Dalit Theology




FR. Sebastian Kappen (1924-1993)

Sebastian Kappen (4 January 1924, Kodikulam, Kerala ( India ) - 30 November 1993, Bangalore ,  India ), was a renowned Indian Jesuit priest and Theologian.

Sebastian Kappen, an Indian theologian, was also censured for his book Jesus and Freedom.  Under Cardinal Ratzinger's influence, theological formation schools were forbidden from using the Catholic Church's organization and grounds to teach liberation theology in the sense of theology using unacceptable Marxist ideas, not in the broader sense.

Sebastian Kappen was a well-known thinker, writer and social activist who has made substantial contribution towards evolving perspectives on culture and development. He has inspired many in the field of social action in South India

Sebastian Kappen (1924-1993) doctored in 1961 from the Gregorian University , Rome , with a thesis on “Praxis and religious alienation according to the economic and philosophical manuscripts of Karl Marx”. His subsequent studies have been geared to the requirements of transformative social action in India . This led him to an investigation into the liberative and humanizing potential of the original teaching of the historical Jesus as well as of Indian religious traditions, particularly the tradition of dissent represented by the Buddha and medieval Bhakti movement. He has written and lectured extensively on the cultural prerequisites for the radical restructuring of Indian Society

His works in English and Malayalam include “From Faith to Revolution”, “Jesus and freedom”, “Marxian Atheism”, “Liberation Theology and Marxism”, “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Marx”, “Prophesy and Counter Culture”, “The Future of Socialism and Socialism of the Future”, “Understanding Communalism”, “Tradition Modernity and Counterculture”, and “Hindutva and Indian Religious Traditions”.

Sebastian Kappen highlighted the need to harness the resources of religion and culture to the task of social transformation. His bold and original path of rethinking , his breaking of conceptual taboos and his rejection of inherited schemata make him an indispensable guide for those grappling with the question of the role of religion and culture in social transformation.

Kappen was engaged in a study of communalism and the post-modernism debate, when mother earth called him back on the 30th November 1993.

In 1977, he published Jesus and Freedom, with an introduction by the Belgian priest and professor at the Louvain University François Houtart. The book came under official Church scrutiny. Kappen responded with a pamphlet entitled Censorship and the Future of Asian Theology. He wrote:

“I write with responsibility. There can be defects or errors in my work. I am not infallible. Responsible thinkers and scholars the world over could judge and sift my work. In public discussions we can help each other and learn from one another. That is how truth grows in history: through a social process, and not through secret censorship”.

No further action was taken by Church authorities on this matter.

Kappen had been visiting professor to the Pontifical Faculty of Theology (Pune), Vidyajyoti College of Theology ( Delhi ), The Catholic University of Louvain ( Belgium ) and Maryknoll Seminary ( New York ).


Writings in English

§                    Jesus and Freedom, Orbis Books, New York , 1977.

§                    Marxian Atheism, 1983.

§                    Jesus and Cultural Revolution; an Asian Perspective, 1983.

§                    Liberation Theology and Marxism, 1986.

§                    The Future of Socialism and Socialism of the Future, Bangalore , 1992.

Writings in Malayalam

§                    Vswäsathilninnu Viplavathilèkku (From Faith to Revolution),1972.

§                    Marxian Darsśnathinu Orämukham (An Introduction to the Philosophy of Marx), 1989

§                    Pravachanam Prathisamskruthi (Prophecy and Counterculture),1992.

§                    Akraistavanäya Yèśuviné Thèdi (In Search of the Non-Christian Jesus), 1999 (posthumous).


 Posthumous publications

§                    Tradition Modernity Counterculture, 1994.

§                    Hindutva and Indian Religious Traditions, 2000.

§                    Divine Challenge and Human Response, 2001.

§                    Jesus and Society, ISPCK, Delhi , 2002.

§                    Jesus and Culture, ISPCK, Delhi , 2002.

§                    Towards a Holistic Cultural Paradigm, 2003.


Since 1994 we have been organising memorial lectures on topics which were of concern to him and relevant for our times.  The first of the lecture was given by my brother Dr.M.M.Thomas in 1994 on “The Search for Alternatives”"


Hence we need to trace back the liberative streams in various religious practices and history rather than creating hegemony through oppressive symbols and religious institutions. The institutions of religions often fossilize beliefs and faiths into doctrinal dogmas to provide semblance of emotional and spiritual security to people. Dogmas are authoritarian doctrines, devoid of the authenticity of real life experience. There has always been a creative dissent outside the institutions of religions, which sought to reform society and thinking. In India , such creative dissent for reform emerged through the legacy of the Buddha, Lokayata and Charvarka tradition, Bhakti and Sufi movements, and the legacy of Kabir, Dara Shukoh, Sayyid Ahmad Khan,Raja Ram Mohanroy, Vivekananda, Mahatma Phule, Narayana Guru, Pandita Rambai, and Gandhi. Such a liberative and reformist streak found an expression in various movements for socio-religious reforms. 

