It’s hard for me to believe it could possibly be ‘Back to School’ time already! Although this year’s return to school may look a lot different from years past, parents and educators are doing their very best to make sure our youth and young adults get the quality education they need while keeping everyone healthy and safe during this pandemic. Whether students are able to do in-person learning, online learning, or something in between, the minds of our young people will be infused with new knowledge about math, history, geography, science, literature, social studies and the arts. Each young person will (hopefully!) find at least one subject at which they excel and, no doubt, a couple that really aren’t their ‘cup of tea!’
Math, literature and the arts were always favorites of mine. In fact, they still are. And, although I never appreciated geography, I loved learning about the customs and traditions of the people who lived in other parts of the world. Learning that the way I think and feel about relationships and the traditions of my community is not necessarily the way everyone thinks and feels helped me to learn to keep an open mind and to try to refrain from making judgments about people of different cultures. It also taught me about privilege, social justice, and being an instrument of change.
Which brings us to this week’s resolution:
Resolution A222: Against Caste-and Descent-Based Discrimination
Resolved, That the 79th General Convention of The Episcopal Church commend the Dioceses of New York and Rochester in taking the lead in addressing the human rights violation of discrimination associated with caste and descent; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention condemn the human rights violation of discrimination based on caste and descent wherever it occurs and support its elimination particularly as it occurs within the United States and other countries both within and outside the Church; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention call on congregations throughout the Church to acknowledge the fundamental injustice of caste-and descent-based discrimination, a clear human rights violation; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention encourage all Episcopalians to engage in legislative advocacy and education at national, regional, and local levels to raise awareness of the pervasive nature of this human rights violation; and be it further
Resolved, That this General Convention encourage all Episcopalians become familiar with the India Network and other organizations addressing caste-and descent-based discrimination in their local areas.
To be honest, until I began to do some research for this blog post, I had no idea that the caste system I had learned about in school long ago was still such a huge problem in many societies A ‘caste system’ is a class structure that is determined by birth. Loosely, it means that in some societies, if your parents are poor, you’re going to be poor, too. Forever. There is no opportunity for you to raise your status or the status of any future generations of your family.
Most people know about the caste system in India, which originally emanated from the Hindu religion, but there are caste systems all over the world. The division of a society into castes is a global phenomenon not exclusively practiced within any particular religion or belief system. Caste systems and discrimination have spread into Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh communities. Caste systems are also found in Africa, other parts of Asia, the Middle East, the Pacific and in smaller emigrated communities around the world.
According to the website for the International Dalit Solidarity Network, “Caste discrimination affects an estimated 260 million people worldwide, the vast majority living in South Asia. It involves massive violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Caste systems divide people into unequal and hierarchical social groups. Those at the bottom are considered ‘lesser human beings’, ‘impure’ and ‘polluting’ to other caste groups.
“They are known to be ‘untouchable’ and subjected to so-called ‘untouchability practices’ in both public and private spheres. ‘Untouchables’ – known in South Asia as Dalits – are often forcibly assigned the most dirty, menial and hazardous jobs, and many are subjected to forced and bonded labour. Due to exclusion practiced by both state and non-state actors, they have limited access to resources, services and development, keeping most Dalits in severe poverty.”
Dalit means ‘broken people’ and is the name the ‘untouchables’ of India and some other South Asian countries have chosen for themselves to signify a growing movement of empowerment, assertion and challenging an oppressive system and the oppressors. Affected communities in Africa and other places have different names.
According to the website for the Diocese of New York, The India Network mentioned in Resolution A222 was founded by Archdeacon Michael Kendal and Rev. Gideon Jebamani of the Diocese of New York in 1999. The group encourages friendships and partnerships between the Diocese of New York and Christians in India through pilgrimage, education, and support of programs that benefit people in need. It strives to create an inclusive community by embracing everyone irrespective of caste, race, color, gender, cultural stereo types or economic status.
Among the organizations the India Network supports are CSI Ewart Women’s Christian College in the Diocese of Madras; the Transgendered Community in the Diocese of Madras; and the Nagaland Handloom Project.
Over the years those involved in the India Network have forged new relationships for the diocese beyond its initial one with the Diocese of Madras. The hope is that any existing or new relationships with the Church in India will be defined by involvement and encouragement of locally sustainable endeavors, whether in terms of economic empowerment or other issues of justice.
Many of the strategies we are employing to combat racism can also be used to combat the discrimination of caste- and descent-based systems. As with most social justice issues, the change we seek begins with education, relationship, and prayer.
Let us pray…
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer, p. 823)
~ The Rev. Diana Walworth, Resolution Review Committee, Diocesan Council