Wati Longchar – « Power and powerlessness »

3. The Margins – A Product of Unjust Power Structure

The power and slavery are intertwined. The present social, cultural, religious, economic and political structures and ideologies are created mainly by the people in power, primarily to protect their interest. These social structures/institutions are collective creations of rich elite, though the dominated people have also contributed indirectly, over the centuries.  Here the organizing principle of society of power structure is that women are inferior, dalit/adivasi are unclean and impure, white people are superior, indigenous people are uncivilized, primitive and that they are sinners. This false presuppositions and beliefs are created by the privileged class to protect their interests on the one hand and it inflicts injustice and misery to many people, on the other. It is called a structural sin. In such structures, domineering and dominated classes always exist. Those who are in power exert all the privileges through exploitation of the powerless and the earth’s resources to their maximum profit perpetuating false ideology. To legitimize dominating power, unjust social structures are often legalized and supported by the Constitutions of the countries or customary laws and practices, traditions and moreover it is sanctioned by religion as in the cases of caste system, racism, patriarchy, disabilities, etc. Social arrangement and relationship are based on higher-lower, civilized-uncivilized thus it denies human rights and dignity to a large number of people. Excluded and dominated people are left to live in unbearable misery and humiliation in many ways. Today those people who have been excluded from the dominant power structures are:

  • disabled people whose presence is seen as a burden to the family and society; whose gifts and potentialities are never acknowledged, while they are seen as objects of charity, sinners and cursed by God;
  • LGBTIQ people who are seen as those with psychological and mental imbalance, being abnormal and indulging in sinful same-sex relations and acts;
  • people living with HIV and AIDS who are seen as drug abusers, sexual abusers and cursed by God;
  • indigenous people who are denied their culture, spirituality and land; being the poorest communities in their own land and whose culture, customs, rituals, sacred shrines, places of worship, sacred music, ceremonial dresses, traditions, and handiwork are commodified for commercial purpose; and who cannot compete within the dominant capitalist market system;
  • migrant workers who are exploited for maximum profit and forced to perform dirty and dangerous work without social security; 
  • farmers, labourers who survive by selling their labours in scorching sun and rain;
  • Dalits who suffer socially and religiously as the lowest group of the caste system bearing the stigma of untouchability, and whose touch, shadow and sight pollutes the people of other castes;
  • The black people whose colour is seen as cursed by God, inferior beings who are destined to be slaves of others;
  • women who are treated as inferior, subordinate beings whose bodies are commodified as mere objects of enjoyment and pleasure for others.

This is structural injustice. We need to understand that the reality of structural injustices can be understood only from the experience of the oppressed. That means one has to judge the social dynamics from the perspective of people in the periphery, but not from the centre of power. Charles Kammer points out, “All our policies, all our social structures must be first judged by their effects on the poor, the powerless, and minorities.”[2] Reflecting on the Black struggle for justice, James Cone, a champion of Black liberation movement, also says that the victim of the power alone can suggest how the world ought to be.[3] Being oppressed, they know what is wrong because they are both the victims of evil and recipients of God’s liberating activity, the Gospel of Christ.[4] Similarly, J.B. Metz opines that inherited structures have to be analyzed from the perspective of the oppressed. He says, “We have to judge ourselves and our history with the eyes of the victims.”[5] It is the marginalized groups suffering that provide us with criteria to judge the inherited social structures and eventually struggle for the humanization of the social reality. Any analysis of social reality thus has to take the stand of the option for the poor and the integrity of God’s creation very decisively. It demands conscious rejection of unjust and oppressive system in society. It is an option against social structures in favour of the victims. If theological affirmation of mission from the margin is to be realistic and command credibility, we have to abandon the idealistic and individualistic views of life and locate decisively the Kingdom’s value in the context of the margins. In other words, mission from the margins will miss the real issue and target group, if we analyze social system from the perspective of the rich. “Margin,” is thus, the ‘site’ of God’s mission. Mission needs to be analyzed, tested and validated in this site of the margin.

Therefore, ‘margin’ is a theological principle that critiques all the dominant value systems that dehumanize, exclude and push some people to marginality. It critiques cultures, traditions and theology that justify and nurture unjust institutions advocating marginality as a part of the divine creation and they will inherit the Kingdom of God.


[2] C. L. KAMMER, Ethics and Liberation: An Introduction, New York: Maryknoll, 1988, p. 156.

[3] J. CONE, Black Theology of Liberation, New York: Orbis Books, 1970, p. 192.

[4] Ibid., p. 192.

[5] J. B. METZ, Faith in History and Society: Toward a Practical Fundamental Theology, trans. by D. Smit, New York, 1990, p. 105.