“They asked us to bring education with a different worldview – one that tells them that we’re all created equal, and we’re all created in the image of God – and bring worth to the child.”
The Dignity Freedom Network, as their name suggests, is an organisation in India that works with local communities to free vulnerable people – known as dalits – from all kinds of oppression, and restore their dignity. This includes providing shelter, education, and vocational training for women and children.
It all started when key dalit leaders approached Dr Joseph D’Souza, a bishop in India, in the late 1990s, during major caste upheaval in Northern India. They told him they would “find their freedom one way or another” and asked if “the church would be interested in solidarity in their struggle for human dignity and freedom”. Joseph D’Souza said, “yes”.
Though these dalit leaders weren’t themselves Christian, and even though the church in India had often failed to address caste issues, they turned to these pastors for help. They specifically asked for an education for their children that would have a Christian ethos, because they thought it would have the capacity to break the slave mentality of caste.
The Dignity Freedom Network now runs more than 100 schools across India, and they’re opening more all the time. Joseph D’Souza still remembers one of the first girls that graduated from their school program – she’ll finish her PhD in Pharmacology next year.
“I have asked her many times, ‘Tell me, do you think you’re a dalit?’ She says, ‘No, I have no concept of being an untouchable because ever since you got engaged in our lives, you have told us we are equal, made in the image of God, and I can stand up in front of any upper caste person and compete and stand for myself and work.'”
In this episode, hear from International President of the Dignity Freedom Network, Dr Joseph D’Souza, as well as Kate, who’s CEO of the Australia and New Zealand chapter, about the work they’re doing in India.
Plus Joseph D’Souza shares his personal connection with dalits and other groups outside the caste system, one that begins way before his work with the Dignity Freedom Network. Though he was born into the upper ranks of the caste system, he married a woman outside of it.
“They don’t trust us upper caste men because we exploit them, we fool them, we tell them we’ll marry their women, we marry and we dump them. So winning their trust, and going to their villages, and meeting with them, and assuring them that I was sincere, was a huge part of it.”
Dignity Freedom Network: www.dfn.org.au
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