17. Missions since Independence
Missions Since Independence
The Constitution of independent India adopted in January 1950 made things quite smooth for the Christian missions. They surged forward with renewed vigour. Nationalist resistance to what had been viewed as an imperialist incubus during the Struggle for Freedom, broke down when the very leaders who had frowned upon it started speaking in its favour. Voices which still remained �recalcitrant� were sought to be silenced by being branded as those of �Hindu communalism�. Nehruvian Secularism had stolen a march under the cover of Mahatma Gandhi�s sarva-dharma-sambhAva.
The followers of Mahatma Gandhi were the first to forget what their Master had said repeatedly on the subject of proselytization. Some of them found berths in the new power set-up and fell in. line with Pandit Nehru. Some others who felt frustrated for one reason or the other became fascinated by Mao-tse Tung and started seeing the Mahatma reincarnated in Red China. Constructive workers of the Gandhian movement gave priority to economic programmes and sidelined all social and cultural problems. A new breed of �Gandhians� became busy floating Voluntary Agencies and looking forward to being funded by Western Foundations. Some of these foundations were avowedly dedicated to promoting only Christian causes. Small wonder that these �Gandhians� became, in due course, active or passive accomplices of the Christian missions.
The worst crisis, however, overtook those who became known as Hindu leaders in post-independence India. So long as the Mahatma was alive they had prospered by accusing him of promoting �Muslim and Christian causes� at the cost of �Hindu interests�. Now that he was no more, they did not really know what to do. Some of them continued to live in the past, deriving satisfaction from cursing the Mahatma for misleading the country for all time to come. Others revised their attitude towards him but they did so more out of convenience than conviction. Sarva-dharma-samabhAva acquired a new meaning for them. Criticism of Christian, dogmas became a �negative� approach. The �positive� approach, they started saying, should match the missionary effort in the fields of education, medicine and social services. It did not occur to them that Hindu society being poor and bereft of a state of its own was in no position to run the race. The �positive� approach thus became, for all practical purposes, an excuse for not facing the problem at all.
The bright sunshine in which Christian missions started basking can be reported best in the words of a Jesuit missionary. �The Indian Church,� writes Plattner, �has reason to be glad that the Constitution of the country guarantees her an atmosphere of freedom and equality with other much stronger religious communities. Under the protection of this guarantee she is able, ever since independence, not only to carry on but to increase and develop her activity as never before without serious hindrance or anxiety. The number of foreign missionaries registered an unprecedented increase. �One must admit,� continues Plattner, �that the number of missionaries who came to India soon after independence had perceptibly increased. During the war years very few of them ever reached India. So a kind of surplus was building in Europe with corresponding lack of personnel in India� At the same time the Communists were expelling thousands of missionaries - mainly members of the American sects - from China. Some of them were then transferred to India but not all of them could adapt themselves to Indian conditions.�
Far more foreboding than this forward march of the Christian missions, however, was the fact that they were able to take in their stride two serious exposures of their character and activities made during the fifties. The first jolt they received was from a book by K. M. Panikkar published in 1953. The second was the publication, in 1956, of the Niyogi Committee�s report on missionary activities in Madhya Pradesh. The powers that be - the Government, the political parties, the national press and the intellectual elite - either protected the missions for one reason or the other or shied away from studying and discussing the exposures publicly for fear of being accused of �Hindu communalism�, the ultimate swear-word in the armoury of Nehruvian Secularism.
Panikkar�s study was primarily aimed at providing a survey of Western imperialism in Asia from A.D. 1498 to 1945. Christian missions came into the picture simply because he found them arrayed, always and everywhere, alongside Western gunboats, diplomatic pressures, extraterritorial rights and plain gangsterism. Contemporary records, consulted by him, could not but cut to size the inflated images of Christian heroes like Francis Xavier and Matteo Ricci. They were found to be not much more than minions employed by European kings and princes scheming to carve out empires in the East. Their methods of trying to convert kings or commoners in Asia were fraudulent or conspiratorial or morally questionable. Seeing that �missionary activities� were connected with Western political supremacy in Asia and synchronised with it�, Panikkar had concluded, �It may indeed be said that the most serious, persistent and planned effort of European nations in the nineteenth century was their missionary activities in India and China where a large scale attempt was made to effect a mental and spiritual conquest as supplementing the political supremacy already enjoyed by Europe.�
What hurt the missionaries most, however, was Panikkar�s observation that �the doctrine of the monopoly of truth and revelation is altogether alien to the Asian mind� and that �practically every educated Asian who seriously and conscientiously studied to understand the point of view of the missionary, from Emperor Kang Hsi to Mahatma Gandhi, has emphasised this point.� He had knocked the bottom out of the missionary enterprise. No monopoly of truth and revelation, no missions. It was as simple as that.
