What Kerala’s Syrian Christians Tell Us About Caste

The community has toed the line between its minority status and privilege for millennia. But few have examined its contested past.

GettyImages-1371479848 Syrian Christians
A Syrian Orthodox Christian priest celebrates Saint George's Day in Kottayam, Kerala. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is a church based in Kerala, India. According to tradition, the church originated in the missions of Thomas the Apostle in the 1st century CE. (Rainer Krack/Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

Vaishnavi Naidu


April 22, 2024


11 min

In Arundhati Roy’s award-winning novel, The God of Small Things (1997), readers meet a Syrian Christian family living in Ayemenem, Kerala. Ammu, a Syrian Christian woman, makes the mistake of falling in love with Velutha, a Christian convert and member of the untouchable Paravan caste, who works for Ammu’s family. The story, as you can imagine, doesn’t end well, especially for Velutha, whose only sin is existing in a casteist society. 

You might be wondering: isn’t Christianity casteless, and how did “Syrian” Christians end up in Kerala? Kerala and Christianity have a long, intertwined history. Situated in southwestern India along the Malabar coast, Kerala is home to six million Christians, the largest Christian population in India, and 1890 churches. In a country of 1.4 billion people, Christians, whether Syrian or not, are a definitive minority, making up only 2.3% of the population. Yet, Syrian Christians, specifically, remain among the most misunderstood, with rumors and mythology more often than fact driving their histories. Why?

Join today to read the full story.


Already a subscriber? Log in