Somnath Temple in Gujarat, India

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Somnath Temple in Gujarat, India


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Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas

Part 2: Is missionary work really that noble?

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

The example of the missionaries had directly positive results too. [...]

There are also the direct effects of work in establishing a number of educational institutions, a number of hospitals. Generations of young men and women have received modern education, many of them have been endowed with ideals of service and rectitude because of educational institutions run by missionaries. [...]

But to all this there was another side: that is why Gandhiji always emphasised the word "indirect" whenever he talked of the good efforts which missionary work had had for India. Where they educated us to our shortcomings, they completely destroyed not only self-confidence but all self-respect: and that exactly as had been presaged by Swami Vivekananda - "The child is taken to school," he wrote, "and the first thing he learns is that his father is a fool, the second thing that his grandfather is a lunatic, the third thing that all his teachers are hypocrites, the fourth that all the sacred books are lies. By the time he is sixteen he is a mass of negation, lifeless and boneless..." Where they introduced us to a smattering of western learning, they led us to completely forget and - with no knowledge of it at all - feel ashamed of our tradition. Where they introduced modern schools, they, alongwith the secular British rulers, completely erased the vast network of instruction which, as Gandhiji used to remind his readers and as Dharampal has since so conclusively documented, was in place all across the country. Where they established modern hospitals, the system and outlook of which they were a part made us completely oblivious of the vast medical knowledge that had been accumulated over the centuries here: a knowledge the richness of which we are being reminded today as the West rushes to patent those very herbs and cures!

But there was an even deeper problem with these services, and Gandhiji drew attention to it again and again. The services were incidental. They were the means. The objective was to convert the natives to Christianity. The Collected Works contains several accounts as do Mahadev Desai's Diaries in which missionaries acknowledge to Gandhiji that the institutions and services are indeed incidental, that the aim is to gather a fuller harvest of converts for the Church.

To gain access to non-Christian household, counsels the Catholic Dharma Ka Pracharak, the preacher should know something of medicine. He will then be sought after whenever there is some illness in the house. Once there he should try to prevail upon the parents that he should be allowed to baptize the child as the baptism would aid the child's recovery. [...]

And there follows the same advice in case an adult is dying:

"If the relatives of a dying man do not let you sit in the house, then explain to them that knowing you is no bad thing. The All-powerful God can cure the man. If this device does not work, then, using the excuse of administering medicine, seek leave to go near him. In short, use all devices to save his soul." [Quoted in Report of the Christian Missionary Activities Enquiry Committee, Madhya Pradesh, Government Printing Press, Nagpur, 1956, Volume II, Part B, p. 54]

[...] That the ultimate object [...] is to convert the man robs from the nobility of the service. On the other side, the premise too is incomprehensible - that a man so desperate, in such agony, so close to death, so unable to reason and think and weigh would be "saved" if he utters a few words, declare though they may faith in Allah or in Rama and Krishna or in Jesus, that premise just does not stand to reason. [...] What is sought is just a repetition of some words. That is evident. And yet securing that repetition seems to be so important an object in the eyes of the Church.

The premise thus seems no better than belief in any superstition.

And yet that premise is not accidental, it is central. Nor is it accidental, it is the keystone of the Christianity of the Church.

By: Arun Shourie

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. 5-9. Published by HarperCollins Publishers India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, 1994. Price: Rs. 295.

Note: These excerpts are provided here for informative purpose and to make a very interesting view point of one of the most articulate and prolific author 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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