The missionaries were up in arms. �To prove his point,� they said, �Panikkar picks and chooses historical facts and then deals with them one-sidely.� But none of them came out with facts which could redeem or even counterbalance those presented by Panikkar. Efforts to explain them away or put another interpretation on them, also remained a poor exercise. Fr. Jerome D�Souza had jibed, �A very fine narrative Mr. Panikkar, but you must not call it history.� He or his missionary colleagues, however, never bothered to tell what was that history which Panikkar had not taken into account. Subsequent Christian writings show that missionaries have not been able to stop smarting from the hurt caused by Panikkar�s study.
The message that Panikkar had tried to convey to Asians, particularly, his own countrymen, was that the history of Christianity was, for all practical purposes, a running commentary on the Christian doctrine. Christian missions were quick to understand it although they have never acknowledged the debt. Ever since, Christian historians have been making herculean efforts to salvage the doctrine from the history it had created. By now there is a plethora of Christian literature which bemoans �the colonial handicap� that has stood in the way of Christ scoring over Rama and Krishna. And there has been a determined effort to present to the Indian people what Stanley Jones has described as the �disentangled Christ�. It is only India�s politicians and intellectual elite who have failed to grasp what Panikkar had revealed about the character of the Christian doctrine.
Thus howsoever serious the flutter which Panikkar�s book caused inside missionary dovecotes, the atmosphere outside continued to be favourable for them. Of course, �narrow minded Hindus and fanatical Communists� provided some pen-pricks off and on. But they came to nothing in every instance. �The question was raised in Parliament,� narrates Plattner, �as to whether the right to propagate religion was applicable only to Indian citizens or also to foreigners residing in India, for example the missionaries. In March 1954, the Supreme Court of India-expressed its opinion that this right was a fundamental one firmly established in the Constitution and thus applied to everyone - citizen and non-citizen alike - who enjoyed the protection of India�s laws. With this explanation the missionaries were expressly authorised to spread the faith, thus fulfilling the task entrusted to them by the Church.�
In 1955 a bill came before Parliament �which if passed would have seriously handicapped the work of missionaries�, because it �provided for a strict system of regulating conversions.� The issue was conversions brought about by force, fraud or material inducements. But no less a person than the Prime Minister of India, Pandit Nehru, came to the rescue of Christian missions and persuaded the Parliament to throw out the bill. �I fear that this bill,� said Pandit Nehru, �will not help very much in suppressing evil methods but might very well be the cause of great harassment to a large number of people. We should deal with those evils on a different plane, in other ways, not in this way which may give rise to other ways of coercion. Christianity is one of the important religions of India, established here for nearly two thousand years. We must not do anything which gives rise to any feeling of oppression or suppression in the minds of our Christian friends and fellow-countrymen.�
The signing of the defence pact between the U.S.A. and Pakistan in 1954 had, however, made the Government of India somewhat strict about granting of visas to foreign, particularly American, missionaries. �The Catholic Bishops of India,� writes Plattner, �found it very difficult to reconcile themselves to this new turn of affairs, which they considered highly unpleasant and unjustifiable. In March 1955 a delegation under the leadership of Cardinal Gracias of Bombay requested an interview with Prime Minister Nehru and Home Minister Pandit Pant, who had succeeded Dr. Katju.� Pandit Nehru, according to the Secretary of the Catholic Bishops� Conference of India, was �sympathetic but pointed out that the problem was political and national, not religious.� Pandit Pant, on the other hand, gave a practical advice which proved very helpful to the missions in the long run. �He could not understand,� continues Plattner, �why the Catholic Church, which had a long and historic existence in the country, had not succeeded in training Indian priests and professors for seminaries. The interview helped us to realise that in every sphere we have to recruit locally and train selected candidates for responsible positions.� The Home Minister of India, it seems, had no objection to the sale of a narcotic provided the vendors were native. Nor did he see any danger in the spread of a network financed and controlled from abroad. The lesson that the East India Company had subjugated the country by training and employing native mercenaries, had not been learnt.