The efforts of Dr. Sebastian Kappan and Dr. M. M.Thomas in developing a Christian liberation theology relevant to India; the ongoing efforts of Asghar Ali Engineer to discover the liberative and reformative streaks in Islam and the efforts of Swami Nitya Chaitanya Yathi, a disciple of Shri Narayana Guru, Swami Agnivesh and others to promote a liberative discourse within the Hindu tradition need to be emphasized in the ongoing discussion on secularism and pluralism in India.

Bohras won't back Modi: Asghar Ali Engineer

In Islam, justice is a most fundamental value; it connotes one of Allah's names also.
Allah's name is Aadil (Just). The Quran repeatedly emphasises justice and even goes to the extent of saying justice is closest t
o piety (Taqwa) and so “do justice”, it commands, as it is closest (aqrab) to piety.
But many of our theologians think piety lies in offering prayers and fasting alone whether it results in just conduct or not. They say all Islamic laws are most just but then differ, like others, on the definition of justice. …( Asghar Ali Engineer)



Swami Nitya Chaitanya Yathi, a disciple of Shri Narayana Guru

Devoid of dividing walls of Caste
Or hatred of rival faith,
We all live here
In Brotherhood,
Such, know this place to be!
This Model Foundation!


Swami Agnivesh

‘Our real issues are poverty and the glaring socio-economic inequality. These are the biggest issues, the biggest challenges.’ 'Obscurantist, ritual-ridden, superstition-mongering religion should be given a prompt burial,’ 


We need to strive for building up new social solidarity by integrating liberative streaks of various religious and ethical traditions to build up a new ethic for social change. When Marx said, “Religion is the opium of the people” he was talking of religion as an ideology of oppression and delusion. But Marx also said that religion is “the expression of real distressed, the sigh of the oppressed creatures, the heart of the heartless world, and the spirit of a spiritless situation.” It is the second statement of Karl Marx that needs to be connected with the search for a liberation theology and a liberative ethics. Hence we need to celebrate the idea of pluralism and diversity from the perspective of secularism as a contemporary ethics, kalaatmak dharma, relevant to the present context. Such a liberative ethics should guide our journey towards a more just and humane co existence, irrespective of religion, region, caste and creed.

 JS Adoor  


Christological Reflections based on Kappan by Xavier James L S




In his book JESUS AND FREEDOM, Dr. Sebastian Kappan has illustrated how Jesus can be relevant to India and to our time. He searches for relevance of faith for the liberation of the human. Kappan interprets the relevance along the lines of Justice. It is felt in our time to be witnesses to the Gospel are to stand for justice. I enjoyed reading this book because it brings out the problems of our time and tries to project a vision for the Indian society.  Theology is a systematic reflection on a religious experience, on an encounter between God and Man. It is a reflection to build up New Humanity. It is striking that there is contradiction existing between liberation and religion. Religion is supposed to liberate each man and woman. But in reality we see that it is so institutionalized and binding. It is high time to re-read the Gospel in the light of the challenges raised by today’s oppressed people. So that we can make it relevant to today’s context. The author goes further to explain, using the recent knowledge of social theories and analysis, how to approach the Gospel reality. Fidelity to Christ demands an option in favour of the poor and the oppressed. In this, sensitivity and openness to their point of view is required. This will help us in our struggle for New Humanity and exemplary community. This Jesus community will enable us to sow the seeds of the values of the Kingdom of God .



It is said that India lives in the village. The majority of the Indians live in the rural area.  Among them 40% are landless and live at the mercy of others, who hold a larger property. The rich tend to exploit the landless. Work is a process of humanization of nature and of the environment. We have seen and have experienced that the workers are ill treated in their working places. Thus we experience the degradation of the working class in contemporary Indian society. The human beings are essentially workers. In a sense we are our work. Work is not something that is added on to our essence. It is already complete when we are created. In our country, we notice that one out of ten Indians is unemployed. And population is so high that poverty strikes many families. In the case of those employed, they have no freedom of choice in their work. They are often exploited.  To eradicate this evil, we need to bring about some changes in the attitude of the people.


