• unlimited access with print and download
    $ 37 00
  • read full document, no print or download, expires after 72 hours
    $ 4 99
More info
Unlimited access including download and printing, plus availability for reading and annotating in your in your Udini library.
  • Access to this article in your Udini library for 72 hours from purchase.
  • The article will not be available for download or print.
  • Upgrade to the full version of this document at a reduced price.
  • Your trial access payment is credited when purchasing the full version.
Buy
Continue searching

The social, economic and religious impact of conversion on Mahar converts to Buddhism and Christianity in select villages of Maharashtra

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2011
Dissertation
Author: John Mathew Prasad
Abstract:
Many Dalits who are at the lower strata of the Hindu hierarchy have chosen conversion away from Hinduism as a way to reject the social discrimination that was meted out to them. Western colonial rule and Christian missionary activities have encouraged the Dalits to strive for social emancipation. The discrimination was founded upon the theory of "pollution." The disabilities based on discrimination also included denial of economic and educational resources to the Dalits. The Mahar caste in Maharastra provides a good example to understand the role of religion in the social emancipation efforts of the Dalits of India as they were the pioneers of a movement seeking emancipation through conversion to two religions simultaneously. The present study compares the social, economic and religious impact of conversion on those who converted from Hinduism to Buddhism and Christianity in three nearby villages away from urban centers in Maharastra. The first village had about 45 Christian Mahar households, the second about 25 Buddhist Mahar households, and the third about 25 Hindu Mahar households. Ethnographic research done among these Mahar villages studied the social interactions, economic life and religious life and practices. A survey was done of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu households in these three villages. While the government reserved jobs and educational opportunities for Mahars who were Hindu and Buddhist but not Christian, this did not mean that Hindu and Buddhist Mahars were better off socio-economically. Rather, my research found that Christian Mahars were significantly better off socio-economically than either Buddhist or Hindu Mahars. This difference was largely a result of the fact that Christians gained associations with the outside developed and modern world through the Church. The encounter and interaction of those in Hinduism or Buddhism was limited to the traditional communities that they interacted with for centuries. The provisions available to the Christian Mahars through the Church also provided them opportunities for education and outside employment. This study thus supports the conclusion that conversion to Christianity has played a significant role in the social transformation and emancipation of the oppressed communities.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS……………………………………………………….. xiv LIST OF TABLES… ……………………………………………………………….. xv ACKNOW LEDGMENTS………………………………………………………….. xvi Chapter 1. INTRODU CTION…………………………………………………. ……… 1 The Context…………………………………………………… ………… 1 Resear ch Concern………………………………….. ……………… 6 Research Proble m………………………………………………….. 7 Signi ficance of This Study…………………………… ……………… 7 Research Statement………………………………… ………………. 9 Delimitati ons………………………………………........................... 9 Scope and Limitat ions………………………………………………. 9

2. REVIEW OF LITERATURE………………………………………………. 11 Definiti ons of Conversion…………………………………………… 12 Other Definition……… ……………………………........................... 18 Caste and Varna…………………………………………….. 19 Untouchability ………………………………………………. 21 Previ ous R esearch………………………………………………….. 22 Mahar Conver sion to Buddhism…………… ……………… 23

Ethnographic Studies… …………………………….. 23

Sociological Studies…… ……………………………. 33

vii

History of Christianity among Mahars……………………………… 35 Wr itings of Ambedkar………………………………… …………….. 41 On Caste and Var na………………………………………… 41 On Rel igion…………………………………………………. 42 On Hindui sm………………………………………………… 43 On Chri stianity………………………………………………. 44 On Buddhis m………………………………………………… 46 On Conver sion……………………………………………….. 48 Contemporary Dalit literature……… ………………………………... 49 Dalit vo ices…………………………………………………… 50 Dalit theology……………………………………………….. 51 Hindu Politics and Dali t conversion………………………………… 53 Gandhi and Dal it conversion………………………………… 54 The Sangh Pari var and Conversion……………....................... 57 Conversi on and economic relations…………………………... 62 Conversi on and Reservation………………………………….. 64 Conclusi on……………………………………………………………………. 65