What the network was doing was revealed soon after by the report of an Enquiry Committee appointed by the Government of Madhya Pradesh. �In the words of the Secretary of the Catholic Bishops� Conference of India,� reports Plattner, �it created a sensation everywhere in India. For the Committee roundly condemned the efforts of Catholic and Protestant missionaries among the aboriginal tribesmen of the State�s remote rural areas. The converts, it was alleged, were estranged from the ways of their own country with the express purpose of creating a �State within a State�. It expressed the fear that one day the Christian community would assert its right to form a separate state as the Moslems of Pakistan had done.�
The appointment of the Committee was occasioned by �the activities of some Mission organisations in the recently Merged States of Raigarh, Udaipur, Jashpur and Surguja� where trouble had been reported soon after their merger in Madhya Pradesh. �This strip of land,� recorded the Committee, �comprising Surguja, Korea, Jashpur, Udaipur, Chang-bhakar and some other small States of Orissa is surrounded by Bihar and Orissa States and is inhabited by a very large percentage of aboriginals. The tract is full of forests and mineral resources. Foreign Missionaries from Belgium and Germany had established themselves in Bihar and Orissa and also in Jashpur in 1834 and had succeeded in converting a very large number of people to Christianity. In order to consolidate and enhance their prestige, and possibly to afford scope for alien interests in this tract, the Missionaries were reported to be carrying on propaganda for the isolation of the Aboriginals from other sections of the community, and the movement of Jharkhand was thus started. This movement was approved by the Aboriginals, local Christians and Muslims and the Missionaries sought to keep it under their influence by excluding all the nationalist elements from this movement. The demand for Adiwasisthan was accentuated along with the one for Pakistan in 1938. The Muslim League is reported to have donated Rs. One Lakh for propaganda work. With the advent of political independence in India, the agitation for Adiwasisthan was intensified with a view to forming a sort of corridor joining East Bengal with Hyderabad, which could be used for a pincer movement against India in the event of a war between India and Pakistan.�
The missionaries had not welcomed the merger of these states with Madhya Pradesh. �On the integration of the States,� according to the Committee, �Missionaries became afraid of losing their influence. So they started an agitation, playing on the religious feelings of the primitive Christian converts, representing the Madhya Pradesh Government as consisting of infidels and so on. Some of the articles published in Missionary papers, such as �Nishkalank�, �Adiwasi� and �Jharkhand� were hardly distinguishable from writings in Muslim papers advocating Pakistan, before the 15th of August 1947. The Missionaries launched a special attack on the opening of schools by Madhya Pradesh Government under the Backward Area Welfare Scheme.�
Simultaneously, Mr. Jaipal Singh, member of the Constituent Assembly and President of the All India Adiwasi Mahasabha, �accused the Bihar Government with failure to serve the people by not insisting on the integration of those states with Bihar.� A pro-Bihar agitation was started in November 1947 and some Congressmen from Bihar were roped in. These Congressmen, however, became wise when they saw what the agitation was aimed at. They �brought to the District Superintendent of Police�s notice that there was a conspiracy between Pakistan and some American and German missionaries to instigate the aboriginals to take Possession of their own land commonly known as Jharkhand.� The Jharkhand News reported on March 6, 1949 a controversy �between Shri Jaipalsingh and Professor Hayward, his secretary, as regards the person who had received the amount of 50,000 from the Muslim League.�
The Government of Madhya Pradesh had to take notice of the agitation worked up by Christian missionaries. It had already led to violence in the adjoining States merged with Orissa. The missionaries had become too powerful in Madhya Pradesh to be ignored any longer. �It must be noticed,� recorded the Committee, �that about 30 different Missions are working in Madhya Pradesh with varying number of centres in each district. Almost the entire Madhya Pradesh is covered by Missionary activities and there is hardly any district where a Mission of one denomination or the other is not operating in some form or the other. More than half the people of Madhya Pradesh (57.4 percent) consist of members of the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes and it is amongst these that Missionary activities are mostly confined.�
The appointment of the Committee was announced on April 16, 1954 by a press note of the Government of Madhya Pradesh which said, �Representations have been made to Government from time to time that Christian Missionaries either forcibly or through fraud and temptations of monetary and other gain convert illiterate aboriginals and other backward people thereby offending the feelings of non Christians. It has further been represented that Missions are utilised directly or indirectly for purposes of extra-religious objectives. The Christian Missionaries have repudiated these allegations and have asserted on the other hand that their activities are confined solely to religious propaganda and towards social, medical and educational work. The Missionaries have further alleged that they are being harassed by non-Christian people and local officials. As agitation has been growing on either side, the State Government consider it desirable in the public interest to have a thorough inquiry made into the whole question through an impartial Committee.�
The Committee had seven members including the Chairman, Dr. Bhawani Shankar Niyogi, retired Chief justice of the Nagpur High Court. Mr. K.C. George, a professor in the Commerce College at Wardha, represented the Christian community. It started by studying the material in government files. As a result it was led to enlarge its terms of reference to include political and extra-religious activities also. �The material gathered in the initial stages of the enquiry revealed to the Committee that its significance far transcended the bounds of any one country or region in the world and that it was calculated to have world-wide repercussions. That compelled the Committee to view the subject as an integral part of a larger picture on the broad canvas of world history. The Committee had to consult a number of published books, pamphlets and periodicals for determining the nature and form of their recommendations.�
The terms of reference enabled the Committee to evolve a Questionnaire which was sent to such individuals and organisations as could help in the investigation. It received 385 replies to the Questionnaire, 55 from Christians and 330 from non-Christians. Besides, the Committee toured 14 districts in which it visited 77 centres, contacted 11,360 persons, and received 375 written statements. Hospitals, schools, churches, leper homes, hostels, etc., maintained by various missions were among the Christian institutions visited by the Committee. The persons interviewed came from 700 villages.