As a prophet Jesus’ mission was to confront his contemporaries with the will of God as revealed in history. The prophet has to call upon the people to respond to its demands through a personal decision. If there is any dehumanizing act done in the area of human life and work, we Christians, are called to commit ourselves to fight against it, so that we can witness the kingdom of God in our daily lives and the values of the kingdom may be rooted in the hearts of everyone. All our experiences with regard to Kingdom of God are at once negative and positive. The author says, they are negative because they limit our knowledge about the kingdom. They are positive because it contains elements of truth, beauty and goodness. Kingdom of God therefore, is on the one hand the liberation of man from every alienation; on the other, it is the full flowering of the human on our planet. This freedom is not only freedom from but also freedom for creativity, community and love. And so, we may also rejoice in the consoling words of the scripture. “God will wipe away every tear form their eyes; there will be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away”(Rev: 21:3-4). The proclamation of Jesus meant that God was going to intervene definitively in history to sum up and bring it to fulfillment (Mark.1:15). This is very vivid in his words and deeds especially in healing and exorcisms (Luke. 11:20, 7:22-23).

To understand the deeper meaning of the gift character of the Kingdom an analogy from an ordinary human experience may help. A young boy meets a girl. He eventually develops a liking for her. And in course of time liking grows into love. He expresses his newborn love in many ways – through looks, words, gifts and so on. Yet he knows fully well that none of his initiatives can necessarily make her love him in return. If she does reciprocate it is not a necessary outcome of his attentions but a free self-giving. It is a free gift, on her part can transform their relationship into a true communion, into the nucleus of a community. Similarly, humankind cannot merit or take possession of God through its own efforts. If every love is a gift, such is God’s love for man.  Coming of a new age presupposes not only the initiative of God but also the obedient and creative participation of the human person. It is God’s self-giving embodied in things, events, persons and experiences that lies at the root of human response, individual and collective. This is very clear in the manifesto of Jesus (Luke. 4:16-21).


Illness and natural calamities are cosmic evils. They have demonic dimension. Jesus saw them as an organized force under the supreme command of their leader, satan (Lk. 13:17).  God commanded men and women to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). But we see that men and women are reduced to the condition of slaves. They are slaves to illness of several kinds -physical, psychological and moral. We need to be free to exercise the command of the creator who gave us the authority to be free and free others. 


The response of Jesus to human cosmic bondage may be summed up in the words of Peter as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles: “God anointed Jesus with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him”(Acts:10:38). His prophetic ‘no’ to the bondages, took the form of miracles. It is important to note in this context that Jesus does not put himself in the centre of things. He does not claim the miracles to be manifestations of his own power. He attributed them to the power of God. By saying, “your faith has cured you” (Matthew. 9:29), he underlines that he or she is reborn from slavery to freedom. One is restored to inner harmony and at peace within himself. By his very nature man is able to bring harmony and peace. Jesus was so taken hold of by the power of God that he could work miracles. We cannot rule out the possibility that even today God so takes hold of the spirit of men and women that he or she becomes capable of healing the souls and bodies of fellowmen by a mere word or gesture. One becomes free only in the measure in which one becomes natural. Cosmic Freedom is the humanization of nature. Freedom has to be in response to the God who is to come and is already ‘becoming’ in history.


The question regarding the relevance of Jesus for social liberation today could be raised in two stand points. Some people, who are not the believers, but have certain appreciation of Jesus’ person and message. Others being a disciple of Jesus they have encountered him and identified themselves with their faith and commitment.

In Jesus’ community, no disciple is an island, but related to other disciples in time and space. Roots of discipleship go back to the past. The simple Galilean fishermen who had communion with Jesus are the eye openers to us. The distinguishing factor is being centered upon Jesus, in sharing of hope and faith. That is, the God of Jesus is one who is at work in the world fashioning the new humanity by giving himself to all. Jesus Community believes in the new humanity. This Community is not a sect, opposed to other sects nor does it represent a religion, which opposes others, which is arrogant with others and thinks itself as self-righteous. It accepts the fact that others are being saved.


First of all we quicken and sustain human hope in the new humanity as the ultimate point of arrival of all struggles for liberation. Hope is not just a virtue but climax of the human spirit. To lose hope is to die. When a boy and a girl decide to marry, they do so in the hope that they will be true to each other and will be able to meet the demands of life together. Similarly, when a people opt for new model of society, they do so in the hope that they will be able to create and maintain it. Hope in the new humanity should not be regarded as alien to the people of India . It is implicit in the very longing of the oppressed masses for better days ahead. Even their hopelessness today presupposes that hope.

