As opposed to direct forms of violence which include beatings, murder, and threats where the identity of the perpetrator of the violence is identifiable, structural violence arises largely from unequal structures that limit an individual from achieving their potential. Johan Galtung, who is accredited with coining the term says in his seminal article ‘Violence, Peace and Peace Research’ that “violence is built into the structure and shows up as unequal power and consequently as unequal life chances.”
An enormous diversity exists within the Christian community. By conservative estimates, at least 50 per cent of the Christian population in the country are Dalits. Dalit Christians may have been able to change their religious identities but are unable to shake their caste identity. This is ironic because most Dalit converts to Christianity are drawn by the egalitarian nature of Christianity which stands in direct opposition to the hierarchical oppression they face within the shackles of Hinduism.
According to the Constitution (Schedule Castes) Order, 1950 only Hindus would be considered as Scheduled Castes and would be able to avail of the positive discrimination. It says, “no person who professes a religion different from the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist religions shall be deemed to be a member of Scheduled Castes.” However, due to political pressure, Sikhs were brought into this scheme in 1956 and Buddhists in 1990. The claim is that once a Dalit converts to another religion, they do not belong to the caste system because Christianity and Islam are egalitarian religions. The argument is extended to suggest that their economic and social situation improves as members of new religions.
However, a 2008 report conducted on behalf of the National Commission for Minorities titled, Dalits in the Muslim and Christian Communities: A Status Report on Social Scientific Knowledge concluded that Dalits are “invariably regarded as ‘socially inferior’ communities by their co-religionists and therefore face ostracization from their families and communities.
Additionally, the Mandal Commission report which laid out the future of government reservations towards Dalits recommended that Dalit Christians and Muslims should be considered as Scheduled Castes for them to receive these benefits saying, “there is no doubt that social and educational backwardness among non-Hindu communities is, more or less of the same order as among Hindu communities. Though caste is peculiar to Hindu society, in actual practice, it also pervades the non-Hindu communities in India…”
Additionally, special protections under the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 are denied to Dalit Christians when they convert to Christianity. This act provides for trials, rehabilitation and relief of victims of atrocities committed against them by virtue of their caste or tribal identity. Vast amounts of anecdotal evidence exist relating to the forms of physical violence that Dalits face in Indian society.
By virtue of their religious identity, Dalit Christians (and Muslims) are denied rights available to them based on their social status indicative of the inequality they face within the structure. I argue that this therefore constitutes structural violence which is another form of violence that Christians in India experience more than the physical violence they experience. It is only in recognizing all these forms of violence, that effective policy can be crafted to addressing these issues.