3. METH ODOLOGY…………………………………………………………… 67 Research Statement…………………………………………… ………….. 68 Deli mitations…………………………………………………………. 68 Resear ch Procedure… ………………………………………………. 69 Ethnographic Study…………………………………………………. 70

viii

Preliminary Research………………………………………………. 70 Position of the Resear cher………………………………………….. 73 Daily Schedule……… ………………………………………………. 75 Interviews……………………………………………………………. 77 Survey…… ………………………………………………………….. 79 Literatu re and Documents…………………………………………… 80 Research Questions… ……………………………………………….. 81 Important T erms…………………………………………………….. 82

4. RESEARCH S ETTING……………………………………………………… 86 The Geographical Settin g……………………………......................... 86 The st ate of Maharastra…………………………………………….. 87 The District Ahmadnagar……………………………………………. 91 The Tahsil Pathar di………………………………………………….. 98 The Villages Tisgaon, Shirapur and Mandave………………………….. 100 Tisgaon ………………………………………………………. 100 Shirapur ………………………………………………………. 103 Mandave… …………………………………………………… 104 The village Map………………………………………… …………… 105 Tisgaon………………………………………… ……………. 106 Mandave… ………………………………………………….. 109 Shirapur ………………………………………......................... 111 The Historical Setting… …………………………………………….. 113

ix

The State……………………………………………………… 114 Background…………………………………………… 114 The Mus lim s………………………………………….. 115 The Mughal E mpire………………………………….. 116 The Mar athas……………………………………….. 118 The British……………………………………………. 120 The Social Setting……………………………………………………. 121 The Castes i n the Village……………………........................ 121 The vocations i n the Village………………………………….. 122 The socia l interactions in the Village………………………… 125 The Economic Setting… ……………………………………………… 127 Sources of Incom e and Caste………………………………… 128 Source s of Income and Religion………………...................... 129 Sources of I ncome and Famines in Ahmadnagar…………….. 130 The Political setting… ………………………………………………. 133 Electora l Politics and Caste…………………………………. 134 The Bharatiy a Janata Party………………………………….. 135 The Republican Party of India and other Dalit parties……….. 135 The Indi an National Congress………………………………. 136 The Religious Setting… ………………………………………………. 138 The Hindus…………………………………………………… 139 The Muslims …………………………………………………. 141

x

The Buddhist s……………………………………………….. 142 The Christians ……………………………………………….. 143 Educational Set ting…………………………………………………… 144 Schools and Educational Facilities…………………………. 144 Literacy……………………………………………………… 144

5. CO NVERSI ON IN PERSPECTIVE………………………………………… 146 Perspectives on Conversion………………………………………….. 146 The Hindu Response to Conversion …………………………. 147 To Chris tianity……………………………………….. 147 To Buddhism…………………………………………. 148 Conversion and Politica l Leaders…………………………….. 149 Conversion in t he View of Dalits…………………………….. 150 Conversion of Dalits in the Christian perspective…………….. 151 Meaning of C onversion………………………………………………... 153 To the Convert to Buddhism…………………………………… 153 To the Convert to Chris tianity…………………………………. 156 To the Non-Convert High Caste………………………………. 158 Conversi on and Democratic Politics………………………………….. 159 The Debate on Convers ion…………………………………………….. 159 Background……………………………………………………. 160 Beginni ng……………………………………………………… 161 Course of the Debate………………………………………….. 162

xi

Issues…………………….………………………… . 162 Legal Issues…………………………………. 163 Part icipants………………………………………………….. 166 Conclusion………………………………………………………………….. 169