It is the centuries of foreign domination and colonialism that made us materially and mentally slaves. Our economy is still, to a considerable extent, geared to the benefit of foreign capitalism or Soviet socialism. We are likewise subjected to a steady and powerful cultural invasion from the west to which we all too easily succumb.

It would be wrong to think of human welfare solely in terms of production and consumption. When people have no control on production and consumption it is more dehumanizing. In a truly socialist society there cannot be any dichotomy between economy and politics. Still we hope and work for a better world.


Jesus community does not look at the past. But it is always future looking. The present was also the central concern of Jesus. What distinguished him from of prophets that went before him was his message that the reign of God was already germinating in the present. Jesus, for the first time, invited his contemporaries to turn away from the excessive pre-occupation with the future or the past and listen to the call of the present. He demands the same attitude from his community today i.e. from us.


The signs are not just any event or situation but only those that carry significance for the ultimate future of man. Whatever contributes to the fullness of man is to be understood. Whatever fosters freedom, love, equality, co-operation and solidarity are positive signs of the times. Whatever does not are negative signs. For instance putting up hostels for the harijans is a good act for the welfare of the underprivileged. But it perpetuates the caste inequality in our Indian society. We often turn our deaf ear to this social evil, which destroys the harmony of our society. The people are also not made aware of it.


Community reads the signs of the times in order to act upon them. Action will have to be two fold: One is fostering the energies of the new age to come and the other is fighting the forces of dehumanization. The role of the community in the society is to be a two-edged sword. The prophet is called to cut and heel, to pull down and to uproot, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant (Jer.1:10).


The community has to protest not only against the existing social system but also against the failure of its own leaders. When the leaders do protest, they are very selective. For instance, they raise their voice while minority right is tampered but are silent when the rights of the under privileged are brutally violated. For sexual immorality they make a big noise but close their eyes to inhumanity of the social system that forces thousands of innocent girls to take to prostitution in order to make their living. In recent times they have come out with radical pronouncements on Social Justice. But practically they do nothing. If we have such leaders how can our social system improve or progress? As Jesus community, what is our response? Is it only celebrating the Eucharist and not living it out?


By virtue of faith and hope the community shares freedom and life with Jesus. It is in conscience, we are bound to work for the liberation of the downtrodden and the marginalized of India through a revolution. But does not revolution necessarily involve the use of violence, which goes counter to the teachings of Jesus?  Are we aware of the existing institutionalized violence against the under privileged?  Seen from this angle the teaching of Jesus on nonviolence is today as valid as ever. Evil can be overcome not by countering it with evil but by releasing the powers of love dormant in the hearts of men. What we need today is not the organization of violence or the mobilization of collective hatred but the dissemination of love and concern for others, of a love and concern extending even to the oppressors. For oppressors too are in their own way alienated. They are alienated from their true social essence. They are as much subject to existential bondage as the oppressed themselves. The community has to uphold the universal love of Jesus, which he taught as a greatest potential for the liberation of the human beings.



In order to make Jesus’ message relevant to the exploited masses of India , the community must take every effort to humanize itself, and to fight against all that binds men and women. If our religion is institutionalized, then it is bound. It is similar to Jesus’ time. Jesus had to liberate from tradition bound Judaism in order to be radically honest to God and his kingdom. Price of radical humanity will be death. But it is necessary for someone to lay down their lives that others may have life and have it in all its fullness (John. 10:10).

As I was reading through the book, I have found that the author has really put a lot of effort into his great work. Theologizing in India is not easy, as we are in a pluralistic society. While theologizing, we need to be faithful to the church and bring transformation in it. Dr. Kappan’s life was a message as he lived with the poor, worked with poor and died among poor in Chennai slums. Such people are an inspiration to me as I do my theological studies. There is a constant question to myself: How can I make Jesus relevant to the people whom I serve?



Tracts Introducing Jesus to the Contemporary Man



Sebastian Kappen

About This Tract

Anawim is addressed to all those who cherish the memory of Jesus of Nazareth and draw inspiration from him for radical social commitment. Each issue will deal with a relevant theme from the Gospels.

