Thursday, 19 January 2012

Dust, dirt, dogs and donkeys.

Hindu religious law sets in place a caste system allocating a place to every person born within that household of faith.  But there are some people in its community born so lowly that they are out-caste – sub-human.  They call themselves ‘dalits, from a Sanskrit word meaning ‘oppressed’ or ‘broken’.  If this is unfamiliar to you, to understand their situation better you might be interested to read this essay that explains more fully.

The dalits, sometimes called ‘untouchables’, have this pronounced upon them in the Law of Manu, based on the Rig Veda, a foundational text of the Hindu religion:
Their wealth shall be dogs and donkeys; their dress shall be garments of the dead. They shall eat their food in broken dishes, and black iron shall be their ornaments. They must wander from place to place, and they shall not sleep in villages and towns at nights.

Their work comprises all the dirty things that nobody wants to do – shovelling away excrement and bearing away the dead, for example.

Jesus of course was Jewish, not Hindu; but there was much in His life that I think might speak peace and comfort to the dalits of India.

Consider these words of Scripture:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”    (Mark 10:42-45 NIV UK)

Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Luke 9:58)

Jesus said “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:60)

This took place to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet: Say to the Daughter of Zion, “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Matthew 21:4-5)

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them.   “You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord', and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.  I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:12-17)

As for being ‘untouchable’: A man with leprosy came to him and begged him on his knees, If you are willing, you can make me clean. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. (Mark 1:40-41)

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is— that she is a sinner. . . Then [Jesus] turned towards the woman and said to Simon, Do you see this woman? (Luke 7:39 . . .)

And Jesus died the death of the disgraced, the unclean, outside the city wall.  And the Christian faith reminds us in our Ash Wednesday liturgy at the beginning of Lent: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return - and that's all of us, dust of Adam.

I wonder if you know about this company, Dalit Candles?  The dalits of India must drink from special separate cups, to be dashed to the ground and broken after use, so that nobody else runs the risk of sharing with them.  Dalit Candles have taken the little cups the dalits use, and made something beautiful to treasure from them, filling them with candles made of beeswax from the mountainous region of Kashmir.  They are handmade by dalit people, and the profits from their sale go to take care of dalit orphans.

The dalits are supposed to dress in clothes the colour of dust, and they have a special place in my heart because they remind me of St Francis who chose to dress in garments the colour of dust as an expression of humility, and of the dusty feet of Jesus, the servant of all, who came to His own but His own received Him not, and who had nowhere to lay His head.


365 Day 19  (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, see here)

Thinking of candles today, one of the ways I have chosen to lower clutter at home is by using things up rather than passing them on.    This beeswax candle had been in my drawer smelling divine for some time.  I made a point of actually burning the candle, enjoying its lovely perfume, its clean and refreshing flame.  One thing less.


Anonymous said...

In my country we have people like the dalits of India, yet we have never given them a name...they are instead ignored.

It is amazing to me that Our Lord Jesus knew them...yet, I don't believe too many of them know HIM.

They feel their shame quite fiercely. But Our Lord accepted us and our shame is deeper and more hidden than the dalits.

Thank you again for such an insightful post Ember...I leave your space filled!

m. at

Amy Danielle said...

I loved this st and I have bookmarked the website. I have a special place in my heart for the Dalit people, as Amy Carmichael is my favorite author, and missionary to India, who lived her life ministering to these precious "untouchables." Thank you for sharing your heart here, mine beats in the same rhythm.

Ember said...

:0) It's so good to be in touch again, Maria x

Ember said...

:0) Hi Amy - yes, I love this song from Rabindranath Tagore's 'Gitanjali':

"Here is thy footstool and there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

When I try to bow to thee, my obeisance cannot reach down to the depth where thy feet rest among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

Pride can never approach to where thou walkest in the clothes of the humble among the poorest, and lowliest, and lost.

My heart can never find its way to where thou keepest company with the companionless among the poorest, the lowliest, and the lost."