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Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is caste?

A: Caste is how Hinduism divides the people of India and consists of four main groups or castes. Each caste has thousands of subcastes. Each subcaste represents a unique group of people who have a specific trade or occupation that they must perform. They are born into their caste, so they have no choice.

  1. At the top are the Brahmins. They consist of about 3% of the population and are made up of Hindu priests and very powerful people that essentially control the country. They are believed to have come from Brahma’s head and Brahma is the creator god in Hinduism.
  2. The next group are called Kshatriya’s and are primarily made up of warriors and rulers. They make up about 7% of the population  and included bankers, landowners and other very powerful people. They are believed to have come from Brahma’s arms.
  3. The third caste level is called Vaishyas and they are traders or merchants. They make up about 12% of the population and are believed to have come from Brahma’s thighs.
  4. The lowest caste level is called Shudras or slaves. The government designated term for them is OBC, which stands for Other Backwards Castes. They make up about 52% of the population and are believed to have come from Brahma’s feet. This group includes those such as farmer or, potters.
  5. At the very bottom are those without caste, otherwise called outcastes, Dalits or Untouchables. They make up about 26% of the population. This group includes tribal people, Muslims, Christians and Buddhists.

Q: What is an “untouchable”?

A: An untouchable is a person who is considered too low to be in the caste system because of their birth. They are below the four levels of the caste system and includes anyone who touches human excrement, sweat or spit. So street sweepers and garbage collectors would be considered Untouchable. In addition, those who eat the flesh of cows or pigs, or who cause an animal to die, such as a fisherman, are considered Untouchables.

Untouchability was supposedly outlawed, so as a result, this group of people are now called Dalits (meaning ‘broken people’), harijan, or the current politically correct term, Scheduled Caste. Other groups of people people that are also technically considered Untouchables are, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and Tribals.

Q: What is an OBC?

A: OBC is the government designated term for the lowest caste, which are also called Shudra or slaves in Hinduism. It stands for Other Backward Castes (or Class). It is hard to believe that people do not think twice about calling 50% of the population of India–or about 600,000 people–backwards, but they don’t.

The constitution of India guarantees or reserves for them, 27% of the public sector jobs. In actuality, they are given far fewer than this amount. In 2015, a study showed that OBC’s only held about 12% of the reservations.

Q: I thought caste was eliminated with the Indian constitution in 1949?

A: When India attained independence their new constitution banned discrimination on the basis of caste. But that has done little to stop discrimination and violence against the majority of the population, which are lower caste. A 2009 study by the Robert F. Kennedy Center found that in over 97% of villages:

  • Marrying outside your caste is forbidden
  • Dalits were forbidden to touch water pots or utensils of non-Dalits
  • A Dalit could not rent a house in a non-Dalit area

Education is one of the main ways that the lower caste are discriminated against. The schools they have available to them are very sub-standard. Teachers are often poorly trained and don’t show up. Unless a student can essentially teach themselves, they are unable to obtain entrance into a high school or university.

Q: Why is caste reconciliation needed?

A: People from different caste groups often despise each other, even if they are both low caste. They are taught not to socialize with each other, eat with each other, or intermarry. If someone does marry an individual from a different caste, they will bring embarrassment to their families and may get disowned by their family.

Each caste group has leaders and TSI meets with these leaders in order to help them. Since Sunil is very knowledgeable politically, he is able to help them strategize about how to bring attention to an injustice. He eats with them as well as leaders from several different castes at the same time, which is unusual. He helps them look past their differences and see common goals. In the process he discusses the love of Jesus and encourages them to become a Truthseeker, as they look into the claims of Jesus.

Q: Who is Bali Raja?

A: Bali Raja was a king in low caste Indian mythology. He was called the Sacrificed King because he gave himself for his people. TSI uses Bali Raja as a redemptive analogy when contextualizing the gospel for low caste Indians, much like The vast majority of India (about 80%) is either low caste (OBC) or Outcaste (Dalit). They are the original or aboriginal peoples of India.

Around 1500 BC, a group of Aryan’s from Persia, invaded what we now know as India, and conquered them. Over time, the Aryans developed a system of thought and culture, which we call Hinduism. Through this system, they were able to subdue the masses by keeping them in conflict with each other.

Because these two groups of people have different origins, they also have different mythological stories. One of the mythological stories of the low caste or aboriginal Indians, is that of Baliraja.

