does not teach it. He rules the people and defends them, for he is created for this... It is the duty of the Vaishya to practice agriculture and to cultivate the land, to tend the cattle and to remove the needs of the Brahman, the Sudra is like a servant to the Brahman, taking care of his affairs and serving.... Brahman, such as saying prayers, the recitation of the Veda, and offering sacrifice to the fire, is forbidden to him, to such a degree that, e.g. a Sudra or a Vaishya is proved to have recited the Veda, he accused by the Brahman before the ruler, and the latter will order his tongue to be cut off. (Sachau, 1989, Vol. l, p.136).

So if this was the case of Sudra and Vaishya at the time of the visit of Alberuni (AD 1030), what could have been the conditions of Dalits c6mmunities?

During the British period as far as the religion and social practices were concerned, they maintained the status quo and followed a policy of non-interference, "actively upholding and supporting the caste order". (Galanter 1984, p. l9~ Even the protection of caste was decreed by an Act of Parliament. In an Order, it was declared, "due regard may be had to the civil and religious usages of the natives..." (Kay 1859, p.375).

About the status of the socio-cultural system in post-Independence period (1947 onward) two official documents help us in understanding it. For example the Report of the first Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (1951) says about it:

Caste in Hindu society is still the most powerful factor in determining a man's dignity, calling or profession. Such a rigid caste-system is not found anywhere else outside India. All such professions involve handling of so-called dirty jobs, like tanning and skinning of hides, manufacture of leather goods, sweeping of streets, scavenging etc. are allotted to some castes also known as Harijans (Dalits), which are about 5 crores according to the latest figures available. (p. 1).

About the power of the socio-cultural system (caste system) a report of the Backward Classes Commission (known also as Mandal Commission) in 1980 said:

The real triumph of the caste system lies not in upholding the supremacy of the Brahman, but in conditioning the consciousness of the lower castes in accepting their inferior status in ritual hierarchy as part of the natural order of things. (p. 14).

Sometimes we hear that today this system has changed much. But the Mandal Commission report reminds us, about the real truth about this change in these words:

But what caste has lost on the ritual front, it has more than gained on the political front. This has led to some adjustments in the power equation between the high and low castes and thereby accentuates social tensions. Whether these tensions rent the social fabric or the country is able to resolve them by internal adjustments will depend on how understandingly the ruling high castes handle the legitimate aspiration and demands of the historically suppressed (Dalits-adivasi) and backward classes. (p. 20).

This in brief is the history of the socio-cultural system (known also as
Varian or caste system), which today is responsible for the structural inequality and injustice faced by Dalit-Bahujan. The continuity of the same old socio-cultural system, now as we move towards the end this century (Kairos India 2000), we find in the form of 'cultural nationalism' based upon the principle of 'hindutva'. Because according to the preachers of this nationalism, it is supposed to be rooted in the ancient Hindu value system. This new form of the 'cultural nati6nalism' going to be in the coming century a bigger challenge both to the Church as well as to the social activists to deal with.

II.        The Phenomenon of Globalization:

The Phenomenon of 'globalization' is the creation of northern countries; particularly the countries grouped as super power(s). Their intention behind this phenomenon is to globalize the human society, especially in the areas of economy, finance and communication. The phenomenon of globalization in the form of human power is in real truth without any control. Because to the system, which this has given birth, may be in the area of economic or finances, that does not recognize any boundaries such as political or national and even the boundaries of the natural world. Its main agenda is to create a world, what is being named as 'One World', from which actually a large percentage of people, particularly of southern countries are going to be excluded. This 'One World' of our time is rightly being compared with the "tower of Babel", which, according to the Bible, possibly was an attempt to create 'One World' by the people belonging to a super power of biblical time. But that attempt became destructive itself, in the same way, it looks the process of 'globalization' going to prove destructive also. (Raiser, 1997, pp. 23-26). Because as the phenomenon of globalization is reaching more and more southern countries, including our own country India, more and more people are getting excluded and marginalised particularly people belonging to the Dalit-Bahujan, which includes: Women, children, Dalits, tribals, landless farmers, workers, rural and urban poor. Because the four factors of production: land, natural resources (including water and forest), labour and capital upon which these sections of people's life has been depended, in future are going to be controlled by fewer and fewer, both globally as well as nationally. Even the nature of most of the welfare states (including India) of South is changing, because programmes such as 'structural adjustment' introduced under the globalization by the various international financial institutions are destroying the various schemes of social security carried on in these states.

Beside the role of the supper powers of the northern countries, one study in African context also talk about the possible role of the organized religions in the process of globalization. This study says about this point: "Organised religions like Christianity and Islam are extraordinary potent forces of globalization. The proliferation in Africa of various types of Christianity other than the ones which the European missionaries brought with them very early before Pentecostalism caught on world-wide, was clearly a revolt from the over powering globalising effects of the mainline Christian churches". (Paulinus Odozor in Vidyajyoyti, July 1999, p. 520).

