Seminar: "Are They Free from Caste? Nepali Dalit Conversion to Christianity" by Dr Mitra Pariyar
Unlike in India, there is no history of Dalit religious conversion in Nepal; neither has the Dalit movement taken the issue seriously. However, in recent years, particularly after the devastating April 2015 Earthquakes –wherein aid workers deployed by foreign churches were among the first to access victims and their families in far-off corners of the affected areas – churches have proliferated in some hills and mountains. According to Nepal’s Christian associations, approximately 65 per cent of the converts are Dalits. This unprecedented Dalit conversion to Christianity has triggered moral panic among the high-caste intelligentsia; and, in response, the government has outlawed forced conversion and targeted missionaries. My talk will focus on the following three areas: 1) Why the Ambedkarite ideology has had little influence upon Dalit activists and politicians of Nepal; 2) What the potential challenges and benefits of conversion may mean to the Dalit converts; and, importantly, 3) To what extent Dalit converts have escaped the caste system by joining the church. In contrast to the popular and scholarly understanding that conversion to Christianity has had little influence upon Dalit converts of India, I will demonstrate that conversion does emancipate Dalits to a degree, right from the outset.
Dr Mitra Pariyar is a Leverhulme Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Kingston University, London. He has a PhD from Macquarie University, Sydney, and Anthropology Masters from Oxford University. His works focus on caste and Nepali Dalits,mainly centred on the reproduction of caste and casteism in the UK and Australia. He has also written newspaper articles, and used Facebook quite extensively, advocating the rights of Dalits in his native country, Nepal.