Virginia Seminary welcomes Dalit civil rights crusaders as visiting faculty

September 3, 2008

Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandia welcomed visiting faculty members, Paul and Annie Divakar, September 3 as part of a joint effort between VTS and Wesley Seminary to help spread the word about the civil rights violations within the Indian "untouchable" caste of the Dalits.

The Dalits, which number approximately 170 million in India (260 million worldwide), fall outside of the traditional four-caste system of Indian society and are considered unclean because of the menial jobs they have been forced to carry out. Because of this, Dalits have been abused and denied simple human rights for centuries.

"The Dalit identity -- something they are born with -- has kept them captive for centuries, in a subjugated position" said Annie Divakar. "Christianity has been one way of getting out of this societal system ... 'in Christ you become one.' So the whole Christian religion and how it supports and facilitates the Dalits in their struggle is one of the things that we would like to explore while here."

Paul Divakar, a Christian Dalit who holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Madras, is the general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights (NCDHR) in New Delhi, India and the co-convenor of the International Dalit Solidarity Network. He has worked with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees during the Eritrean War in Somalia (1979-80) and with development agencies in the USA and Indonesia (1980-82). His wife, Annie, was raised an Orthodox Christian and also holds a Masters in Social Work from the University of Madras.

"We are excited about this partnership with Wesley Seminary and thankful to the Rev. A. Katherine Grieb, who helped bring such distinguished guests to our campus," said the Very Rev. Ian Markham, dean and president of VTS. "Paul and Annie Divakar have pioneered this vitally important social justice ministry in India and we are looking forward to learning from them during their stay with us."

Founded in 1823, VTS is the largest of the 11 seminaries associated with the Episcopal Church. The school prepares men and women for service in the church worldwide, both as ordained and lay ministers, and offers several professional degree programs and diplomas. Currently, the seminary represents more than 42 different dioceses and 5 different countries, for service in the church.