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Standstill Utopias - Making Religion Work for the Marginalized
By Thomas Pallithanam
Hyderabad, Aug. 30. Dr.Jose Maliekal's doctoral thesis,  Standstill Utopia - Dalits Encountering Christianity , now a book published by Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK) was released in the presence of community leaders, academics, government officials, church ministers and activists at Ekalavya Training Centre, People's Action For Rural Awakening, Ravulapalem. It was only fitting the that the release was done at Ravulapalem, which is the gateway to Konaseema, the site of the research on Madiga Community's encounter with Christianity.
Chief Guest Smt.Lam Thantia Kumari( Former State Information Commissioner) and Key Note speaker Sri.George Victor (Ex-MLC) at the Release function
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It was way back in 1989 that Dr.Jose Maleikal SDB, then a brother in practical training first came to Ravulapalem, Konaseema. Those summer days, spent in the villages interacting with those living at the margins of society - the impoverished, exploited and excluded dalit agricultural labourers -  I believe left a lasting resolve in Dr.Jose Maleikal to delve deep into their past to make sense of their present and envision their future.

Dr.Jose Maleikal chose to research into the encounter of Konaseema Madiga community's - a section of scheduled whose primary occupation used to be tanning  leather -  encounter with Christianity. The research was a labour of love spread over 5 years from 1997 to 2002 trying to understand all that went into the community's embracing Christianity. The effort was not a superficial meeting with random selection of members of community but a intense study of more than 80 communities where madigas lived.

Dr.Jose Maleikal, had defended his doctoral thesis in 2003 at the Chair of Christianity of Madras University.

The book release function was graced by the presence of Smt.Lam Thantia Kumari, former Right To Information Commissioner of Andhra Pradesh, Mr.George Victor, former Member of the Legislative Council, Frs.Mathew Kunnumpuram and Arjun both missionaries who spent long years with the Konaseema Catholic communities sharing intimately their lives,, local dalit leaders Mr.Maka Rajendran, Penki Chittibabu, and many representatives of the madiga community and other dalit and   backward caste communities.

Father Vattigunta Ignatius, Director, People's Action For Rural Awakening welcomed the distinguished gathering. He was instrumental in ensuring that the release of the book was done in a  manner appropriate to context, content and intent for which the book was written.

It was only fitting that the book was released at Ekalavya Training Centre, People's Action For Rural Awakening, Ravulapalem since this organisation had picked up the baton from the early missionaries to ensure that that the hopes that led the community to Christianity would not be in vain. It continues to inspire the long haul of a struggle for dignity, security and livelihood of the dalit community, making religion work for the subalterns.

One of the key thrusts of Standstill Utopias also has been to reinterpret faith and salvation, from a subaltern key, what the author calls, a Primordial Theology, which projects  Salvation-as-Well-Being.



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