All human experience is ambivalent. We encounter pain, despair, hatred, injustice, and inequality, on the one hand; and love, goodness, peace, and beauty, on the other. By instinct, as it were, we reject the former and welcome the latter. We want to root out whatever cripples our spirit and smothers our creativity. We wish the good and the beautiful we experience to endure for ever and attain to ever greater fullness. We nurse the silent hope that our longing for fullness of being, knowing, and having will one day be realized. It is against the horizon of this hope that our life unfolds  with its varied decisions and actions. It forms the mainspring of our life and spurs us on to action, in spite of obstacles and failures. Were hope to die,  life would come to a standstill and everything would lapse into meaninglessness.

The more truly human we are, the more our individual horizons of hope tend to coincide with that of society as a whole. The concerns of all become our concern. Every blow dealt to a neighbour, we experience as dealt to ourselves. So too everything that gladdens the hearts of   others will find an echo in us. It becomes impossible for us to seek our own happiness, unconcerned about the happiness of others. The measure of our humanity,  then, is the measure in which we find in the well-being of the community, our own well-being.

The personal-social horizon of hope in the ultimate foulness of man is not a mere product of creative fancy. It is not so much that we project it as that we are projected by it. We both pursue and are pursued by it. Though rooted in our experience, it also reveals itself  as coming into our life from the Beyond and taking hold of us in such a way that we are under its command. No longer are we free not to hearken to it. We cannot deny it without denying ourselves. Thus  the human fullness, we hope for, manifests itself at the same time as divine fullness.

Though this dimension of ultimate hope is found in all communities and  cultures  and is part of  universal human experience, it finds articulate expression only in some persons who feel called in a special manner to bear witness to it. Such men are called prophets. Their mission is to confront their contemporaries with their common hope as revealed in concrete historical events and situations. They point to  the present and the promises it bears for the future of man. They call upon their fellowmen to respond to the challenges which the realization of that future poses. 

Their message is therefore essentially time-bound. Thus, for instance, Amos and Isaiah interpreted the times for the people of Israel at a time when they lived under the shadow of threat from the Assyrian empire; Jeremiah, when the neo-Babylonians were poised to conquer Palestine ; Haggai and Zachariah in the context of the political convulsions that overtook Persia . In their respective historical situations they saw the footprints of the divine and where these led to, namely, the age of human-divine fullness yet to come.

It is in the line of these great prophets that Jesus of Nazareth stands. At a critical period in the history of the Jews when they were groaning under the weight of Roman imperialism, he deciphered for them the ultimate meaning of history. More than any other prophet and in a unique manner he was taken hold of by the horizon of  mankind's hope for the fullness of freedom and love. This happened on the day he underwent the baptism for the forgiveness of sins at the hands of John the Baptizer. It was then that the spirit (power) of God descended upon him and took command of his destiny (Mk 1: 9-12). It was when he publicly proclaimed his oneness with the condition of all men as sinners -- as estranged from nature, other men, themselves, and God -- that the challenge of man's absolute future gripped him by the very roots of his being.

On the banks of Jordan he received a new mind and heart, a new faith and hope. From then on he began to see things in a new light, in the light of the God who is to come, of His glory yet to be reflected in the faces of all men. From then on his only and ultimate concern was  the realization of the fullness of man which he termed, as did his contemporaries, the Reign of God. When he told his disciples, ``Set your mind, on God's kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well'' (Mt. 6:33), he was but enjoining on them what he himself did. For him too the hoped for reign of justice and love was the pearl of great value, the treasure hidden in the field (Mt.13:44-46), for the sake of which he was prepared  to sacrifice everything else. Compared with this all-absorbing concern, things like what he should eat, how he should clothe himself, and where he should lay his head were but trifles. It is therefore in the light of Jesus'  hope in the reign of God that we should understand his controversies with adversaries, his practice ofm working cures and driving out demons, his conflict with the religious and the political Establishment, and, above all, his tragic death on the cross.

Unfortunately, the all-determining role which the reign of God played in the life and teaching of Jesus was lost sight of from very early times. The stress came to be shifted from the hope of the future to the past of Jesus' death and resurrection or to his presence as experienced by the community of believers. Worse, the community itself began to be looked upon as the reign of God. From then on what mattered was not so much striving towards the future but either conserving the past or legitimizing the present.   This trend needs to be reversed. We have to recapture the original thrust of Jesus' hope which alone can release the creative energies of mankind for the building up of a more humane society.

This is particularly true of our age in which science and technology have provided us with the means either to create a better future or to destroy ourselves. Never in the past was mankind faced with such frightening options. In this critical juncture of history nothing less than an absolute, unconditional hope can save man and his creations from chaos and destruction.

[First published in August 1976] 
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