M. S. Thirumalai

Childhood Baptism and Caste Privileges

In pluralistic societies where certain privileges accrue to individuals based on their religious affiliation, questions of Christian baptism given at a tender age has become a matter of controversy, even among those who are not interested in Christianity.

A very interesting case was recently adjudicated upon by the High Court in Tamilnadu State, India.

A Hindu Dalit or a Christian?

A Dalit was declared that he could not claim any preferential treatment for employment (a practice similar to affirmation in the United States in some broad sense), because he was baptized as a Christian when he was three years old by his parents. This preferential treatment is extended as per law only to those Dalits who continue to be Hindus, according to the Government officials who decided on the case. Because of his baptism, this Dalit gentleman cannot be considered as a Hindu, claimed the officials.

The Dalit gentleman, however, claimed that his father was a Dalit Hindu and his Christian mother converted to Hinduism at the time of her marriage to his father. It was revealed, however, that he was baptized when he was three years old.

This Dalit gentleman argued that he had practiced Hinduism from his childhood and so he should be treated as a Hindu.

Childhood Baptism Not a Sufficient Reason to Refuse Caste Privileges

According to the government officials, investigation revealed that he and his entire family were practicing Christianity, and thus they were not eligible for any preferential treatment allowed only for the Hindu Dalits.

The High Court Bench with two senior judges heard the case and declared that the report of the government officials that the Dalit gentleman was still practicing Christianity was not conclusively proved. The Honorable Judges also declared, “Even assuming that the petitioner was baptized, it was done at a tender age when he was unaware of the purpose of the ritual.”

Caste is Dead, But You Can Revive It!

In yet another significant observation, the Judges declared, “when a Hindu by birth converts to Christianity or any other religion, the original caste remains under eclipse, and as soon as he reconverts to the original religion, the eclipse disappears and the caste automatically revives.”

The judgment, in a single and significant stroke, declared that infant baptism was not acceptable within law at least for Dalit converts, and that caste identity could be revived, or retrieved from its “eclipse” when an individual returns to the Hindu fold.

M. S. Thirumalai

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