He was a mythological king who is also known as the Sacrificed King, since he gave his life for his people. TSI uses this as a redemptive analogy, much like Don Richardson (Christian anthropologist and missionary) discusses in his books, Eternity in Their Hearts and Peace Child. It is also similar to what the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17 when he was at the Areopagus in Athens. The Baliraja concept has been accepted by leading missiologists today.

Having a cultural bridge like this helps facilitate understanding and acceptance of the gospel and is an important reason why there has been a significant growth in the numbers of those who consider themselves followers of Jesus.

Q: Who are the real social reformers that the lower caste people (majority of India) revere?

A: Mahatma Phule, Dr. Ambedkar, Savitribai Phule and Pandita Ramabai.

Q: Who was Ambedkar?

A: Dr. BR Ambedkar was an Indian lawyer, politician and social reformer, and was the primary author of the Indian constitution. He lived from 1891-1956 and was from an Untouchable/Dalit (Mahar caste) background. He received doctorates from Columbia University and the London School of Economics.

While drafting the constitution he fought hard to have basic human rights included in it for low caste and untouchable Indians. He was a sharp critic of the Hindu Caste system and the socio-economic deprivation that it produced for the majority of Indians. He often opposed Gandhi, since he felt that Gandhi only gave lip-service to helping the Untouchables, and Gandhi often resisted important reforms.

Q: Who was Mahatma Phule?

A: Jyotirao Phule, also called Mahatma Phule out of respect, was a social reformer who lived from 1827-1890. He was born into a low caste family (Mali or gardener caste) and worked as a florist for a very wealthy family. He received his education from the Scottish Mission High School and married Savitribai.

Since women were unable to attend school, he taught his wife to read and write. Together they spent much of their lives advocating for women. They were also the first to open schools for women, as well as for Untouchables.

He advocated for the concept of Baliraja (the mythological king of low caste people who sacrificed himself for his people) and also taught that Jesus was the second Baliraja.

Q: Who was Pandita Ramabai?

A: Pandita Ramabai was an Indian scholar, social reformer and women’s rights activist who was born in 1858 and died in 1922. Because she was born into a Brahmin family, she was able to receive an education, unlike most women of her time. Her father even taught her Sanskrit, which was a very difficult language to learn and was reserved for Brahmin men.

She gained notoriety at an early age because of her ability to memorize and recite large portions of the Hindu scriptures. Later on, she married outside of her caste and converted to Christianity. She traveled around the world lecturing on women’s rights and the ills of the caste system.

Q: Did you know that previous Hindi Bible translations used words that are offensive to the majority of Indians?

A: Most Bible translations in India use Hindi, which is the most commonly used language in India. The Hindi language is really a language for the high caste, which is spoken by less than 25% of the population. In the Hindi language there are many different gods, many of whom want to bring harm to low caste people. Because of this, many low caste people do not want to read Bible translations in this language.

That is why TSI decided to translate the New Testament into the language of the low caste people about 20 years ago. The translation was approved by the International Bible Society and Wycliffe Bible Translators. This New Testament has been well received by many low caste people and many would like to receive a copy once funding is obtained to print more.

Q: Is it true that Gandhi did not really care that much about the low caste people, even though he is often portrayed like he did care?

A: Gandhi was primarily interested in ending the British colonial rule in India. He was good at manipulating the western media and made it seem as though he was standing up for the rights of low caste and Untouchables. In fact, he firmly resisted many of the civil rights advocated for by Dr. Ambedkar.

In his early years, Gandhi lived in South Africa, just prior to Apartheid. He is on record for making many disparaging comments about the indigenous Africans, as well as low caste Indians. He felt they were both morally and intellectually inferior.

For an in depth analysis and comparison of Gandhi and Dr. Ambedkar, please read The Doctor and The Saint by Arundhati Roy.

Q: Does TSI work with those who are being discriminated from all religions?

A: Truthseekers International is well known for our ability to work with and represent anyone who is being oppressed. Very commonly, religious minorities such as Christians, Muslims and Buddhists are discriminated against. Sunil and the TSI staff meet with the various leaders of these factions, and devise a plan to address the problem.

Q: What is the significance of foot-washing?

A: TSI started performing foot-washing ceremonies many years ago. Westerners that are friends of TSI come to India and wash the feet of low caste Indians and untouchables. Much like Jesus washing the feet of His disciples as an act of service, westerners do this as a way to esteem and value their Indian brothers and sisters.

Trips like this are often done over the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday and include a visit to the Indian Parliament to see work that TSI does, and to see various other social activities. If you are interested in one of these trips, please contact TSI.

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