Hindu dharma is implicitly at odds with monotheistic intolerance. What is happening in India is a new historical awakening... Indian intellectuals, who want to be secure in their liberal beliefs, may not understand what is going on. But every other Indian knows precisely what is happening: deep down he knows that a larger response is emerging even if at times this response appears in his eyes to be threatening.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Church strategy during British period

Orissa under Attack–II
By Balbir K Punj

The broad picture put out by the `secular’ media, (particularly at the national level) only mirrors the position of the church; that missionaries serve the underprivileged without any evangelical agenda. The Manuwadi vested interests (read Sangh Parivar) cannot stand the emancipation of the hapless poor and resort to violence against the church. Conversion from indigenous faiths to Christianity through fraudulent means is a bogey; raised by the ‘Parivar’ to cover its black deeds and for political ends. In short, church’s motives are pious and those of its opponents devilish.

What are the facts? Were the relations between the church and the locals hunky-dory before the arrival of much abused Bajrang Dal on the Indian scene a few decades back? Would the problem disappear if the `Sangh Parivar’ was squashed and exiled from the country? Are the allegations against the church a concoction by the Parivar? And finally; is it church versus `Parivar’ or church versus locals?

The reality is that the Bajrang Dal doesn't have a significant presence in Kandhamal. Out of its four MLAs and one MP only one MLA comes from BJP, the rest are from BJD and Congress. The lone BJD minister was forced by CM Naveen Patnaik to resign since he was found openly siding with his caste people, the Panas.

Christianity came to India just a few decades after its birth; long before it reached Europe. It remained – undisturbed till about five hundred years back. Arrival of Christian missionaries who reached Indian shores as a part of imperial powers shattered their peaceful existence. Baba Saheb Ambedkar writes: “The entry of the Catholic Church in the field of the spread of Christianity in India began in the year 1541 with the arrival of Francis Xavier. He was the first Missionary of the new Society of Jesus formed to support the authority of the Pope.

The Syrian Christians shrank with dismay from the defiling touch of the Roman Catholics of Portugal and proclaimed themselves Christians and not idolators. The other is that the Malabar Christians had never been subject to Roman supremacy and never subscribed to the Roman doctrine.

The elements of a conflict between the two churches were thus present and the inquisition only gave an occasion for the conflagration.

The inquisitors of Goa discovered that they were heretics and like a wolf on the fold, down came the delegates of the Pope upon the Syrian Churches. How great was the conflict is told by Mr. Kaye in his volume already referred to.

The first Syrian prelate who was brought into antagonism with Rome, expiated his want of courage and sincerity in the dungeons of the Inquisition. The second shared the same fate. A third, whose sufferings are more worth of commiseration, died after much trial and tribulation in his diocese, denying the Pope’s supremacy to the last. The churches were now without a Bishop, at a time when they more than ever needed prelatical countenance and support; for Rome was about to put forth a mighty hand and a stretched out arm. Don Alexis de Menezes was appointed Archbishop of Goa. It was his mission less to make new converts than to reduce old ones to subjection; and he flung himself in to the work of persecution with an amount of Zealand heroism that must have greatly endeared him to Rome. Impatient of the slow success of his agents, he determined to take the staff in to his own hand. Moving down to the south, with an imposing military force, he summoned the Syrian Churches to submit themselves to his authority.”

Till the British rule lasted, the missionaries were brazen about their intent. For over 500 years, Hindu Gods were abused openly. Writing about his exposure to various religions in his childhood in Rajkot, Gandhiji says in his autobiography, “Only Christianity was at the time an exception. I developed a sort of dislike for it. And for a reason. In those days Christian missionaries used to stand in a corner near the High School and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment.” Decades later, Gandhiji recalled in Young India (March 4, 1926), “though the preaching took place over forty years ago, the painful memorary of it is still vivid before me.” Obviously this practice was followed in the entire British India.

If missionary “preaching” could leave such deep scars for so long a period on Gandhiji’s psyche, an evolved soul, how do you expect a common man to react to such a provocation? Poor Vanvasis have neither the maturity which Gandhiji had, nor articulation skills to express their hurt feelings like him through a thought provoking write-ups. The simple Vanvasis can react to the hurt and abuse in two ways—either suffering in silence or through the language of the jungle in which they live. Either way, they end up paying a heavy price for their conviction.

Social reformers—from Swami Dayanand Saraswati (founder of Arya Samaj 1824-1883), Swami Vivekanand to Mahatma Gandhi took cognizance of the real intent of the church and questioned its methods. Gandhiji said, “ I believe that there is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted sense of the term…Christian missions will render true services to India, if they can persuade themselves to confine their activities to humanitarian service without the ulterior motive of converting India or at least her unsophisticated villagers to Christianity, and destroying their social superstructure, which not withstanding its many defects, has stood now from times immemorial the onslaughts upon it from within and without.” (Harijan, September 28, 1935) Mark Gandhiji’s words “destroying their social superstructure.”

After Independence, the church changed its methods but its goal remained unchanged. Open confrontation with the indigenous faiths was dropped in favour of covert methods ,including offering inducements to the target groups (poor, needy and illiterate sections). The new strategy, focused on specific areas, has yielded handsome harvest to the church. A comparison between the census figures of 1991 and 2001 shows that rate of growth of Christian population was many times more than that of Hindus in as many as 18 out of 25 states and union territories.

(The writer is a Member of Parliament (RS) and can be contacted at

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