Arukah Network member RAJ KUMAR was born a member of the ‘Dalits’ – which according to India’s Caste system is the lowest of the country’s social groups. In this interview, he tells us how he came to transform his view of himself and his social group, and how under lockdown he’s helping others do the same.
For those who don’t know, what is ‘the caste system’? It’s a system in India which says that some people are more important than others. The ‘Dalits’ are considered the lowest in this system. We are born ‘untouchable’ - born to serve and born to suffer. We’re kept low and denied freedom in several ways. And although some might become doctors or engineers etc, they will still suffer stigma. Some even commit suicide. And this fake philosophy has been passed from generation to generation.
Is it possible to describe how it felt growing up like this? We had the advantage of being born and raised in a village with other minority groups. However, I thought that God made me for a life of suffering and trouble – a life without hope. This philosophy kept me and my family captive. My family worked as labourers and in the ‘brick fields’ – where mud is made into bricks for a very low wage. And often it was not just the adults that did this work – it’s the children as well. This means there’s little chance for school or study or a better life. It’s a sorry situation.
You have since become both a Christian and a graduate – the first in your entire family to do both of these things. Did your new faith help you see yourself in a new way? Most certainly it did. It made me realise that I was not made lowly. Rather, I was made in the image of God. God valued me. The Bible says that God cares for His creation. Jesus shared in our suffering, healed people, loved them, and had mercy on them. I see all things now through this biblical worldview. This idea is made clear to me: that in our present suffering there is hope for future. And so now I have no problem with how the Lord made me – I am satisfied with that. So it has overturned the caste system for me. And I know now that God has given me wisdom – I can use it, show it and prove it.
Did this motivate you in your education? It did yes. Although my parents were illiterate, they wanted me to have an education. And so they sent me to the government school. It wasn’t easy – I had to drop out several times when my father couldn’t pay the small fees. And I was sometimes treated badly because of my background. But I made it, and after I became a Christian I wanted to study in the seminary. I failed the entrance test the first time around – because it was in English. But I worked at it and got in. My teachers were a big encouragement there, and I learned lots. I have since gained a Masters too. I’m now a pastor, I run a grassroots organisation providing social care to vulnerable people in my region, and I am a member of Arukah Network's Cluster in Uttarakhand.
During the lockdown, you’ve started a blog called ‘My People Is My Concern’. Why? Because I’m here on earth not just for me or for my family, but to serve God. The Bible teaches me to go and tell my people what God has done for me. They go through terrible things because they feel guilt about being born into their place in society. And if people like me hide our stories, nothing will change, and there will be no hope. I’ve had my blindfold removed, and my eyes opened, and now I must expect the same and do the same for others. And like many of us, I’ve had more time at home during lockdown. And when I look at the internet, I see different people sharing their thoughts. And sometimes these thoughts are not very good - and I wanted people to share some thoughts that are good. I want people to hear my testimony, and know that the Truth has set me free.
Is sharing your stories with the world scary? No, I don’t think so. Being born in this system means stigma, and stigma can have a bad impact. But I know my simple story of deliverance can inspire, encourage and help people, especially those who think they cannot do something. If I can do it, they can do it too. No matter the problems or difficulties you go through, don’t underestimate yourself. Don’t think that you’re a miserable person. People need to know that God has given them potential, which they need to explore. If you try, God can help you. He is liberating people, not only physically or spiritually, but also socially.
What would you like to do next? Most people know this caste system is a big problem, but they don’t talk about it. It’s a problem in the plains but also in the mountains where I work. There, many children live in rags. If they are able to go to school, they must walk a long distance. But most do not. Instead, they spend their days fetching water, or caring for their cows and goats. We counsel the parents and help them with their family's health and hygiene. And this is good, but it’s only half of the story. We need to share more stories like mine – I’d like to be used in the Cluster for this.
You can read Raj Kumar's blog 'My People Is My Concern' here.