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Dalit Christian Reservations: Colonial Moorings of a Live Debate

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Since 1950, the Government of India has maintained its policy of denying affirmative-action benefits to Dalit converts to Christianity. Debates about Dalit Christian reservations are most often centered on contemporary political trends. Far less attention is paid to developments during the colonial period, when sharp differences between religious ‘communities’ were formulated as policy. As much as the colonial state attempted to grapple with ethnographic realities on the ground, it ultimately embraced an idealized notion of a ‘casteless Native Christian community’. Against massive data that revealed the persistence of caste among converts, this idea of casteless Christianity was readily appropriated by the postcolonial state, which has been all to eager to use it as the basis for denying affirmative action to Dalit Christians. Dalit Christians seeking a change to this policy must therefore grapple with the past, by refuting assumptions embedded in nineteenth-century missionary rhetoric and state policies.

Affiliations: 1: Department of History, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California, USA,


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