�In all these places,� recorded the Committee, �there was unanimity as regards the excellent service rendered by the Missionaries in the fields of education and medical relief. But on the other hand there was a general complaint from the non-Christian side that the schools and hospitals were being used as means of securing converts. There was no disparagement of Christianity or of Jesus Christ, and no objection to the preaching of Christianity and even to conversions to Christianity. The objection was to the illegitimate methods alleged to be adopted by the Missionaries for this purpose, such as offering allurements of free education and other facilities to children attending their schools, adding some Christian names to their original Indian names, marriages with Christian girls, money-lending, distributing Christian literature in hospitals and offering prayers in the wards of in-door patients. Reference was also made to the practice of the Roman Catholic priests or preachers visiting new-born babies to give �ashish� (blessings) in the name of Jesus, taking sides in litigation or domestic quarrels, kidnapping of minor children and abduction of women and recruitment of labour for plantations in Assam or Andaman as a means of propagating the Christian faith among the ignorant and illiterate people. There was a general tendency to suspect some ulterior political or extra-religious motive, in the influx of foreign money for evangelistic work in its varied forms. The concentration of Missionary enterprise on the hill tribes in remote and inaccessible parts of the forest areas and their mass conversion with the aid of foreign money were interpreted as intended to prepare the ground for a separate independent State on the lines of Pakistan.�
To start with, Christian missions put up a show of cooperation with the Committee. But they realized very soon that the Committee was well-informed and meant business. �The authorities and members of the Roman Catholic Church cooperated with the Committee in their exploratory tours in Raigarh, Surguja, Bilaspur, Raipur and Nimar districts. Shri G. X. Francis, President of the Catholic Regional Council, and Shri P. Lobo, Advocate, High Court, Nagpur, associated themselves with the Committee. But subsequently the Catholic Church withdrew its co-operation, not only filing statement of protest, but also moving the High court for a Mandamus Petition (Miscellaneous Petition No. 263 of 1955).�
The Petition was dismissed by the High Court on April 12, 1956, �holding that it was within the competence of the State Government to appoint a fact-finding Committee to collect information and that there had been no infringement of any fundamental rights of the petitioner.� At the same time the High Court made some adverse remarks about certain questions in the Questionnaire. The Committee considered the remarks and �informed the petitioner and the public that none of the questions represented either the views of the Committee or any individual member thereof and our anxiety to have information on various points was due to our desire to find out to what extent, if any, could any activity be considered to infringe the limits of public order, morality and health imposed by the Constitution.�
The Report of the Committee, published in July 1956, presented the �history of Christian missions with special reference to the old Madhya Pradesh and Merged States.� Coming to the agitation for Jharkhand, it gave the background. �The separatist tendency,� it said, �that has gripped the mind of the aboriginals under the influence of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic Missions is entirely due to the consistent policy pursued by the British Government and the Missionaries. The final segregation of the aborigines in the Census of 1931 from the main body of the Hindus considered along with the recommendations of the Simon Commission which were incorporated in the Government of India Act, 1935 apparently set the stage for the demand of a separate State of Jharkhand on the lines of Pakistan.�
The subsequent formation of the Adiwasi Mahasabha and the Jharkhand Party followed in stages as the separatist forces gathered strength. �This attempt of the Adiwasis,� observed the Report, �initiated by the Christian section thereof is a feature which is common to, the developments in Burma, -Assam and Indo-China among the Karens, Nagas and Amboynes. This is attributed to the spirit of religious nationalism awakened among the converted Christians as among the followers of other religions. But the idea of change of religion as bringing about change of nationality appears to have originated in the Missionary circles� Thus while the Census officer isolates certain sections of the people from the main bodies, the Missionaries by converting them give them a separate nationality so that they may demand a separate State for themselves.�
Next, the Report considered �Christian post-war world policy,� and quoted from several Christian sources. The aim of this policy in India was three fold: �(1) to resist the progress of national unity... (2) to emphasise the difference in the attitude towards the principle of coexistence between India and America... (3) to take advantage of the freedom accorded by the Constitution of India to the propagation of religion, and to create a Christian party in the Indian democracy on lines of the Muslim League ultimately to make out a claim for a separate State, or at least to create a �militant minority�.�
The newly adopted Constitution of India, according to the Committee, had encouraged the controllers of Christian missions in Europe and America to concentrate on India. �Although Europe itself,� observed the Report, �required �re-Evangelisation and re-Christianisation� because of the spread of the Gospel of Communism according to Marx, the W.C.C. and I.M.C. turned their attention to India and other colonial countries. They were encouraged by the promulgation of our Constitution which set up a secular State with liberty to propagate any religion in the country. They noted that the Churches in India were growing steadily in number partly by natural increase, partly from evangelisation and that the mass or community movements to Christianity did not die out though slowed down, but that the spiritual life of the congregation was low and that the Indian Church lacked economic maturity. Though India has the most highly organised National Christian Council it had to be largely paid for from abroad. Even the institutional activities of Missions, viz., schools, colleges and hospitals were dependent upon foreign support. Even the ordinary congregational life and pastoral duty still required some form of foreign aid.�
The Report surveyed the state of religious liberty in various countries in the past and at present. It cited High Court Judgments in India to the effect that religious liberty is �not an absolute protection to be interpreted and applied independently of other provisions of the Constitution.� Then it turned to �missionary activities in Madhya Pradesh since independence as disclosed by oral and documentary evidence.� This was the most substantial as well as the most revealing part of the Report. It laid bare what the Christian Missions had been doing not only in Madhya Pradesh but all over India in the name of exercising religious liberty.
