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Dalit theology is a branch of Christian theology that emerged among the Dalit caste in the Indian subcontinent in the 1980s. It shares a number of themes with Latin American liberation theology, which arose two decades earlier, including a self-identity as a people undergoing Exodus. Dalit theology sees hope in the "Nazareth Manifesto" of Luke 4, where Jesus speaks of preaching "good news to the poor ... freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind" and of releasing "the oppressed."
A major proponent of Dalit theology was Arvind P. Nirmal (1936–95), a Dalit Christian in the Church of North India. Nirmal criticised Brahminic dominance of Christian theology in India, and believed that the application of liberation theology to India should reflect the struggle of Dalits, who make up about 70% of the Christians in India, as claimed by Poor Christian Liberation Movement (PCLM), and 90% of the Christians in Pakistan. Nirmal also criticised the Marxist element within South American liberation theology. Nirmal drew on the concept of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53 to identify Jesus himself as a Dalit – "a waiter, a dhobi, and bhangi."
Evelyn Ruth Bhajan, a deacon in the Church of Pakistan, stated that Dalit theology is vital in that it aligns the Church's mission with "strategies based on the social, political and economic implications of liberation in Christ." Bhajan stated that this liberation includes that from persecution, segregation, and economic depression.
Dalit theologians have seen passages in the gospels, such as Jesus' sharing a common drinking vessel with the Samaritan woman in John 4 as indicating his embracing of Dalitness. The parable of the Good Samaritan is also seen as significant, providing a "life-giving message to the marginalized Dalits and a challenging message to the non-Dalits."
M. E. Prabhakar expanded on the Dalitness of Jesus, stating that "the God of the Dalits ... does not create others to do servile work, but does servile work Himself." He also suggested that Jesus experienced human, and especially Dalit, brokenness in his crucifixion. Prabhakar has developed a Dalit creed, which reads in part:
"Our cries for liberation from harsh caste-bondage
Were heard by God, who came to us in Jesus Christ
To live with us and save all people from their sins."
Vedanayagam Devasahayam (b. 1949) of the Church of South India followed Nirmal as head of Dalit theology at the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College, and further developed Nirmal's ideas, writing a number of books. Devasahayam later became bishop of the Church of South India's Madras Diocese.
Dalit theology opposes indigenization movements within Indian Christian liturgy, since these are seen as reinforcing traditional caste hierarchies. However, the incorporation of some pre-Sanskritic Indian religious traditions is supported.
For example, 90 to 95% of Pakistani Christians are Punjabi of the chura (dalit) group converted from Hinduism rather than from Islam or local religious systems.
This study explores caste discrimination in Pakistan against untouchable (Dalit) converts to Christianity. During the nineteenth century in India, many Dalits converted to Christianity to escape caste persecution. In the 1870s in Punjab, a mass movement to Protestant Christianity flourished among the Dalit Chuhra caste. The Chuhras were the largest menial caste in Punjab and engaged in degrading occupations including sweeping and sanitation work. By the 1930s, almost the entire Chuhra caste converted to Protestant Christianity. In 1947, during the partition of India, the majority of Chuhra converts in Punjab became part of the Protestant community in Pakistan. After Partition, many uneducated Chuhras were confined to menial jobs in the sanitation industry. Today, the stigma of Dalit ancestry is a distinct feature of social discrimination against Chuhra Christians in Pakistan.