Much has been reflected upon and written by theologians during the second half of the last century upon the theme ‘Justice, Peace and Life.’ But invariably the focus of almost all of them had been on ‘Peace’ rather than on ‘Justice,’ perhaps because of the two devastating Wars that had wrecked the world, and also because of the ensuing ethno-national conflicts that engulfed the entire globe and kept us constantly on the brink of a
At this point I shall like to express my happiness and thanks to the organizers for proposing to look at this significant theme from the perspective of Dalits and Minjungs and explore for relevant theological reflections in this regard. The burden of my argument shall be to underline the importance of the element of ‘Justice’ in theological reflections that are meant for oppressed communities. Incidentally, I will digress here a bit to make an observation with regard to Constitution of my country. I am proud to say that, in spite of the serious age-old problem of discrimination etc. within our society, our Constitution opens its Preamble statement with a promise “to secure to all its citizens: Justice in all areas- “social, economic and political” 1) This clearly shows the importance of Justice in a social construct.
Now I shall begin my reflections by first introducing the two oppressed communities of Asia that we are discussing today. It is indeed fortunate that these two are in dialogue with each other now for more than a decade.
I have learnt about Minjung of Korea indirectly through my various encounters with the ‘Minjung theologians, and also by reading their works. What I gathered was that ‘Minjung,’ though a Korean ancient term, came into popular use in theological writings of Korea only from late 1970’s; and by 1980’s the term gained currency in Asia. By the beginning of 1990’s it was a familiar term in other parts of the world as well. ‘Minjung,’ is a combination of two Chinese characters:
Another Minjung theologian Prof. Kim Yong-Bock clarifies further the meaning of the term ‘Minjung’ by saying: “It is a Korean word that can be translated as ‘people’ in English, but the translation does not do justice to the word. It has more encompassing meaning that refers to the people who are politically oppressed, economically deprived, exploited and, therefore, poor, socially alienated and culturally and religiously repressed or discriminated against. It refers to the people who are weak and powerless in terms of their class, race, culture and religion as well as in terms of their input and influence of political, economic and social events.” 3)
The second Asian community, with whom we are concerned in this paper, is a section of the Indian people, who have given themselves the name ‘Dalit.’ The term ‘dalit’ is derived from the Sanskrit root
It is in this sense that the term ‘
It is interesting to note that the Sanskrit root
However, recently some western interpreters have also tried to go beyond the word-meaning to understand the text of Old Testament more deeply. For example, while dal in the Old Testament is often understood as ‘poor,’ which merely refers to the economic status of certain people, C.U.Wolf in an essay on the term ‘poor’ in
This important point made by Wolf can indeed help in interpreting the situation of Dalits in India. Like the
After this general introduction of the two oppressed Asian communities of Asia, let us try to understand their specific contexts upon which our biblical and theological reflections should rightly be based.
1)The Constitution of India, Ministry of Law, Justice and Company Affairs, Government of India, New Delhi, 1999, 1 2)Suh Kwang Sun David, The Korean Minjung in Christ, CCA, Hong Kong, 1991, 23. 3)Kim Yong Bock : Messiah and Minjung- Christ’s Solidarity with the People for New Life, CCC, Hong Kong, 1992, 7. 4)Dr. Ramsankar Sukal Rasal: Bhasa-Sabad Kos (in Hindi), Allahabad 1971, 778, 779 5)Bhai Kahan Singh: Mahan Kos (in Panjabi), Patiala, 1981 (reprint), 624, 625. 6)Wolf, C.U.: ‘Poor’ in the Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (An Illustrated Encyclopedia), 843.