There was a detailed account of �how this programme of mass proselytisation was inspired and financed by foreigners� and how the paid pracharaks of various missions had fanned out in the rural and tribal areas. The pracharaks were particularly noticeable in the erstwhile Native States which had kept missionary operations under control before their merger in Madhya Pradesh. �It is thus indisputably clear,� recorded the Report, �that financial assistance from abroad had been extended in far more liberal manner than even before the Constitution of India was promulgated, and that it is mainly with this help that Mission organisations are carrying on proselytisation amongst backward tribes, especially in areas freshly opened.�
This greatly extended scale of missionary operations was dressed up ideologically in a new theological concept. �It may be recalled,� commented the Report, �that the expression �Partnership in Obedience� came into vogue at the meeting of the Committee of the international Missionary Council held at Whitby in 1947 (page 94, World Christian Handbook, 1952) and it has a bearing on the expression �need of particular churches to be rooted in the soil and yet supranational in their witness and obedience� (page 29, ibid.). These particular churches are in the old Mission fields �which are touched by new nationalisms independent in temper and organisation and yet needing help from other churches� (page 29, ibid.). The expression �Partnership in Obedience� was being interpreted variously and it was after discussion at a meeting of the Lutheran World Federation Executive and also of the Executive of the World Council of Churches held at Geneva in 1951, that it came to be interpreted as implying full and unreserved co-operation between the old and the younger churches in the effort of extending the Kingdom of God.� In plain language, the pompous proclamation meant that missions and churches in Europe and America which provided the finance would continue to plan, direct and control missionary activities in India.
The Report quoted Christian sources to show the extent to which Christianity in India was dependent on foreign finance. Rolland Allan had written in his book, The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, published in 1949, that �it is money, money everywhere, all the time, everything depends on money.� In another book, Missionary Methods: St. Paul�s or Our�s, published by the same author in 1953, he had felt �sad to sit and watch a stream of Christian visitors calling upon a Missionary and to observe that in nearly every case the cause which brings them is money.� Christianity in the Indian Crucible by Dr. E. Asirvatham had been published in 1955. �One chief reason,� he had observed, �why Indian Christians in general still welcome foreign Missionaries is economy; it is an open secret that the Indian Church is not yet out of the swaddling clothes, so far as its economic support is concerned. To give an extreme illustration only Rs. 6,000 of the total income of Rs. 1,12,500 of the National Christian Council of India... is from Indian sources and the rest comes from the Mission Boards abroad.� It was curious that Christianity was presented as a two-thousand years old banyan tree when it came to its right to spread its tentacles, and as a tender seedling when it came to its capacity for growing up on its own.
The Report provided
details of how much had been contributed by which Western country to the
total of Rs. 29.27 crores received by Christian missions in India from
January 1950 to June 1954:
Amount in Rs.
|Rest of Sterling Area||
|Aid from non-Sterling Area||
The Report revealed that the bulk of this foreign money received ostensibly for maintaining �educational and medical institutions� was spent on proselytisation. �It has been contended,� said the Report, �that most of the amount is utilised for creating a class of professional proselytisers, both foreign as well as Indian. We have not been able to get the figures of the salaries which the foreign Missionaries receive for their service in India. Only Rev. Hartman (Amravati No. 1) was pleased to declare that his salary was 63 dollars per month paid from Home, plus free quarters and vehicle allowance. One can have some idea of the scale of salaries of American Missionaries from the fact that in the American Evangelical and Reformed Church there are 28 Missionaries on the India roll and under the head of Missionary salaries and appurtenances the figure comes to 90,072,23 dollars (American Evangelistic and Reformed Church Blue Book, 1955, pages 56,60). They are supplied with well-furnished bungalows, and they command resources in vehicles and other things.� At the same time it noted a great disparity between the scales of salaries and allowances paid to foreign missionaries on the one hand and to their native mercenaries on the other.
