Response from Professor Hoole

[TamilNet, Sunday, 19 July 2009, 23:33 GMT]
Full text of the e-mail from Professor Ratnajeevan Hoole received on 15 July, responding to the note of TamilNet editorial board in the feature 'Percival was not an apostate - Prof. Hoole,' follows:

I am grateful to TamilNet for printing my response.

I do not wish to get into an argument on the details but for the edification of your editorial board and readers I would like to make an important observation on caste because, again, the TamilNet editorial assertion on caste among Christians is an attack on the Church that has done so much for the low castes (I should say lower castes since Vellalas are also low caste as Sudras in the varna).

The indictment against Christians on caste is valid in part and is a shame on us Christians. But caste will continue to be observed as a matter of interest-preservation in marriage lest it make arranging marriages for the children difficult. But TamilNet, if it is truly national in character, cannot be found to equate caste among Christians with caste among Hindus. They are very different and to equate the two is a very endorsement of caste itself.

Among Christians, caste from the beginning was a problem. People as recent Hindus would stop receiving communion if served from the same cup. They stopped coming to Church if they had to sit together. So the Church compromised. But what is important is that the Church never gave up the principle. All the credenda, formularies and exhortations of the Church repeated the teaching that "there is neither Greek nor Jew" among us. Slowly the Church undermined caste. They integrated first the parishes and then the schools and still later the hostels -- feeding the low castes at the principal's residence at the principal's table when the cooks refused to cook for them -- and finally the teaching staff too.  The Bishop of Calcutta (under whom Jaffna's Anglicans were) , mindful of the evil compromise on caste, kept sending out encyclicals that caste divisions were wrong and new converts had to sign a statement eschewing caste. Caste though observed, was never accepted as proper within the church. Today even the clergy is fully integrated.

In contrast the scene is very different in Hinduism. The texts that give us caste continue to be upheld as holy. Ramanathan and Navalar -- people whom we are asked to accept as our heroes -- did not want the low castes in government schools and started their own schools where the low-caste were prohibited. At best,Ramanathan wanted the low castes to sit outside the classroom in the compound and listen in. The duo did not even want them to be given the vote. All the credenda of the religion prohibited commensality and even the right to hear the Vedas for us Sudras. If the Saivite Vellalas of Jaffna were against caste, it was only in arguing that they were not Sudra and were intitled to hear the Vedas and receive theetchai which were prohibited by the Vedas to all Sudras. I can see many Vellalas getting angry on reading this, most vociferously asserting that they are not Sudra -- if not are they Brahmin or Ksatrya or Vaisya or perhaps even outcaste, the only remaining positions in the varna? The anger at this suggestion will show how deeply seated these beliefs are among Vellala Hindus.

Let us please call a spade a spade. Asserting caste as divine is very different from asserting it to be evil and doing all we can to fight caste while, as fallen humans, showing a few vestiges of caste from our Hindu past. I for myself am proud of the Church for all it did to undermine caste and for continuing to do so, despite failures along the way.

Prof. S. Ratnajeevn H. Hoole



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