Somnath Temple in Gujarat, India

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Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas

Part 1: Need for a rational discussion

(Excerpts from Arun Shourie's book with similar title)

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India is the highest body engaged in attempts to coordinate the work of different Catholic churches in India and to engage in dialogue with other religions. "Its purpose," the Catholic Directory of India states, "is to facilitate common action of the Hierarchy in matters that affect or are liable to affect the common interests of the Catholic Church in India [...]".

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its establishment the C.B.C.I. convened a meeting in January 1994 to review the work of the Church in India. [...] For some reason the organizers were so kind to ask me [Arun Shourie] to give the Hindu perception of the work of Christian missionaries in India. That lecture and the discussion which followed forms the scaffolding of this book. I have supplemented the lecture with the textual material on which the points I urged were based. Where twenty examples could be given, I have given only two. At three places however I have reproduced the texts at some length: these are extracts from Sir Charles Trevelyan's On the Education of the People of India, and a speech each by him and Sir Richard Temple. The point is brought our better by the texts themselves than by any commentary that I could set out, and the texts are such an education, and in one case so electrifying a thing to read that it is best to read them in full.

What Swami Vivekananda and Gandhiji said and wrote on the matter fills one with admiration, in fact with veneration - their passion for our country, their insight into what was being done, their prescience about what the consequences of that undoing would be, every line sparkles with these, and leaves one spell-bound. The reader will therefore find recurring references to their writings, speeches and conversations.

I hope the reader will not just read through the examples but will also ask why it is that such material is not placed before our students. After all, it is not difficult to come by, and, as the reader will agree upon going through it, it has the most direct bearing on our de-nationalization. Yet, even though he may have considerable interest in our current problems, even though he may have been following closely the public discourse on such problems, in all probability the reader would not have come across the material. Why is this so?

In large part no doubt because of the thoroughness with which the colonial design came to be carried out. Macaulay's design to create "a class of persons, Indians in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals and in intellect." Sir Charles' readings, his prognosis, written in 1838: "Familiarly acquainted with us by means of our literature, the Indian youth almost cease to regard us as foreigners. They speak of our great men as we do. Educated in the same way, interested in the same objects, engaged in the same pursuits with ourselves, they become more English than Hindus... The young men, brought up at our seminaries, turn with contempt from the barbarous despotisms under which their ancestors groaned, to the prospect of improving their national institutions on the English model. Instead of regarding us with dislike, they court our society, and look upon us as their natural protectors and benefactors; the summit of their ambition is, to resemble us...."

But their is an even more potent cause for the near-total erasure of such material from our public discourse and our instruction. And that is the form of "secularism" which we have practiced these forty-five years: a "secularism" in which double-standards have been the norm, one in which every thing that may remove the dross by which our national identity has been covered has become anathema.

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. The reaction of the Bishops, senior clergy and scholars gathered at Pune was the exact opposite. They listened with unwavering attention. They told me clearly that they did not agree with much of what I had said. They spelled out their reasons. But they listened with the same attention to what I had to say in return.

"It has been a feast," said Professor Ramachandran, who had been presiding, as he wound up the session.

To write up the lecture I needed the names and designations of the gentlemen who had asked the questions. Father Augustine Kanjamala, the Secretary of the C.B.C.I., sent them promptly, and added thanks, in the warmest words: "....Your talk was scholarly as well as challenging. The fact that the audience wanted to continue the discussion after you had spent nearly two hours with them shows the keen interest the audience had in the subject and your critique of the Christian mission. May I request you to give the presentation in writing. I intend to publish the talks of various speakers of this Consulation...."

Three weeks later, having sent the text, I was back with another request: could the secretary help me locate Indianised depictions of Jesus and of the Holy Family for the cover of this book? He was the soul of helpfulness again.

Just a while later I was told that they would publish what I had sent them, and in addition responses to it that some of those present were now going to write.

An example for us all....

By: Arun Shourie (March, 1994)

The first part: Need for a rational discussion

The second part: Is missionary work really that noble?

The third part: Mahatma Gandhi's conversation with a missionary

The fourth part: The inevitable consequences

The fifth part : Mahatma Gandhi's recommendations for missionaries

Also see: A review of "Missionaries in India" by C.J..S. Wallia on

Copyright: Arun Shourie 1994

Excerpted from: Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas, pp. ix-xii. Published by HarperCollins Publishers India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1994. Price: Rs. 295.

Note: These excerpts are provided here for informative purpose and to present a very interesting view point of one of the most articulate and prolific authors in independent India. IndiaWorld on the Net has no commercial motives whatsoever in publishing these excerpts. Further, no guarantee can be taken for either textual or factual correctness of the provided text. Readers are advised to consult the original as well other authoritative sources of information to ascertain authenticity.

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