Here I agree with Odozor, because the form of Christian faith, which we received from the European Missionaries, was not to the tune of Gospel of Jesus Christ found in the Bible. Because the Gospel of Jesus Christ is supposed to become part or rooted in each culture or local context instead of importing a cultural form along with it from the outside context. This point, the Indian Church (including the social groups) has to keep in mind, because it certainly going to have bearing on the response of the Church to 'Kairos India 2000'.

III.        The Demand of Social Justice:

The challenge, which comes to us through the demand of 'social justice' at various local levels from the excluded communities, is the result of either 'globalization' or 'cultural nationalism'. These communities, who are in need of 'social justice' are: women, children, Dalits, religious minorities, tribals, landless farmers, workers, rural and urban poor. All these in the broader category can be brought under 'Dalit-Bahujan', because they were first, the victims of the traditional socio-cultural system or what some people call 'cultural nationalism' and to-day these people in addition to their already cumulative domination of the past, are further getting victimised by the process of globalization. One result of all this will be that Dalit-Bahujan going to become further captive of the structural inequality and injustice in the areas of social and economic life. It is about this problem Dr. B.R. Ambedkar about 50 years ago, before the day of adoption of the Indian Constitution, gave a warning to us as nation. He said:

On the 26th of January 1950 we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of 'one man one vote' and 'one vote one value'. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of 'one person one value'. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril. We must remove this contradiction at the earliest possible moment or else those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy which this Assembly has so laboriously built up. (Debates, Vol. XI, p. 978).

Here we need to take note of the last sentence of Dr. Ambedkar's warning particularly these words "those who suffer from inequality will blow up the structure of political democracy". Dr. Ambedkar's prophecy already has become true and V.S. Naipaul's following words stand as a testimony to the same truth:

Independence was worked for by people more or less at the top; the freedom it brought has worked its way down. People everywhere have ideas of who they are and what they owe themselves… The Liberation of spirit that has come to India could not come as a release alone. In India, with its layer below layer of distress and cruelty, it had to come as disturbances. It had to come as rage and revolt. India was now a country of a million little mutinies. (Naipaul, 1990, p. 517.).

The above two views makes one point very clear that Dalit-Bahujan communities have now reached to a 'decisive point of time' or their 'Kairos', which possibly going to catch its momentum as Dalit-Bahujan communities will face the 'Kairos India 2000' ~s Kairos of Dalit-Bahujan going to bring the social groups (including Indian Church) to the real test of their historical moment or their Kairos means at that moment, which side ultimately they will take. We 'still has to see if the social activists will pass this test or not. Again it is now the right moment or the time of truth (Kairos), when the social activists should enter into the process of reflection before they decide to join with the Dalit-Bahujan in their struggle of liberation. In fact it will be the moment of their struggle for their liberation also.

IV.        Kairos: Challenges to Action:

The undergirded challenge, in the above reflection on the main theme of this
Consultation comes in the form of a call to decide, in whose side we as Church and the social groups (activists) going to take, when we will reach at a point of time, what this Consultation Galls as 'Kairos India 2000'. Are we going to stand (in solidarity) with Dalit-Buhujan or with the traditional dominant groups, who are going to fight in future more aggressively, the cause of 'cultural nationalism' as well as of 'globalization'. Both these phenomenon are dangerous in nature. Therefore these are going to further marginalia Dalit-Bahujan. Already painful cries are heard from the adivasi habitates, because their rights over the natural resources including 'land' are being taken away in the name of development; the Dalits as they are becoming more and more aware about their basic human rights are facing increased atrocities from the hands of their traditional oppressors; religious minorities are now directly under many forms of violent attacks, because the plurality of religions and cultures are facing a direct threats from the hands of the propagators of 'cultural nationalism'; the small farmers are faced with a new economic crisis, because of the 'structural adjustment programme' subsidies given to them are being withdrawn, and job opportunities even for the educated youths belonging to these communities are already on the decrease. The phenomenon of globalization also going to add a large portion of our country's population to the number of those people, who are living 'below poverty line' and the number of ordinary poor going to increase at the same time. A worst prediction has come from the World Bank, according to which India will have the largest concentration of illiterate population in the world by AD 2000. We will have 54.8% of the world's illiterate population in the age group of 15 to 19. Needless to say, a larger percentage of these illiterates will belong to Dalit-Bahujan. These are only some of the realities, which are going to be more in increase and its these, which are going to take the form of a challenge of 'Kairos India 2000'. Are we ready to face this coming challenge? It is here, I believe, a call comes for a process of reflection for the social activists including the Indian Christian Church.

In the context of above challenge of 'Kairos India 2000', the Church has to reflect on the spirituality, on which her members till now have been fed. This spirituality basically has been something otherworldly, purely private and individualistic in nature. On the other hand socio-cultural including political matters have been taken as affairs of this world, which have nothing to do with the spiritual concerns of the Church or her members. The call of 'Kairos' to the Church and her members is to review this attitude urgently.

There is a dire need for a prophetic spirituality - spirituality, which always call for repentance, conversion and change. It is confrontational in nature and it enables person to confront the evil and injustice. It is always ready to take stand. It always is rooted in social, economic and religious conditions of a particular time. It always brings hope for the victims or oppressed by denouncing the oppression and announcing the good news of salvation.

