[Vision2020] The Scourge of Caste: Hindu and Christian
ngier006 at gmail.com
Sat Jun 5 13:08:23 PDT 2021
Hail to the Vision!
For those who do not receive the DNews, this was my column on Thursday. The
long version is attached and it will appear in Pocatello's Idaho State
Attempts at reparations are beginning slowly (see conclusion of long
version), but from these small streams may a mighty river of justice flow.
*The Scourge of Caste: Hindu and Christian*
by Nick Gier
In 1995, I was on research leave at United Theological College
in Bangalore, India. There I met a Christian student by the name of
Johnson Roosevelt Petta. Christian Indians usually have biblical names
(avoiding everything Hindu), but Johnson’s family obviously had great
affection for two American presidents.
Since the arrival of British missionaries in the early 19th
century, millions of “untouchables” (now called Dalits) converted to
Christianity primarily to escape the caste system. Some converts were
higher caste Hindus, and they naturally became leaders in the native
churches. Tragically, they reintroduced caste discrimination in many
I was amazed to learn that Johnson was a Dalit Christian, and
he described to me the church he attended in Hyderabad. A heavy dark
curtain hung down the center and there were separate entrances and toilets
for Dalit worshippers. Every Sunday the high caste minister led
When I started reading Isabel Wilkerson’s book *Caste: The
Origins of our Discontents*, I was initially skeptical about her use of a
term so closely associated with Hinduism. I’m now convinced that caste,
which represents the oppressive structures of society, is a better way to
explain systemic discrimination against the downtrodden.
Wilkerson shows that it is caste, not race, that explains reason why in
1922 a Black man Jim Rollins was exonerated of the crime of miscegenation
when authorities found out that his white wife Edith Labue was a Sicilian
woman, a person of the inferior “Iberian race.” This is casteism, not
racism, where undesirable white people were put down by high caste
Wilkerson lays out “Eight Pillars of Caste,” and I have space
to comment on two. The first is “Divine Will and the Laws of Nature,” and
on this issue the Hindu scriptures are very clear about the four distinct
castes of brahmins (priests and teachers), kshatriyas (warriors and
rulers), vaishyas (merchants and craftspeople), and shudras (farmers). The
Dalits are “outcastes” and as such they have few rights and no privileges.
European slave holders also appealed to divine will to justify
their domination over people of color. Because Ham didn’t avert his eyes
from a naked and drunken Noah, God condemned him and his sons to be “the
lowest of slaves” (Gen. 9:25). The Book of Leviticus established slavery as
divinely sanctioned: “You may buy male and female slaves from among the
nations that are round about you (25:44).
Many Europeans and Americans read Genesis 9 and drew the unwarranted
conclusion that Ham’s descendants were dark skinned. (There were just as
many white slaves as colored in the ancient world.) Confederate leader
Thomas Cobb stated that God, in “his wisdom and mercy constituting them
thus suited to the degraded position the Negroes were destined to occupy.”
In their book *Southern Slavery as It was*, Moscow minister Doug Wilson and
neo-Confederate Steve Wilkins declare that “there has never been a
multi-racial society which has existed with such mutual intimacy and
harmony” (p. 24). They acknowledge that the Bible approves of owning other
humans, so they argue that slave holders only sin when they treat their
Another pillar of caste is the prohibition of intermarriage. Traditional
arranged marriages in India have always followed caste distinctions, but
“love” marriages, more frequent and more tolerated, usually do not. Honor
killings (usually of the woman) still happen frequently, and they are not
just restricted to the poor in rural villages. In June 2020, in Telangana,
a professional couple from different castes married in secret, but when the
wife’s family found out, two of her uncles kidnapped and murdered the
Interracial marriages had been illegal in the U.S. since all states
followed Virginia in 1691. In 1958, 94 percent of those polled approved of
laws against miscegenation. In 1967, the Supreme Court finally ruled in
1967 that a mixed-race couple Richard and Mildred Loving had a
constitutional right to marry.
On January 16, 1865, Gen. William T. Sherman ordered that
400,000 acres of coastal land in South Carolina and Northern Florida be
given, in 40 acre parcels, to freed Black farmers. A racist and eventually
impeached Andrew Johnson reversed this order five months later.
In 1862, Congress passed the Homestead Act which gave, over 126
years, up to 160 acres of land at no cost to millions of white settlers in
the West. At the top of the caste pyramid railroad barons received free
sections of land adjacent to their tracks. Land is wealth and without land
low caste Black Americans began with a deficit that most have not been able
to overcome. It is high time to consider reparations.
Nick Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho.
Email him at ngier006 at gmail.com.
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.
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