Cleric traces footsteps of the Mahatma

2010-10-18 00:00

VISITING Pietermaritzburg to attend last week’s theologians’ conference was also a pilgrimage for one of the delegates, a minister and professor from India.

The Reverend Dr Naveen Rao, a Methodist minister who lectures at a theological college in Jabalpur in central Indi, preached on the last day of the conference. He said, “A young attorney and advocate, Mohandas Gandhi, was thrown off a train at the railway station in this city on June 7, 1893, but the one who rose from the dirt was a saint, a mahatma, who went on to shake the foundations of the British Empire.”

Rao is a Dalit, the name given to people of a lower caste in India’s now-outlawed caste system. They were previously called “untouchables”, but Gandhi coined the term “Harijan” or “Children of God” for them.

Rao said that there is still prejudice and discrimination against Dalits, especially in traditional Hinduism. Many Hindus of high caste are still opposed to caste integration, particularly to intermarriage. Historically, Dalits are regarded as impure because they did work that made them ritually impure, such as butchery and waste and rubbish removal. Many still perform these kinds of tasks.

“About 80% of Christians in India are Dalits because they are welcomed by Christianity, while they are not even allowed in Hindu temples,” Dao explained.

Rao visited both the Gandhi memorial at the station and the statue on Church Street.

“Coming here is a pilgrimage because Pietermaritzburg gave all Indians a saint,” he said.

The conference was hosted by the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research in the School and Religion and Theology at UKZN and the Theologians’ Forum.

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