There were 480 foreign missionaries working in Madhya Pradesh at that time. Out of them as many as 236 were Americans. The Report gave a count of foreign missionaries, Americans and others, stationed in the 22 districts of the then Madhya Pradesh. �Besides those,� it added, �included in the number given by the National Christian Council in the Christian Handbook of India 1954-55, it appears from the statement of Rev. R. C. Das that there is a large number of unattached evangelists. Rev. Das�s statement receives support from the remark made in the Compiler�s introduction to the Christian Hand-Book of India 1954-55 that the increased personnel has occurred in the smaller Missions most of which do not yet have any organised Churches.�
The methods of proselytisation had remained the same as in days of old. The Report gave concrete instances of how mission schools were used to influence the minds of young people. Harijan and �Adivasi� students came in for special attention. They were �given free boarding, lodging and books� provided they attended Christian prayers. Bible classes were made compulsory by treating as absent for the whole day those students who failed to be present in those classes. School celebrations were used for showing the victory of the cross over all other symbols. Hospitals were used for putting pressure on poor class patients to embrace Christianity. The richest harvest, however, was reaped in mission orphanages which collected orphans during famines and other natural calamities such as floods and earthquakes. �No wonder,� observed the Report, �that the largest number of converts are from such backward classes living in areas where due to various causes only Mission schools and hospitals exist. Most conversions have been doubtless insincere admittedly brought about in expectation of social service benefits and other material considerations.�
Another device employed for proselytisation was moneylending. Roman Catholic mission had specialised in this field. Poor people often approached the local missionary for loans which are written off if the debtor became a convert; otherwise he had to repay it with interest which he often found difficult. Protestant missionaries and others cited before the Committee instances of how this method worked. One of the conditions for getting a loan, for instance, was that the recipient agreed to chop off the top-knot (chotI), the symbol of his being a Hindu. �Some of the people,� the Report noted, �who had received loans were minors and casual labourers. It also appeared that when one member of a family had taken a loan, all the other members of that family were entered in the book as potential converts. The rate of interest charged was 10 per cent and in a large number of cases examined, one year�s interest was deducted in advance. On being questioned, the people without any hesitation, said that their only purpose in going to the Mission had been to get money; and all said that without the lure of money none would have sought to become Christian.� Some other allurements such as the �promise of gift of salt, plough, bullocks and even milk powder received from abroad� were used to the same effect.
There were several other ways of attracting converts. For instance, the new converts were employed as pracharaks on salaries ranging from Rs. 40/- to Rs. 100/- per month. This by itself proved an attractive proposition to those who were not in a position or qualified to earn even Rs. 20/-. Christians working in various government departments were exhorted and expected to participate in the game. Those who did not help were cursed in missionary publications. Christians placed in higher positions and missionaries who became influential members of the Janapad Sabhas put pressure on junior officers for influencing people in favour of Christianity.
The Report also noted �various methods of propagating Christianity.� Missionary publications �attacked idol worship in rather offensive terms.� Dramas in which idol worship was ridiculed were performed in schools and elsewhere. Songs to the same effect were composed and sung. Rama was �described as a God who destroyed Ravan and was contrasted with Jesus who died for the wicked.� Methods evolved for conveying Christianity in Hindu cultural forms were also in evidence. Some of them were plainly dishonest, as for instance, �the expression occurring in Tulsidas�s Ramayan, viz. �Girjapujan� was interpreted to the people as �Girjaghar� i.e., a Church.� But, on the whole, preference was given to vicious attacks on Hinduism, which was held up as a false religion. �Such virulent and sinister attacks on Hinduism,� observed the Report, �are in no way a departure from the manner which characterised the Christian preaching in the past, which Gandhiji referred to, particularly Bishop Heber�s famous hymn, �where every prospect pleases and only man is vile�.�
The Report contained a section on Mass Conversions brought about by material inducements. �If conversion is an individual act,� it noted, �one would expect deep thought and study of the particular religion one wanted to embrace. But what we have found is groups of illiterate Adivasis, with families and children getting their top-knots cut and being shown as Christians. Most of them do not know even the rudiments of the new religion� The Government has supplied us with a list of persons recently converted in the Surguja district after the promulgation of the Constitution. A perusal thereof will show that about 4000 Uraons were converted in two years. Persons of varying ages from 60 years to 1 year are shown as converts and the list includes women and children also. We have met many Uraons in the course of our tours and we were struck very much by their total absence of religious feeling.�
The Committee had �reliable information that Mission organisations possess upto-date records of Baptisms.� But they refused to produce these records. �It would not be unsafe,� concluded the Report, �to presume that the reluctance on the part of the Roman Catholic Mission organisations to produce such evidence was in no small measure due to the fear of the Truth being out� As a rule, groups have been converted, and we find �individual conversion� has been an exception rather than the rule. We have come across cases of individual conversions only of persons who are village leaders and they have invariably been followed by �Mass conversions� of the entire village soon after. We have not found it possible to accept the contention that the immediate material prosperity of these converted leaders bore no causal relation to their conversions.�
The Report expressed the view that conversions led directly to denationalisation. Greetings such as �Ram Ram� and �Jai Hind� were substituted with �Jai Yeshu�. �The idea of the unique Lordship of Christ,� recorded the Report, �is propagated in rural areas by the exhibition of the film �King of Kings�, which we had the pleasure of witnessing at Buldana. The supremacy of the Christian flag over the National flag of India was also depicted in the drama which was staged in a school at Jabalpur.� The missionary paper, Nishkalanka, had written, �Why does India desire that Portugal which has been exercising sovereignty for 400 years over Goa should surrender it? The fact is that a large majority of residents of Goa are quite contented with their present condition. Only a handful of Goans resident in Goa and in India are shouting for the merger of Goa with India. This attitude is not justified and those who are following this course are giving unrighteous lead to India.� The missions thus sided with Western imperialism and pooh-poohed India�s aspiration to reclaim national territory under foreign occupation.
