by Kandyce Kingsley '06
I stood on a sidewalk outside a cinema complex in Delhi and watched a high-caste Hindu man beat an untouchable Hindu boy with all his might. The man's friends watched as he kicked the boy square in the face, undoubtedly breaking multiple bones. The boy never once opened his mouth in protest, never lifted his head or hand to fight back. I knew from that moment on I could never rest unless I told this story and the stories of so many like this boy and his oppressor.
Caste is one of the greatest mysteries of India--references to caste, rules about how to treat members of different castes and how each caste is to conduct daily life are found scattered throughout various ancient Hindu texts, but when and how caste became institutionalized and internalized remains a mystery. While things have improved from the days that required Dalits ("untouchables") to walk backwards and erase their footprints to keep the higher castes from being "polluted," caste continues to dictate occupation, living standards and future marriage partners. It limits access to education, health care and other constitutionally guaranteed rights. It shapes worldviews from childhood, teaching that Dalits are made from different biological matter than upper castes and that they deserve their lot in this life because of actions committed in a former life. They are told they are children of a lesser god or children of no god at all.
I participated in two SMP (Summer Missions Program) trips to India while I was at Gordon. After graduating I heard about the Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) and saw a blurb on their website about an internship. I did what anyone with conviction and belief and a little post-travel insanity would do: I packed up my car and drove halfway across the country to the Denver, Colorado, area--a state and a city I had never visited--to begin work for a job which, at the time, didn't pay. I'm pretty sure my parents thought I was crazy--I even thought I was a little crazy. I had no idea how I would make my student loan payments, where I would make friends or when I'd next be able to travel to India (or anywhere else for that matter). But I knew I had to do it.
It was a crazy idea I haven't regretted. DFN works in four major areas--education, health care, social justice and economic development--in order to affect all areas of the lives of the Dalits, who are truly "the least of these": those among whom, I believe, Jesus would have spent His time on earth. The Dalits comprise 25 percent of India's population, an astonishing 250-300 million people. I am blessed to work for this organization, raising awareness and networking resources with which to do God's work. From fundraising and building schools for Dalit children to coordinating medical service trips and women's empowerment conferences, we are able not merely to listen to the words of Scripture but also to do what they say.
Peace cannot and should not exist without justice. As a follower of Christ, I am commanded to "seek justice, encourage the oppressed, defend the cause of the fatherless and plead the case of the widow" (Isaiah 1:17, NIV). My four years at Gordon coupled with my two summers in India have imprinted this command on my heart and in my mind.