The Syrian Christians of Kerala are considered “traditional,” or “native” Christians in India. They trace their conversion to the year 52CE, when St. Thomas reportedly converted Hindu Brahmins to Christianity. Although Christians are demographically a minority in India, the Syrian Christians are not a marginalised community. They are caste-, race-, and class-privileged, and have long benefitted, both economically and socially, from their privileged position.
In Privileged Minorities, Sonja Thomas questions the assumed link between numerical minorities and political vulnerability. She explores how this community sheds light on larger questions of multiple oppressions, privilege and subordination, racialization, and religion and secularism in India.
Thomas examines a wide range of sources, including clothing, oral histories, interviews, and legislative assembly debates, to question the relationships between religious rights and women's rights. Using an intersectional approach and US women of colour feminist theory, she demonstrates the ways that race, caste, gender, religion, and politics are inextricably connected, giving rise to both alliances across upper-caste/middle-class communities and dissimilar experiences amongst women in minority rights movements.
Privileged Minorities asks not only if women benefit from the struggle for minority rights, but also which women are in a position to benefit, and what sort of benefit it is. By focusing on inequalities within groups and alliances across others, Thomas lays the groundwork for imagining how new feminist solidarities across religions, castes, races, and classes can be achieved.
This book will be of interest to students and scholars of feminist studies, religious studies, anthropology and sociology.
1. Syrian Christians and “God’s Own Country”
2. Clothes Reading: Communal and Secular Clothing “Choices” and Women’s Mobility in Kerala
3. Aryans and Dravidians: Syrian Christian Mythistories and Intersectional Racialized Oppression
4. Who Are the Minorities? Gender, Minority Rights Protesting, and the 1959 Liberation Struggle
5. A Life without Religion: Textbooks, Morality, and Protesting across Religious Divides
Conclusion: Postsecular Feminisms and the Charismatic Movement
Sonja Thomas is Assistant Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Colby College, Maine.