6. LIFE A ND INTERACTION IN THE THREE VILLAGES……………….. 170 Tisgaon……………………………………………………………… 170 The Mahars in Ti sgaon……………………………………… 171 Mahar wada…………………………………………. 171 Houses ……………………………………………….. 172 Education and Employment………………………….. 173 Lif estyle……………………………………………… 174 Financial Stabil ity…………………………………… 175 Social Statu s………………………………………….. 176 Religion and Fait h…………………………………….. 176 Shira pur………………………………………………………. 178 Maharwada…………………………………………… 178 Houses………………………………………………… 178 Education a nd Employment……… …………………… 179 Lif e style………………………………………………. 180 Financial Stabil ity…………………………………….. 180 Social Statu s…………………………………………… 180 Religion and Faith…… ……………………………….. 181

xii

Mandave……………………………………………………………… 182 Mahar wada…………………………………………………… 182

Houses……………………………………….. 182 Education and Employment…………………. 183 Lif e Style… ………………………………….. 183 Financial Stabil ity…………………………… 183 Soci al Status…………………………………. 184 Reli gion and Faith…………………………… 184 Con clusion…………………………………………………………… 185

7. IMPACT OF CONVERSION…… …………………………………………... 187 Introducti on…………………………………………………………… 187 Categorizin g the Villages by Religion of the Mahars………………… 188 Impact of conversion………………………………………………….. 190 Research Questions …………………………………………… 191 Social Im pact………………………………………………… 192 Research Question 1.a …………………………… 192 Resear ch Question 1.b………………………… 195 Econom ic Impact……………………………………………… 198 Research Question 2.a………………………… 198 Resear ch Question 2.b………………………… 200 Stat istical Findings From My Survey…………………………. 200 Religious Impact ………………………………………………. 202

xiii

Research Question 3.a………………………… 202 Resear ch Question 3.b……………………… 203 Futur e Impact……………………………………………….. 204 Research Question 4………………………… 204 For Further Research……………………………………………….. 207 Appendix 1. SURVE Y OF MAHAR VILLAGES: QUESTIONNAIRE ………………… 210 2. LIST O F INTERVIEWS …………………………………………………… 211 3. BUDDHIST – CHRISTIAN GROUP STATISTICS……………………….. 213 4. CHRIST IAN – HINDU GROUP STATISTICS ……………………………. 214 LIST O F REFERENC ES CITED……………………………………………… 215

xiv

LIST OF TABLES

1. RELIGION CROSS TABULATION: FAMILY MEMBERS EMPLOYED OUTSIDE AREA ……………………………………………………………….. 198

xv

LIST O F ILLUSTRATIONS

Sketch of village Tisgaon…………………………………………………… Page 109 Sketc h of villageMandave……………………………………………………. Page 111 Sketch map of village Shirapur.………………………………………………. Page 108

xvi

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to begin by saying that I got into the program and am able to complete it, simply because God wanted me to. God used numerous people around me at every step of my rather long jour ney through this program. To acknowledge them and thank them enough would not be possible through this page. Nevertheless, I am attempting to at least mention that the sacrifices of all those who loved the Lord and loved me are not forgotten. The person who asked me using his authority over me to go to the US and do my PhD was Rev. P. T. Chandapilla, who brushed aside my suggestion that I do it in India. Imm ediately to stand with me was my sister Bala Lalli, who made it possible for me taking care of everything including all the money that was needed. She along with her husband Dr Ashok Lalli provided everything that I needed and paid all the fees during my first year at Trinity as I was yet to receive any scholarship. My younger brother Prakash, my sister Lalitha and several other family members provided help in many ways while I had too many responsibilities on my shoulders, including the care of my ailing parents. Dr. Paul Hiebert, who had inspired me tremendously while I sat in his classes in I ndia in 1982, was instrumental in getting me to Trinity and arranging everything for me. He had personally visited me at Jubilee Memorial Bible College, India and discussed with me the prospects of coming over to Trinity. I want to thank all my professors at Trinity who were such wonderful people whose examples were powerful and whose love and care much

