Friday, September 16, 2005

Book Review - Christian Missionaries in India

Review of the book Christian Missionaries in India as appeared on

Christian Missionaries in India, August 15, 2002

Reviewer: Dr. C. J. S. Wallia (Berkeley, California United States) - Reviewed by C. J. S. Wallia

Arun Shourie is India's leading writer on politics and history. He has been an economist with the World Bank, a consultant in the planning commision and the editor of Indian Express. Among the many honors and awards for his writings, noted for rigorous analysis and meticulous research, he has received the International Editor of the Year Award, the Dadabhai Naoroji Award, the Magsaysay Award, and the Astor Award.

In Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, Arun Shourie focuses on the intentional misinterpretations of Hinduism by Christian missionaries. The book is based on an invited lecture, he gave at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India in January 1994. The bishops got quite an earful! Nonetheless, to their great credit, Shourie notes, "the bishops, the senior clergy, and scholars gathered at Pune heard him politely with unwavering attention." He adds, "Had I urged the themes of this lecture to our 'secularists', they would have denounced them as 'communal', 'chauvinist-fascist' and, having labeled them, they would have exempted themselves from considering what was being said."

Shourie quotes from a recent issue of the Texas-based magazine Gospel for Asia: "The Indian sub-continent with one billion people, is a living example of what happens when Satan rules the entire culture... India is one vast purgatory in which millions of people .... are literally living a cosmic lie! Could Satan have devised a more perfect system for causing misery?"

Swami Vivekananda during his historic visit to the U.S., a hundred years earlier, wrote: "Part of the Sunday School education for children here consists in teaching them to hate everybody who is not a Christian, and the Hindus especially, so that, from their very childhood they may subscribe their pennies to the missions .... What is meant by those pictures in the school-books for children where the Hindu mother is painted as throwing her children to the crocodiles in the Ganga? The mother is black, but the baby is painted white, to arouse more sympathy and get more money. What is meant by those pictures which paint a man burning hisown wife at a stake with his own hands, so that she may become a ghost and torment the husband's enemy? .... If all India stands up, and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and throws it up against the Western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesmal part of that which you are doing to us."

Is this fair to the missionaries? one asks. What about the numerous schools, colleges, and hospitals the missionaries established in India? Did they have a hidden agenda? Yes, says Shourie quoting from Gandhiji's Collected Works. In Gandhiji's discussions with missionaries, they acknowledged that "the institutions and services are indeed incidental, that the aim is to gather a fuller harvest of converts for the Church."

Many of the missionaries who came to see Gandhiji had in his words "designs to convert" him to Christianity. "But what is your attitude to Jesus? the missionaries would always come around to asking Gandhiji. He was a great world teacher among others, Gandhiji would say But that he was the greatest, I cannot accept. He had not the compassion for instance of the Buddha, Gandhiji would recount.... The reverend gentlemen would retire with the imprecation, 'Mr. Gandhi... soon there will come a day when you will be judged, not in your righteousness, but in the righteousness of Jesus."'

In the central section of the book, "The Division of Labour"-- among the British administrators, missionaries, and European Indologists-- Shouire cites extensively from historical documents to establish that these three groups colluded in essential agreement that "India is a den of ignorance, inequity and falsehood; the principal cause of this state of affairs is Hinduism; Hinduism is kept going by the Brahmins; as the people are in such suffering, and also because Jesus in his parting words has bound us to do so, it is a duty to deliver them to Christianity; for this, it is Hinduism which has to be vanquished."

Macaulay's notorious minute instituting English as the medium of instruction in India, says Shourie, "was laced with utter contempt for India, in particular for Hinduism, for our languages and literature: of course, Macaulay did n6t know any of those languages... his ideas about Hinduism had been formed from the calumny of missionaries .... But the breezy, sweeping damnation-- even a century and a half later, the imperialist swagger takes one's breath away."
Shourie quotes, at considerable length, from the writings of two high-ranking nineteenth century British administrators, Richard Temple and Charles Treveylan. Richard Temple: "...the missions in India are doing a work which strengthens the imperial foundations of British power.. the results are fully commensurate with the expenditure." Trevelyan: "A generation is growing up which repudiates idols. A young Hindu, who had received a liberal English education, was forced by his family to attend the shrine of Kali, upon which he took off his cap to'Madam Kali,'made her a low bow, and hoped her ladyship was well."

Most of the European Indologists were far from being the objective scholars they pretended to be. The two most prominent Indologists were Max Muller and Monier-Williams, both committed to uprooting and destroying Hinduism.

Here's what Max Muller, the best-known European Indologist, wrote in a letter to his wife. "...I still have a lot of work to do... my translation of the Veda will hereafter tell to a great extent on the fate of India and on the growth of millions of souls in that country. It is the root of that religion and to show them what the root is, I feel sure, is the only way of uprooting all that has sprung from it during the last 3,000 years."

Monier-Williams, the second holder of the Boden chair of Sanskrit at Oxford University and whose Sanskrit-English dictionary is still used, wrote in its preface that "the Boden chair of Sanskrit was set up by Colonel Boden to promote the translation of Christian Scriptures into Sanskrit, so as to enable his countrymen to proceed in the conversion of the natives of India to the Christian religion." He told the Missionary Congress held at Oxford on 2 May 1877, "The chief obstacle to the spread of Christianity in India is that these people are proud of their tradition and religion." His dictionary, he hoped, would enable the translation of the Bible into Sanskrit and "when the walls, of the mighty fortress of Brahminism are encircled, undermined, and finally stormed by the soldiers of the Cross, the victory of Christianity must be signal and complete."

Looking at the cauldron of calumnies cooked up Christian missionaries, the imperialists, and the so-called objective scholars, makes the outrage expressed by Swami Vivekananda and Gandhiji entirely understandable. Gandhiji wrote: "If I had the power and could legislate, I should stop all proselytising.... it is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth."

To present the point of view of the Church, Shourie has included a 50-page report distributed by the Catholic Bishops at the Conference. This report describes the four churches which make up the Church in India--the Syrian Christian communities in Kerala; the Padroado Church originating in Goa, the Tribal Churches in Central India and in the North East; and the Dalit Churches.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the intellectual history and cultural make-up of contemporary India.


Post a Comment

<< Home