As the Church receives a challenge from the new context of Dalit-Bahujan, as they move toward ' Kairos 2000', the social action groups (activists) also are confronted with new challenges from the 'Kairos India 2000'. Their first challenge going to be with regards to their undertaking, in the light the two phenomenons on which we have reflected above. It is true during 70's and part of 80's the social activists were part of the local action and they worked with the people in their struggle. Then time came when many of them withdraw to involve in the documentation, publications and studies. These are also important for a movement, because for a live struggle or movement, action-reflection (praxis) have to go side by side. But our problem is, we become extremists either on the action side or reflection side. Both the extremes are bad, because these can not lead a struggle or a movement to its end goal. So the first call from the 'Kairos India 2000' comes to the social activists to once again affirm their commitment to the local action and return to the struggle of people to work with them, not for them and continue to reflect on the action taken at the same time.

In 80's and 90's in some regions of India it has been experienced, if some time the activists are not careful, they can make the people depended upon them. In that way the whole process of empowerment of people get lost. Most of the struggles or movements of Dalit-Bahujan have suffered with this weakness of the social activists. It is here again the social activists face with a challenge from the future coming 'Kairos India 2000' to change their life style and methodology of working with the Dalit-Bahujan.

The most serious challenge, which the future social activists going to face from the Dalit-Bahujan is: how much they are going to be committed to the change' or empowerment of the Dalit-Bahujan. Because some of us, who belong to these communities have experienced, during 80's and 90's, many of the Church senior workers (including some Bishops) and the senior most social activists, willingly, with a lot concern joined the struggle of Dalit-Bahujan, but they went to a extend, which gave them the right of control over the struggle or movement of the Dalit-Bahujan. We have found even such social activists never trusted the abilities of empowered Dalit-Bahujan persons. This problem we have experienced with the overseas partners also, who have supported for a long time the work of those social groups, which worked among the Dalit-Bahujan communities. Their such attitudes even have put a big question mark about their integrity and commitment of empowering the Dalit-Bahujan. Therefore the challenge to both the Church leaders as well as the social activists going to increase by the time we will catch up with the 'Kairos India 2000'.

Ultimately the Church and the social activists have to accept the truth that people (in the case of India Dalit-Bahujan) are subjects of their own destiny and history and therefore one day they have to become their own voices. It is at that point of history; the role of the social activists or the Church will change. Because finally its the Dalit-Bahujan, who has to lead themselves to their final liberation. This point needs further serious reflection.

Let me close my reflection on "Kairos India 2000" by adding that the challenge of the 'Kairos' is addressed to all those, who are willing to honour the life on this mother earth, who are going to trust in human potentials, who are willing to work with the victims of century old socio-cultural system and newly surfaced phenomenon of globalization. Because the final call of 'Kairos' comes to the social activists (including Church) is: they should move from 'ambulance ministry' to a 'ministry of involvement and participation' in the struggle of the Dalit-Bahujan for their liberation (including their own), so that a 'just society' may get established, in which peace will reign with justice, and all will live with fuller redeemed dignity and recovered humanity.

Selected Bibliography:

  1. The Kairos Document - The Challenge to the Church, (A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa), Revised Second Edition, WM B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., Michigan, 1986.
  2. European - Kairos Document, (For a Socially Just, Life Sustaining and Democratic Europe), May 1998.
  3. (Draft) Indian Kairos Document (A Theological Comment on the Socio-Political Crisis in India drafted by James Massey), Community Contextual Communication Centre, Delhi, 1999.
  4. Massey, James: Dalits in India - Religion as a Source of Bondage or Liberation with Special Reference to Christian, New Delhi, 1995.
  5. Raiser, Konard: To Be the Church - Challenges and Hopes for a New Millennium, WCC, Geneva, 1997.
  6. Odozor, Paulinus lkechukwu: Emerging African Alternatives to Globalization in Vidyajoti, Journal of Theological Reflection, Vol. 63, No. 7, July 1999 Delhi, pp. 516-23.
  7. Constituent Assembly Debates (Official Report), Volume M, 14-11-1949 to 26-11- 1949, New Delhi. Naipaul, V.S.: India a Million Mutinies Now, London, 1990.
  8. Sachau, Dr. Edmund C. (Ed.): Alberuni's India, Volumes I and II, New Delhi, 1989.
  9. Shrikant, L.M.: Report of the Commissioner for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes for the period ending 31st December, 1951, Government of India, New Delhi.
  10. Report of the Backward Classes Commission, (also known as Mandal Commission) First Part, Volume I & II, Government of India, New Delhi, 1980.
  11. Kaye, John William: Christianity in India - A Historical Narrative, London, 1859.
  12. Galanter, Marc: Competing Equalities, Law and the Backward classes in India, Bombay, 1984.

* The Rev. Dr. habil. James Massey currently is a member of the National Commission for Minorities, Government of India.

(The above address was delivered at the Consultation on the theme "Kairos India 2000 - A Process of Reflection for Social Activists" organised by BUILD on 1-2 August 1999 in Bombay, India)