The context of both Minjung and Dalit communities can be best appreciated in the backdrop of what C.U.Wolf tries to underline while defining the ‘poor.’ It is a fact that during oppression, more than the physical poverty of the oppressed, it is their psychological ability that gets ‘impaired’ rendering them to a state of ‘helplessness’ and perpetual enslavement. We know that the two Asian communities have been historically oppressed in every aspect of their life. No doubt it is important to strive to give them back all that they have been denied physically till now. But that is not enough. What is more important is to understand the deeper
To understand the issue more clearly, let us discuss briefly the context of the
One of the best definitions of
Prof. Suh Nam-dong listed four aspects of
To stress on his point further Prof. Suh Nam-dong quoted a stanza from the work of a Korean poet Ko Eun, who cried: “We Koreans were born from the womb of han and brought up in the womb of
In this regard David Kwang-sun Suh very poignantly refers to a banned poem written by a poet Kim Chi Ha called ‘The Story of the Sound’ (1972). The poem tells the story of a poor person named Ando who is imprisoned and given unjust and cruel treatment in the prison. His head and legs are chopped off so that it is the trunk of his body which keeps rolling and bumping against the prison walls, creating disturbing soulful sounds. These sounds coming from the deep prison cell are in fact the expressions of Ando’s deepest
The deep sense of Minjung
The name ‘Dalit’ itself , which the oppressed community of India has adopted recently, expresses the deep-seated
A Christian poet Joshuva Kavi expresses his pain (
Because he sees himself as a Dalit, outside of the preview of human society, therefore it is hard for him to find a friend among the human beings. His feeling about this truth expressed as:
But a Dalit Marathi poet Jyoti Lanjewar, after expressing her
It is another Marathi poet Yusoja, who narrates the painful crushed life of the Dalits in his following poem:
To experience the real
At the end of this section I will add a saying from my own mother tongue Panjabi:
7)Suh Nam Dong: Towards a Theology of han, in ‘Minjung theology - People as the Subjects of History,’ CCC, Singapore, 1983, 68. (notes no 1) 8)Azariah, M: The Church’s Healing Ministry to Dalits, in ‘Towards a Dalit Theology’ edited by M. E. Prabhakar, CISRS and CDLM, ISPCK, Delhi, 1988, 118. 9)Suh Kwang Sun David, A Biographical Sketch of an Asian’s Theological Consultation, in ‘Minjung Theology people as the subject of History,’ CCC, op.Cit., 24-25. 10)Refers to the reference no. 6. 11)Suh Nam Dong: Op. Cit., 58. 12)Suh Kwang Sun David, The Korean Minjung in Christ, Op. Cit., 79. 13)See: Suh Nam Dong: Op. Cit., 163-66.; Suh Kwang-Sun David, The Korean Minjung in Christ, Op. Cit., 108-111, 170-172. 14)Suh Kwang Sun David, Ibid, 171-172. 15)Suh Nam Dong: Op. Cit., 68 (middle). 16)Ranjan, P. Swarnalata (tr.): Christian Aspiration as Expressed by Jashuva Kavi in Gabbilam (The Bat), in ‘Indigenous People: Dalits’ edited by James Massey, ISPCK, CTE-5, Delhi, 1994, 327. (top) 17)Ibid, 327. (below top) 18)Lanjewar, Jyoti: translated by Shanta Gokhale in Poisoned Bread, Translation from Modern Marathi Dalit Literature, edited by Arjun Dangle, 1992, 22. 19)Yusoja, translated by Charudutta Bhagwat in Poisoned Bread, Translated from Marathi Literature, edited by Arjun Dangle, 1992, 67. 20)Bandhumadhav, translated by Ramesh Dayate in Poisoned Bread, Translations from Modern Marathi Literature, edited by Arjun Dangle, 1992, 147-149, 151-153. 21)Nirmal, Arvind P.: A Dialogue with Dalit Literature, in ‘Towards a Dalit Theology,’ op.Cit., 76.
Before we attempt theology for Minjung and Dalit, we must first take a look at the reflections in Old and New Testament with regard to the Poor and Oppressed. Even a casual perusal of the Bible will show that ‘Poor’ and ‘Oppressed’ do not necessarily refer to economic condition of the sufferer. In different places both these words have different connotation. This is very much in accordance with the present thought on the subject. In an article in
In Bible also we come across similar observations. For example the author of Exodus, while describing the oppression of Israelites from the hands of Egyptians says: “Therefore they set taskmasters
There are a number of passages in the Hebrew Old Testament, which deal with the different aspects of concerns that are relevant to Dalit and Minjung in today’s world. There are even some passages that go into the deeper meaning of oppression while reflecting the treatment met by the oppressed communities in the biblical world. In fact these passages are in the form of tragic songs, which are sung on behalf of such oppressed groups. A few selected passages are being given here:
These passages give some glimpse of the kind of oppression prevalent in the biblical world. The first passage from of Job 20:18, 19 is part of a longer narrative, in which one of Job’s friends Zapher makes some observations about the wickedness of the powerful oppressors and their methods of oppressing others including
In passage two quoted above from Psalms 79:8, the Psalmist addresses his whole community as
In the last passage quoted above, the Prophet Jeremiah