xvii

strengthening. I started my research with Dr. Paul Hiebert as my first reader. After his departure , Dr. Robert Priest was kind enough to take over from where it was left. The extent to which Dr. Priest was available to help me complete was something that I did not even dream of. He went out of the way, taking his time and effort to help me clear through the whole process. Dr. Craig Ott has inspired me with his concern for India and passion for m ission. He was willing to adjust to all my situations and schedules. I also cannot forget Dr. Harold Netland who was the Progra m Director when I started. His encouragement and support was very strengthening. Hae-Won and Rochelle played their role in pushing me through the process and encouraging me. I am grateful to them. I am also grateful to Kevin Compton for several hours he sat with me helping me to set the format and style in order. My father, Evangelist M. M. John and my mother Aleyamma kept praying for m e and encouraged me all through. My father-in-law, Mr. K. M. David also kept praying for m e and encouraged me. It was in God’s sovereign will that I had to bid farewell to five of the people mentioned above, Rev. Chandapilla, Dr. Paul Hiebert, my father, mother and my father-in-la w, one each year for the last five years. When I landed in the hitherto unknown and unfamiliar Chicago, the person who gave me all the assurances and made me feel at home was Rev. Dr. M. J. Thomas, Vicar of the St Thomas Evangelical Church of India in Chicago. Subsequently, all the members of the Chicago parish of the St Thomas Evangelical Church were my family during the course of my study. It will take pages to even mention all that they have done for me. This includes bringing me food, giving me ride, providing financial support, praying for me and encouraging me, giving me accommodation at their homes and so on. Mr. Georgekutty

xviii

Scariah and his wife Shiney welcomed me to their home for several months. Mr. Mathai Alex and Mrs. Kunjunjamma A lex welcomed me to their home and gave part of their home for me for s everal months in the last couple of years. They not only provided a place, but also gave me food, gave me ride, encouraged me and prayed for me. They practically took the place of my parents and took care of me in every way. Their sacrificial care is beyond description. Others in the Chicago parish of the St Thomas Evangelical Church cannot be forgotten. They are Varghese Eipe and Molly, Shibu and Bindu, Ajit and Nina, Samkutty and Marina, Kunchandy and Leelamma and Jean Mathew. I cannot also forget the support from Pius and Annie, Giju and Ravita and Abraham Thomas and Sogi for the many ways in which they have contributed to my stay and work on my program. My wife Ammini who spent hours on her knees praying for me and also took all the burdens of my being away, taking care of all that I was supposed to do, taking care of my parents, bringing up children and much more was my strongest supporter in the whole endeavor. I also cannot forget to thank my daughters Nissy and Blessy who always prayed for me and accepted my being away for long from them. I want to thank all the friends in Maharashtra who helped me with my research, whose names I refrain from mentioning. I also want to thank all my colleagues who tolerated my repeated absence from my responsibility as the head of Jubilee Memorial Bible College, so that I could complete this program. The Board of Governors of Jubilee Memorial Bible College was kind enough to make necessary arrangements so that I could complete the program. I also want to thank John Stott Ministries for the scholarship that they provided for three years during my studies.

xix

I do want to acknowledge that this work and all that accompanies it belongs to God, m y Savior as I myself belong to Him. I could never imagine that I will be able to complete this. As I went through a lot of health concerns, personal grief and troubles one after the other, God did help me and carry me in His hands, so that I could come thus far. I want t o give all glory to Him and submit this work at His feet.

1

CH APTER 1 INTRODUCTION

"I am born a Hindu. I had no choice. But I am determined that I will not die a Hindu. I do have the choice." Baba Saheb Ambedkar at the conference of the 'depressed classes' at Yeola, Maharastra in 1936.

The Context The call by Baba Saheb Ambedkar to convert away from Hinduism has brought “conversion” into focus in political, social and religious discussions in India from 1936 onwards. Conversion was the means for emancipation as envisioned by Ambedkar. Christianity was one of the religions that he had to consider. When he converted with 500,000 Mahars into Bu ddhism that was by and large his own formulation, in the year 1956, conver sion became a subject of much more importance for the Church in India. The suffering and discrimination suffered by the oppressed communities of India, known by a common name Dalits, for centuries was enforced with the aid of religious dog ma. The Dalits saw no way of “emancipation” or freedom and were made to believe that their fate wa s the result of their Karma in the past birth. All the cries of the Dalits were li mited to pleas for mercy and finding consolation in accepting and internalizing their