Finally, the Report found no substance in the Christian complaint that the Government of Madhya Pradesh was following a policy of discrimination against Christians. �The Government of Madhya Pradesh,� it said, �have throughout followed a policy of absolute neutrality and non-interference in matters concerning religion and allegations of discrimination against Christians and harassment of them by Government officials have not been established. Such allegations have been part of the old established policy of the Missions to overawe local authority and to carry on propaganda in foreign countries.�
The Report was quite clear in its larger perceptions. �Evangelisation in India,� it said, �appears to be part of the uniform world policy to revive Christendom for re-establishing Western supremacy and is not prompted by spiritual motives. The objective is to disrupt the solidarity of the non-Christian societies, and the mass conversion of a considerable section of Adivasis with this ulterior motive is fraught with danger to the security of the State.� The Christian missions were making a deliberate and determined �attempt to alienate Indian Christian Community from their nation.� The Community was most likely to become a victim of foreign manipulations in times of crisis. The history of the Christian missions provided ample proof that religion had been used for political purposes. Evangelization was not a religious philosophy but a force for politicisation. The Church in India was not independent but accountable to those who paid for its upkeep. The concept of �Partnership in Obedience� which covered the flow of foreign finances to the Church was of a piece with the strategy of Subsidiary Alliances which the East India Company had employed earlier for furthering and consolidating its conquests. And conversions were nothing but politics by other means.
The recommendations made by the Report followed logically from these perceptions. It recommended that (1) those missionaries whose primary object is proselytisation should be asked to withdraw and the large influx of foreign missionaries should be checked; (2) the use of medical and other professional services as a direct means of making conversions should be prohibited by law; (3) attempts to convert by force or fraud or material inducements, or by taking advantage of a person�s inexperience or confidence or spiritual weakness or thoughtlessness, or by penetrating into the religious conscience of persons for the purpose of consciously altering their faith, should be absolutely prohibited; (4) the Constitution of India should be amended in order to rule out propagation by foreigners and conversions by force, fraud and other illicit means; (5) legislative measures should be enacted for controlling conversion by illegal means; (6) rules relating to registration of doctors, nurses and other personnel employed in hospitals should be suitably amended to provide a condition against evangelistic activities during professional service; and (7) circulation of literature meant for religious propaganda without approval of the State Government should be prohibited.
The Report which was accompanied by two volumes of documentation raised a storm in missionary circles in India and abroad. The missions were in no position to dispute the facts presented or contest the conclusions arrived at by the Enquiry Committee. All they could do was to raise the spectre of �Hindu communalism� and warn against the �danger of Hindu Raj�. It was said that �members of Hindu Mahasabha had begun to wield considerable influence� in the Government of Madhya Pradesh and that �their aim was to make one Hindu state out of India.�
The fact of missions in India seeking financial and other aids from missions abroad was equated with the Government of India seeking �foreign technical knowledge and the assistance of friends from many European and American countries in the development of the nation-building activities.� The replacement of foreign missionaries was found impossible as the Government of India had �found impossible to replace foreign personnel with Indian personnel.� It was promised that �in the not distant future the coming of missionaries from abroad into India will be matched by the going out of Indian missionaries from this country.� The logic was quite in keeping with the way the Church in India had come to look at itself.
