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By CLG on DYoung professional women walk along the street in Bangalore, India. - CNA/Hilary Senourecember 30, 2013

A Georgetown University researcher’s pilot study found positive improvements for India’s Dalit women after converting to Christianity.

A researcher at Georgetown University in Washington has found that impoverished women in India are more likely to improve their economic circumstances after converting to Christianity.

“Conversion actually helps launch women on a virtuous circle. A woman feels better; she’s part of an active faith community; she works more; she earns more money: The extra money she earns and saves encourages her to earn more and save more and plan and invest in the future,” said Rebecca Samuel Shah, research fellow at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

Shah presented her initial findings of a pilot study looking at “patterns and directions where conversion had an impact” on Dalit women in Bangalore, India, at a conference on “Christianity and Freedom,” held in Rome Dec. 13-14.

Shah and her team studied 300 women who lived in a Dalit slum community over the course of three years. When they began their research, they did not know that 23% of the women being interviewed were actually converts to Christianity.

India’s ‘Untouchables’

Dalits are considered “outcasts” or “pariahs” in India, which has a strict caste-based society.

“One is actually born a Dalit; you cannot leave a Dalit status. You’re born, and you live, and you die a Dalit,” Shah explained. “Dalits are employed in the some of the worst jobs. … They scavenge; they sweep; they’re tanners. They do the smelliest, dirtiest work, and, therefore, they ‘pollute.’ They’re ‘untouchables.'”

Moreover, she added, “Dalits are not allowed to go near a [Hindu] temple or touch a religious object that is used in worship.”

Because “they don’t want to live on the margins” of society, “they are converting to Christianity,” she noted.

Shah’s study yielded some surprising results about the impact of Christian conversion on the lives of Dalit women in “a very violent urban slum.”

The majority of Hindu, Muslim and Christian Dalit women interviewed were illiterate. Many belong to a microfinance program that gives them access to loans, which they then use towards their children’s education or to run a small business.

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National Catholic Register

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