2 condition. Several movements such as Sanskritization movements and Bhakti 1 movements re spectively sought to cope with the discrimination that they faced by attempting to elevate the status of the Dalits to that of the higher castes with a changed life style or by accepting the discrim ination as their god-ordained fate. None of them challenged the Brahminical religion 2 that perpetrated the theory of Varna and the segregation of the Dalits from the higher castes. None of the non-Brahmin or untouchable movements until then played a role as a successful model f or the Dalits of India to liberate themselves from the centuries old soci o-religious discrimination. Zelliot aptly comments that none of the other non-Brahmin movements were as “sustained and all-encompassing as that among the Mahars”(Zelliot 1996, 33). The big difference for the Dalits came when deployment of the Dalit caste of Centra l India known as the Mahars at a large scale in the army by the British colonial gover nment brought to them a new discovery of their worth and dignity, a departure from the traditional fatalism. "Mahars began their service with the British in the 1750s"(White 1994). The depl oyment in the army provided the background for the quest for liberation at least in five ways (White 1994) (Zel liot 1996).

1 Sanskritisation is a term used by sociologists to describe the efforts of lower castes for upwa rd mobility in the caste hierarchy. M N Srinivas first used the term and he defined Sanskritisation as “process by which a low Hindu Caste, or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual, ideology and way of life in the direction of high, and frequently twice born caste.” (Srinivas, M N. 1996. Village, caste, gender and method: Essays in social anthropology. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. 6) Sanskritisation does not challenge the caste hierarchy, but only elevates one‟s caste to a higher position. Bhakti is the path of devotion to God by which the devotee finds his fulfillment while accepting his status as an untouchable or lower caste

2 The Hinduism that was enforced by the Brahmins and gave them all the spiritual and temporal rights over all the other castes is generally known as Brahmin religion and the movements that originated from other castes and opposed Brahmin domination are known as non-Brahmin movements.

3 1. First, it brought them out of the traditional caste bound society in which social behavi or 3 was dictated by the caste that they belonged to, from which there was no way out. Within the army, it was the British military structure that determined their soci al behavior and interaction. 2. Secondly, the induction into the army provided education to the Mahars, e specially the children of those serving, which was otherwise normally out of bounds for the Dalits. 3. Thirdly, the induction into the army brought them into close proximity with and li ving and working together with men of other castes. This brought to them the taste of equality and gave them the impetus to struggle to gain equality in the society. 4. Fourthly, the induction into the army gave them a sense of worth and a sense of the ir ability to do work other than those which were prescribed by their caste identity. This led many Mahars to renounce their traditional caste-jobs, and seek othe r jobs after their retirement from the army. 5. Fifth, the M ahar community in the army provided a fraternity with common exper ience and interests to stand together in the struggle for emancipation. The Mahars served with great devotion in the British Military. However, their aspi rations suffered a setback with the decision of the British in 1893, under the leadership of General Lord Roberts (following the Peel commission report) to stop recruiting the Mahars

3 By “social behavior” I mean the complete culture of social behavior, which includes their own perception of their vocation, their social status, interaction within their own caste and interaction with members of other castes as well as food habits, ways of acquiring food, sanitation, concept of purity etc.

4 to t he army (Zelliot 1996, 91). They made several representations to the British, most of which were ignor ed by the British, who became keen to retain the caste equations in the military. A petition was filed by the Mahars to the British authority pleading for the re instatement of Mahars in the Military, in which they make a reference to the Christian faith. Zelliot refers to this The 1910 petition made little mention of religion. The British were reminded that Mahars as Christian converts had attained a high status in the professions and that "t he kindly touch of the Christian religion elevates the Mahar at once and forever socially as well as politically. (Zelliot 1996, 92)

Accordi ng to Zelliot, eventually the Mahars were inducted into the labor units of the army in World War I and toward the end of the War, the 11 th Mahars was raised but s hortly disbanded. During world War II the need for troops plus the presence of Dr. Ambedkar in the Viceroy's cabinet resulted in the raising of a Mahar regiment, now known as t he Mahar Machine Gun Regiment (Zelliot 1996, 92). The Brit ish formed the Mahar Regiment (known as 11 th Mahar regiment) in 1914 due to the dem ands of the First World War (Zelliot 1996, 92). But shortly after the war, the regim ent was disbanded. Later, in 1945 the Mahar Regiment was reformed which exi sted in the Indian army ever since until recently. One individual who made use of the opportunity of this new found sense of worth of the Mahars was Dr. Ambedkar, (Ambedkar's father was a military officer, leading to his education in military schools) who pushed his way through to earn a PhD and an LL.D from Columbia University, a D.Sc from London College in England and was later awarded the honorary degree of D.Litt from Osmania University.