Against such oppression it is Justice that needs to be given priority. Peace is an important factor in the world today no doubt but it cannot be Peace without Justice. Three major Christian traditions namely Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant have common view with regard to Justice. For example Metropolitan Paul Gregorios a leading Eastern Orthodox theologian says: “Now peace, if it is integral to justice, cannot be simply the absence of conflict. For justice can be attained only by confrontation and conflict with injustice.” 24) A Roman Catholic scholar Fr. Joseph H Ficher S.J. is still more direct when he said “Without justice there can be no lasting peace; without love there can be no lasting justice.” 25) A Protestant scholar Walter A Wagner, while saying the same thing, adds in his statement the affect of ‘peace with justice’ upon the life of all living beings, when he ways: “
Before moving further in our reflections of ‘Prophetic and Theological Response,’ it may be worthwhile to refer the views of a great Dalit leader Dr B R Ambedkar, who was the main architect of the present Indian Constitution. According to Dr Ambedkar the sole purpose of creating an instrument in Indian Constitution was to establish an ‘ideal’ or ‘just society based upon the three universal principles, “liberty, equality and fraternity.” He elaborated by saying, “Justice is simply another name of these principles.” 28) Dr Ambedkar’s ‘just society,’ which he also called a ‘democratic society,’ involved two things: “The first is an attitude of mind, an attitude of respect and equality towards other fellow beings. The second is a social organization free from rigid social barriers.” 29) Ambedkar also warned that in a society, those who continue to “suffer from inequality,” will one day blow up the structure” of it.30) In other words, what he wants to emphasize is that there cannot be a ‘peace without justice.’ Ambedkar’s this point leads us to our next part of reflection on ’ justice, peace and life’ in the Bible.
The prophets in the Bible also proclaimed the ‘will’ of God to the people of Israel at different times. For example prophet Isaiah addressed them as Unfruitful Vineyard (Church). He said:
The author of Isaiah in ‘the Song of Unfruitful Vineyard’ narrated the conditions of the people of Israel and Judah, and told them how they had invited the Lord’s punishment on themselves by practicing ‘social injustice’ in various forms, which included amassing of property at the expense of others (Is. 5:8-10); drinking and committing debauchery (Is. 5:11) and lack of knowledge of their faith (Is. 5:13). Finally after denouncing these evils, which had become part of his people’s life, the prophet announced the Lord’s judgment on them (Is. 5:14-17). The most important verse of the song tells us that the basis of God’s judgment was “justice” and “righteousness” (Is. 5:16). This point is stressed by other prophets as well (Mic. 2; 1-6), Ezek. 45:11, Am. 6:4-7). At another place Isaiah again proclaimed on behalf of the Lord that ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ were the criteria to determine whether one’ s faith was built on God’s firm foundation or not (Isa. 28: 17).
Amos was also one of the prophets who spoke directly about ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness.’ For Example, at one place he addressed the people of Israel saying:
‘Justice’ means the establishment of the right, through fair legal procedures (Am.5:15; Deut. 25:3), in accordance with the will of the Lord. And ‘righteousness’ means the quality of life in relationship to others in the community that gives rise to justice.
Like Amos, prophet Micah also summed up the definition of the religion in the prophetic teaching, while challenging the people of Israel in the following words.
In continuing the prophetic traditions of the Old Testament, in the New Testament too the prophet of the prophets, our Lord Jesus Christ, rebuked and denounced religious leaders of his days by saying:
Here, ‘tithe’ represents the tenth of agricultural produce given to support the temple and its priests (lev. 27, 30-33, Num. 18:8-32, Deut. 25:1-5). ‘Gnat’ is an unclean insect (Lev. 11: 41-44) that was avoided by priests in their food while the camel, which also was supposed to be unclean, was conveniently swallowed by them (Lev. 11:4). Such was the hypocrisy followed by the priests at the time of Jesus.
Various oppressed groups were the focus of the Nazareth manifesto that was released in the beginning of his ministry by the Prophet of the prophets, Jesus Christ by declaring:
Besides such biblical references against the exploitation and oppression of the poor and needy, the message of the entire Bible is also centered on two divine interventions pointing in the same direction. On the one hand, the biblical message affirms that God takes the side of the oppressed, poor and the needy (Ex. 3:7-12) and on the other, that God liberates the oppressed (Lk. 4:18-19). The second intervention, besides offering liberation to the various oppressed groups of human beings (subaltern), also offers hope for their future by proclaiming “the year of the Lord’s favour” (Lk. 4:19), which means that the time of their liberation is coming. The overall purpose of these divine activities is to create and maintain the balance in the created world, especially among the human beings.