If this self-image of the Church as a State within the State looked pretentious to some people, it could be accounted for only by their tendency towards totalitarianism. �There is a striking contrast,� wrote a leading theologian, M. M. Thomas, �between the democratic idea of the State and the totalitarian idea of the State which is both implicit and explicit in the Recommendations of the Niyogi Report... The philosophy of State underlying the Report and advocated by it is unashamedly totalitarian. It therefore is a matter of vital concern to every one in this country whether Christian or non-Christian who believes in democracy.� The test of a state being democratic was that it recognised and honoured �supranational loyalties.� In support of his proposition Dr. Thomas quoted Mahatma Gandhi who had �recognized truth and non-violence as realities demanding loyalty above the nation,� and President Sockarno of Indonesia who had �stated that Nationalism should be limited by Humanism.� Thus servility to foreign financiers and controllers of missions in India became transformed into loyalty to universal moral values! �In deploring this,� concluded Dr. Thomas, �and characterising supranationalism as �extraterritoriality�, the Niyogi Report has shown the kinship of its ideology with totalitarian Facism.�
The missions also tried to rally support from some persons of public standing in India. Dr. Hare Krishna Mahtab, then Governor of Bombay, obliged them readily. �We should not think,� he said, �of closing our doors to anyone. If we think in terms of exclusiveness, we shall not make any progress.� But they found a h-rd nut in C. Rajagopalachari. �It seems,� he wrote to a foreign missionary, �you expect from me an expression of my views on the specific question: What type of missionary workers are wanted in India, rather than on the question whether any missionary workers should come at all to India? I shall respectfully speak my opinion on the latter point. I feel it is not really possible on the ground of logic or on the evidence of miracles to hold that amongst the religions known as- Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity, anyone is nearer the truth than any other. You will permit me to object to the exclusive claims for Truth made on behalf of any one of these faiths. If this first point is granted, the only justification for missionary work is proselytism. But is it good on the whole for men and women to change from one religion to another? I think it is not desirable to make any effort at proselytism. I feel that such efforts undermine the present faith of the people, which is good enough for promoting right conduct in them and to deter them from sin. They tend to destroy family and social harmony, which is not a good thing to do.�
Rajagopalachari was repeating the views expressed very often and very forcefully by Mahatma Gandhi. But the men who ran the Government in New Delhi could not afford to defend the Father of the Nation. They had to defend their Secularism and Democracy which had come under shadow in the powerful Christian press in India and abroad. They found the recommendations of the Niyogi Report �in discordance with the fundamental rights of the Constitution� and �the Report was sheived.�
The Government of India�s stand vis-a-vis the Report became clear within two months after its publication. In September 1956, �a question was raised in the Parliament about an alleged increase in the anti-Indian activities on the part of foreign Christian missionaries.� The Minister of State for Home Affairs, B. N. Datar, came promptly to their defence. �There is no factual basis,� he said, �for the assumption made in the question, according to the information available with the Government of India.� At the same time he affirmed that �no steps would be taken to check the work of foreign missionaries.�
A Bill was introduced in the Parliament in 1960 for protecting Scheduled Castes and Tribes �from change of religion forced on them on grounds other than religious convictions.� It was also thrown out because of resistance from the ruling party. �It was rejected,� records Plattner, �after Mr. Datar declared in no uncertain terms that it was unconstitutional and that there were no mass conversions as alleged by the mover.� The Minister went much further. �They were carrying on,� he said, �Christ�s mission by placing themselves at the service of mankind and such work was one of their greatest contributions to the world.� He credited the missionaries with �the uplift of a large number of downtrodden people through their schools and social work.� It may be mentioned in anticipation that the same fate will meet the Freedom of Religion Bill which O. P. Tyagi will try to introduce in Parliament during the Janata Party regime.
�This attitude of Nehru and his government,� concluded Plattner, �has inspired the Christians with confidence in the Indian Constitution.� Nehru had �remained true to his British upbringing.� Small wonder that the Catholic Bishops� Conference of India became quite optimistic about the future. �With the Indian Hierarchy well established,� it proclaimed in September 1960, �and the recruitment of the clergy fairly assured, it may be said that the Church in India has reached its maturity and has achieved the first part of its missionary programme. The time seems to have come to face squarely the Church�s next and more formidable duty: the conversion of the masses of India.�
There were good
grounds for this optimism. Conversions to Christianity were on the increase
as was soon indicated by the Census for 1971. �In India as a whole,� wrote
a Christian historian, �the Christian population increased by 64.9% between
1951 and 1971. This may be compared with a general population increase
of 51.7% during the same period. In North East India the Christian population
increased by 171.1% during the same period, compared with a general population
growth in that region of 116.5%. Even these figures do not give the full
picture because in 1971, 74.7% of the total North East India population
was in Assam where the growth of the Christian community is the lowest.
In the 196171 decade alone the growth of the Christian community in states
and territories other than Assam was as follows:
|State||Percentage Growth of Christians||Percentage Growth of General Population|
In the 1951-1971 period, the Christian growth in Nagaland was 251.6% and in Tripura 298.6%� According to the Census of 1901 Christians in the North East constituted 1.23% of the whole, by 1951 the proportion was 7.8% and in 1971, 12.5%. North East India now had 39.8% of the non-southern Christian population.�
A major part of this rich harvest in this region had been reaped by the Catholic Church. �Without question,� continued the historian, �the most important post-war development has been the rapid expansion of the Roman Catholic Church.