5 Dr A mbedkar, in his historic address at a gathering of depressed classes in Yeola in Maharastra, in the year 1936 called on the Depressed classes to renounce Hinduism and convert to a nother religion that would give them dignity, equality and liberty. He declared, "I am born a Hindu. I had no choice. But I am determined that I will not die a Hindu, because I do have the choice." But he did not recommend any particular religion at that point . The call to the Dalits to renounce Hinduism was the key rather than a call to choose any particular religi on (Kadam 1997, 40). A committee was formed under his leadership to recomm end the appropriate religion for the Dalits to choose. The choice that Ambedkar had to make was obviously limited to three religions, namely, Buddhism, Christianity and I slam. Of these, we do not find him writing positively about Islam as much as he did about Christianity and Buddhism. All his writings about Christianity sounded as if he wished Christianity would have been "this and this and this" and if so he would have no hesitation to embrace Christianity. The committee could not come to a conclusion for another twenty years, though interactions and deliberations never ceased. The Anglo-American missionaries in India during the period did not lack in the ir enthusiasm to preach the gospel to the Dalits. Many turned to Christianity in different parts of Maharastra from the Mahar community, as well as from some other Dalit castes. The process of conversion of Dalits to Christianity had already begun in the mid 19 th

century, especially in areas affected by drought or some other calamities (Forrester 1980, 69). How ever, Ambedkar did not feel confident that his concerns would be fully met by Christianity. After nearly twenty years of deliberations, he finally declared that the Dalits would convert to Buddhism, though he still commended Christianity and Christian missions.

6 He gave hi s reasons for choosing Buddhism over Christianity. Prominent among these could be paraphrased as below. (1) Buddhism is of Indian origin. (2) Buddhism is more egalitarian in practice than Chri stianity. (3) Converts to Christianity isolated themselves from their own kindred who did not convert and did nothing for their upliftment. Thus he led 500,000 Dalits, primarily Mahars, at Nagpur and converted to Buddhism in 1956, half a year before his death.

Research Concern After nearly half a century since the mass conversion to Buddhism, the Dalits do not seem to be sure which religion is good for them, nor do they seem to be sure if conversion will bring them any good. Equally the Christian church and missionary movements are unclear of their strategy towards the Dalits who are enquiring whether conver sion to Christianity can bring emancipation to them. Christian missions debate over and toy with the idea of promising greater emancipation for the Dalits if they convert to C hristianity. While some move with over-enthusiasm to be the greatest harvesters of the Dalit converts, some others caution them whether social and economic emancipation as the motivat ion for conver sion will be in conformity with the Christian faith. This has resulted in a division in the response of the Christian church and the mission strategists in India to the issue of conversion of the Dalits. Clarity on the true impact of conversion is necessary for both t he Dalits who seek a religion to convert to and for the Christian missions that are invi ting the Dalits to Christianity on the basis of several claims about what impact Chris tianity can have in the society and in the life of the Dalits.

7 Resear ch Problem Dr Ambedkar believed that the best means for the Dalits to be free from the discrimination based on caste is to convert from Hinduism to another religion and he led thousands to Buddhism for this purpose. At least a number of Christian missionaries also vaguely allowed a place for the idea that conversion to Christianity may be the best means of emancipat ion for the Dalits. Many leaders of Dalits today as well as many Christian m issionaries still promote the idea that conversion to another religion is the best means for them to be emancipated. No one is sure if conversion to Buddhism or to Christianity has given the D alits what they wanted. In the light of lack of a clear answer to this question, any deci sion the Dalits make, or the initiatives of the Christian missions to woo the Dali ts with the promise of emancipation is very much hypothetical. A clear and scientific study is necessary to give clarity, both to the Dalit leaders on what they can expect by converting to Buddhism or to Christianity, and to the Christian missions on what promises they can honestly make to the Da lits. Did conversion make any difference at all for the Dalits? Did conversion to Buddhism deliver to the Dalits results in line with their expectations? Did conversion to Chris tianity make any difference to the converts to Christianity? What can Christianity offer authentically to the Dalits who seek to quit Hinduism and to adopt another religion that can provi de libe rty, equality and fraternity?