One most important factor in all the prophecies and proclamations of both the Old and the New Testaments (as pointed by Bishop Newbigin) is that these speak of liberation or salvation in terms of actual historical happenings, and not as “a matter of doing justice and mercy in concrete situations.” 31) (Jer. 22:6; 1John 4:8, Cf. 3:14-24). An Indian theologian, Fr. L Stanislaus, affirms this when he says “Since the Gospel is linked to the concrete lives of the people, the Church’s proclamation includes the issue of human rights, social justice, equality, peace and development.32) Bishop Juliao Labayan of Philippines also sums up his discussion on ‘Prophetic mission’ of the Church saying: “The task and mission is simply to continue the history of salvation that her founder, Jesus Christ, inaugurated and sealed with his blood⋯ Here too lies the purpose and rationale for transforming the Church from the historical model of a Christendom (imperialist) Church to that of the Church of the poor. The purpose and rationale of the Church’s mission is to be light, leaven and salt of the earth towards making the earth a place where God of love, justice and peace will be at home with His people and His whole creation33) (Jer 22:6;1 John 4:8; Cf. 14-24).
22)Development Dialogue, A Journal of International Development Co-operation published by the Dag Hmmerskjold Foundation, Uppsala, 1989:1, 21. 23)See for detail discussions: Tamez, Elga: Bible of the Oppressed, Orbis Books, New York, 1982, 62-63, 70-71. 24)Gregorios, Paul: Problems in a Christian Philosophical Approach to Peace, An Eastern Orthodox View, in ‘Voices From World Religions’ edited by Henry O.Thompson, ISPCK, Delhi 1993, 26. 25)Fitchter, S.J., Joseph H: Catholic and World Peace, in ‘Voice From Religions,’ Op. Cit., 35. 26)Wagner, Walter A.: A Protestant Presentation on World Peace Today, in ‘Voices From World Religions’ Op. Cit., 57. 27)Ibid, 61. 28)Quoted in: Massey, James: Dr. B.R. Ambedkar - A Study in Just Society, Manohar, New Delhi, 2003, 102. 29)B. R. Ambedkar, ‘Ranade, Gandhi and Jinnah,’ in Dr Babaseheb Ambedkar, Writings and Speeches, vol. 1, compiled by Vasant Moon, Bombay: Education Department, Government of Maharashtra, 1989, 222. 30)Constituent Assembly Debates, Official Report, Book No. 5, vol. XI, 14-26 November 1949, New Delhi, 1999, third reprint, 979. 31)Newbigin, Lessilie: The Open Secret, An Introduction to the Theology of Mission (Revised Edition), SPCI, 1995, 23. 32)Sanislaus, L.: The Liberative Mission of the Church Among Dalit Christians, ISPCK, Delhi, 1999, 291. 33)Labanya, Julio: Revolution and the Church of the Poor, Quezon City, Philippines, 1995, 60.
In this paper, first I tried to introduce to you the people - Minjung and Dalits - who are the target groups of our discussion. Then I tried to ascertain the core of the context of these two communities to which the proposed ‘Theology of justice, peace and life’ could be addressed. After this I looked into the biblical and theological responses already available to us concerning our theme. Now in the concluding section, I will consolidate my argument first, before giving my views on the topic.
Minjung and Dalits are the two oppressed Asian communities that have many common experiences insofar as their plight as tormented people is concerned. Both these communities are oppressed in all aspects of their life: politically, economically, and socially. The oppression unleashed on them has impaired them not only physically but even psychologically so much so that in due course they have accepted their helplessness as part of their lives and as natural order of things. To perpetuate their oppression and to keep the vanquished communities forever under subjugation, the dominants manipulated to destroy their religious and cultural identity and formed policies to divide and rule them.
It is a fact that oppression unleashed on a people is not enough to destroy them; it is the acceptance of the oppression which destroys them. This is what happened with Dalits and Minjung communities. Centuries of oppression has affected their ‘humanness’ to an extent that they started considering themselves as non-humans. However, the process of awakening from this state began with their getting alive to their
The other observation that I had made is that the concern for poor and oppressed has been central to the text of Old and New Testament. Various meanings of poverty and oppression are explored in the biblical text culminating in two major points: (1) God takes the side of the oppressed, poor and needy; and (2) God is committed to liberate the poor and oppressed. With these observations in mind, the Dalit and Minjung theologians would indeed do a service to take up the challenge to work on theology for these two oppressed communities. This would also mean the theologians abandoning part of their academic life and status to avoid possibility of reducing every effort of theirs only to an ‘arm-chair’ theology.
This should ideally be the end goal a theology of ‘Justice, Peace and Life’ from the perspective of Dalit and Minjung.