State Leader Shares Heart for
Dalits in Interview
Recently, one of Gospel for Asia’s field correspondents had the privilege of sitting down with Dhir Vinesh, GFA’s Rajasthan state leader, and asked him about the incredible ministry to Dalits (“Untouchables”). With openness and honesty, Vinesh shares the trials, challenges and victories that come from working with these oppressed people. In the first half of this two-part interview, catch a glimpse into Dalit life and how GFA is responding to the great needs they face.
Are there many missionaries and pastors among GFA-affiliated churches who come from Dalit backgrounds?
Yes, in Rajasthan, we have more than 100 missionaries working around Dalits, all from Dalit backgrounds.
Do they primarily work among Dalits?
Yes, they work in their own Dalit communities.
They work among these people who, throughout their whole lives, are told by society that they are worth so little.
What does the message of the Gospel do for them?
For them, Jesus is the only way. They are abused by their landlords. They do not earn much money so they have to work like slaves just to pay their rent. Jesus is the only one who can liberate them from this kind of slavery. When people really understand this message, they come to Christ.
What about the work of GFA-affiliated churches?
Most of the people in our churches in Rajasthan are Dalits. It is very difficult for us to work among them because the high-caste people are doing all they can to prevent us from ministering to them. The high-caste people seem to understand that Jesus is the Dalits’ liberator. And since the high-caste people abuse the Dalits for labor to earn their own living, they don’t like us preaching about Jesus. But God has been opening ways for us to reach them.
How do you see the lives of Dalit believers changed when they come to Christ?
For Dalits, the changes are a lifelong process. They do not happen overnight. We have an intense discipleship program for the Dalits. We start with teaching them some fundamental social skills, such as how to participate in worship, basic hygiene and social manners, and how to read. They have never had a chance to learn these things before.
We also have classes in which we share some basic things with them. We have also started a Women’s Fellowship, and many of these women are now trained to go out and teach these classes.
Do the Dalits wear traditional or typical Rajasthani clothes?
They cannot wear the same clothes that the high-caste Rajasthani people wear. The Dalits have been forced to comply with a different dress code. They cannot simply wear a turban or even white clothes, because the high-caste people wear special white clothes. If they wear white, they may be beaten.
They are abused by their landlords. They do not earn much money so they have to work like slaves just to pay their rent. Jesus is the only one who can liberate them from this kind of slavery. When people really understand this message, they come to Christ.
At present, we have more than 100 missionaries, and I get 20 to 25 calls per day about upper castes persecuting the Dalits.
The Dalit men live in fear. Their landlords hold a lot of power over them. But God has been using the women’s ministry, and many men are even coming to faith through them. ”
In the interior villages, the men wear a lungi, a type of wrap-around skirt, along with a wrap-around covering instead of a shirt. In some areas where they are more educated, they are beginning to wear Western style clothing.
How do the interior village women dress?
The women wear a skirt and a short blouse with a long shawl wrapped around them.
Are most of the Dalit people from tribal areas?
Yes, they are from tribal areas.
What percentage of the people in the state of Rajasthan are Dalits?
In Rajasthan, about 70 percent of them are Dalits.
What kind of jobs do Dalits have in Rajasthan?
Almost 80 percent of them work in rice paddies. About 10 percent of them do construction work. Sometimes they are working for their landlords.
How much do they earn on average?
On average they may get 60 rupees [US$1.40] per day. Men might get 75 rupees [US$1.75] per day and women may get 45-50 rupees [US$1.05-$1.17]. But they have to work like slaves.
How many hours do they work per day?
They have to work nine to ten hours.
Do you hear very often of atrocities against Dalits?
We hear of them every day. At present, we have more than 100 missionaries, and I get 20 to 25 calls per day about upper castes persecuting the Dalits.
How do you deal with hearing about all these terrible atrocities happening to the Dalits?
There are two things we do: We call our staff and ask them to pray. Also, if the person is close enough, we send someone to go and visit them and pray with them. If they are farther away, we ask a pastor from their area to visit and encourage them.
Do you have specific ways you minister among the Dalit believers who are being oppressed?
You see, it is very hard for us to convince them that they are part of something wonderful. Although they have accepted Christ, they are still going through the same oppression.
But they do realize, even with all their problems, there is a day God has designed when they will enjoy peace.
My wife spends time with the women and encourages them. She studied counseling so when she sees a particular need, she can share with them. The women come to her and share their problems.
One woman said to my wife, “It is challenging. We know that Jesus loves us. So we know that though we go through problems, there is a day we can look forward to when all things will be changed.”
“Sister, we know that we are not part of this world,” some of the mistreated women believers told my wife.
But they still weep and cry, because they are oppressed by abuse and misuse. Some of them were abused by their fathers. My wife encourages them and shares the Gospel with them.
These people are really looking forward to heaven and being with the Lord.
How has the Lord helped you to be sensitive to the needs of these people?
We never show any partiality when we go to the Dalits. We always mingle with them. Whenever we go, I always try to dress like they dress; not like high-caste people.
So they come very close to us and share their problems and everything. My wife also was born and brought up in Rajasthan. She knows the culture and the language. So she has easy access to go and share God’s love with them. God has been using her very mightily.
What is your strategy for reaching your state and the Dalits in particular?
Our strategy is to encourage our believers first. Unless we empower them, we will not be able to go ahead. And in 2007 we are especially spending our time to teach them. This will also be a priority for the Women’s Fellowship during 2007.
What percentage of your believers are women?
Eighty percent. That is why our Women’s Fellowship teams are so actively involved in reaching out. They are doing a lot of work so the sisters will be strengthened.
Why are men not responding to the Gospel like the women?
The Dalit men live in fear. Their landlords hold a lot of power over them. But God has been using the women’s ministry, and many men are even coming to faith through them.
How can we pray for you and for Rajasthan and for the Dalits there?
Although there is freedom in Rajasthan, the pastors do not feel safe and secure doing ministry. They would especially like believers to pray for protection.
Recently, for example, there were 12 people who had asked to be baptized, and the church members all gathered together. They were supposed to be baptized in the afternoon, but a local shopkeeper, who was not a Christian, found out. He told lots of other people, so a mob gathered to stop the baptism.
When our pastor heard about this, he stopped our believers from going out to the pond. They stayed back for many hours. Then there was heavy rain, so they knew the mob had left. There was a small canal nearby, and so they rerouted the canal and drew water into a rice field. They made a big pond out of it, and baptized 12 people that way.
Please pray that God will protect our pastors and believers. Pray that God may keep them safe, and that they may stand firm for the days to come when they face persecution.
Also, there are a lot of things changing at our office so we can be closer to our pastors.
Especially pray for our Women’s Fellowship. It’s coming up very strong. Pray that God may use our sisters for something beautiful in the days to come.
You can stay up-to-date on GFA’s ministry to Dalits, including the conclusion of this interview, by subscribing to our Dalit update email service.