Significance of This Study The choi ce of the strategy of „conversion to another religion‟ by the Dalits of Indi a as a means of liberation from the caste based oppression and as a means of

8 em ancipation has assumed great importance in the social and political atmosphere of India, making the issue of much direct implication for the Christian missions and the Church in India. The maj or population of the Indian Christian converts of the last few centuries hail from Dalit backgrounds and the major thrust of Christian missions today is also among the Dalit population. The conversion of Dalit s to Christianity or any other religion has a lot of im plications f or the social order, economic balance, division of labor, and the political equilibrium in I ndia. Therefore a clear and informed perspective is extremely important for Christian miss ions in defining their response to the Dalits, and also to the Dalits on the role of religion for emancipation. While there are several studies that were done on the conversion movement of the Mahars to Buddhism, and to Christianity, hardly any one of them had attempted to compare the impact of conversion to Christianity with the conversion to Buddhism. Most of them are general and historical in nature. A noted Christian thinker and activist for the liberation of oppressed classes in India observes I am not aware of any comparative scientific study of the social effects of conversion to neo-Buddhism and Christianity in India. Such a scientific study is required- and not merely to satisfy the curiosity of social scientist. It is required to enable the leaders of the bahujan samaj [Dalit s] to make careful choices. (Mangalwadi 2001, 133)

T his is sufficient pointer to the significance of the question of the conversion of Dalits to Christian mission in India. This researcher could not yet find any research that was done t o ascertain whether the religion per se that the Dalits chose and its philosophy had any si gnificant impact on the condition of the Dalits. The question of the liberation that the Dal its have achieved from social discrimination, economic bondage and fatalism enforced by

9 re ligious dogma by conversion to another religion away from Hinduism is one that needs to be adequately examined and analyzed.

Research Statement The purpose of this research is to study the social, economic and religious impact of conversion on converts to Buddhism and Christianity approximately between 1900 and 1960 from a mong the Mahar community in three villages of west central India, that could help predict the p ossible impact of future conversions to these religions from Hinduism, and provide a rationale for the Church's response to the Dalit quest for liberation from oppressive religion.

Full document contains 238 pages
Abstract: Many Dalits who are at the lower strata of the Hindu hierarchy have chosen conversion away from Hinduism as a way to reject the social discrimination that was meted out to them. Western colonial rule and Christian missionary activities have encouraged the Dalits to strive for social emancipation. The discrimination was founded upon the theory of "pollution." The disabilities based on discrimination also included denial of economic and educational resources to the Dalits. The Mahar caste in Maharastra provides a good example to understand the role of religion in the social emancipation efforts of the Dalits of India as they were the pioneers of a movement seeking emancipation through conversion to two religions simultaneously. The present study compares the social, economic and religious impact of conversion on those who converted from Hinduism to Buddhism and Christianity in three nearby villages away from urban centers in Maharastra. The first village had about 45 Christian Mahar households, the second about 25 Buddhist Mahar households, and the third about 25 Hindu Mahar households. Ethnographic research done among these Mahar villages studied the social interactions, economic life and religious life and practices. A survey was done of Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu households in these three villages. While the government reserved jobs and educational opportunities for Mahars who were Hindu and Buddhist but not Christian, this did not mean that Hindu and Buddhist Mahars were better off socio-economically. Rather, my research found that Christian Mahars were significantly better off socio-economically than either Buddhist or Hindu Mahars. This difference was largely a result of the fact that Christians gained associations with the outside developed and modern world through the Church. The encounter and interaction of those in Hinduism or Buddhism was limited to the traditional communities that they interacted with for centuries. The provisions available to the Christian Mahars through the Church also provided them opportunities for education and outside employment. This study thus supports the conclusion that conversion to Christianity has played a significant role in the social transformation and emancipation of the oppressed communities.