MUMBAI: When Winnie D’Souza wanted to marry her daughter into a ?decent’ family, she scanned the matrimonial columns of Catholic periodicals in Panaji. After shortlisting a few young men, D’Souza made inquiries about their caste. She wanted her daughter to marry a Brahmin. Most Catholic publications do not list caste categories as they did 20 years ago, but casteism has not disappeared among Christians. It has merely become more subtle.
Unlike Bihar, Orissa and the North-East, which have large tribal Christian populations, the Christians of Goa, Kerala and Tamil Nadu remain in thrall to the caste categories of their Hindu ancestors.
Father Augustine Kanjamala, a theologian in Mumbai, has researched caste among Christians. Caste exists in different forms in various Christian communities, he says. In Kerala the Christians admitted to the faith almost 2,000 years ago are called Syrian Christians. They are better off than Latin Christians, who are mainly from poorer communities. Syrian Christians and Latin Christians do not inter-marry. They even have different institutions to train their priests.
In Goa, Christians belonging to Brahmin or Charado (Kshatriya) castes are more privileged than the others. They dominate Church institutions and activities. Father Augustine says that in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, Dalit Christians are not given much access to Church festivities. Sometimes they are reduced to having a separate church. Two decades ago, the graveyards had separate sections for upper and lower castes. This is changing because some progressive priests have challenged the iniquitous system.
"In Mangalore, a few families of Dalit Christians have returned to Hinduism as they felt humiliated living among Christians who discriminated against them,? says Father Augustine. "Caste will not die out in the Church easily, but in cities like Mumbai, the urban situation has led to the breaking down of barriers of caste".