Thursday, September 05, 2013

Church and the Mahatma: How Gandhi was reviled by missionaries





Jomo Kenyatta had a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, both of which he used to devastating effect while lashing out at the 'civilising' West. The White man's fictional burden of taming the savage East and enlightening the 'Dark Continent' was no more than a convenient cover to hide his role as the master of the subjugated races.

Colonialism and Empire-building were inspired as much by a sense of racial superiority as driven by greed; it was a complex social, political and economic enterprise facilitated in no small measure by Christian missionaries who helped deracinate the indigenous people -- the 'heathens' -- and convert them into loyal subjects of an alien Emperor.

As in India, so in the African colonies were people uprooted from their ancient cultural moorings in preparation for their political suppression and economic deprivation. They were accorded the 'privilege' of embracing a strange faith and genuflecting at the altar of Christ in exchange of what they possessed and held dear till then: Their land, their language, their rites and rituals, and their religion. By the time the natives realised that all this was no more than a con job to disinherit them and enrich their foreign rulers, they had invariably lost most, if not all, of what once belonged to them.

Jomo Kenyatta, not given to niceties and asphyxiating political correctness, put it succinctly: "When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray'. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible!"

At a gathering of Christian missionaries a couple of years ago soon after the evangelist-provoked violence at Kandhamal in Odisha, I made bold to recall Jomo Kenyatta's famous comment which fetched a fusillade of denial and denunciation. I was accused of trying to divert attention from the depredations of 'rapacious' and 'murderous' Hindu mobs which have brought a 'bad name' to the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the "apostle of peace" as one of them described him. That's a Christian description, I protested, to which the response was: How else would you describe him? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a crafty politician who made a fetish of non-violence; so call him a 'man of peace' if you must, but don't describe him as a follower of Jesus, as were the 12 apostles of Christ, which he definitely wasn't.

In any event, the Mahatma the Church now holds up to shame those who object to proselytisation and conversion through allurement and deceit, the harvesting of the souls of the poor and the vulnerable, was mercilessly denigrated and lampooned in his lifetime by Christian missionaries in keeping with their loyalty to the Empire. Charles Freer Andrews was an exception and his association with Gandhi did not exactly make him welcome in mission residences.

Many years ago, while researching the Goa Inquisition, I had chanced upon material about the attitude of Christian missionaries towards Gandhi. Those notes resurfaced while I was clearing out the accumulated, fraying papers in my study; they make for interesting reading, especially when Gandhi is being touted by Christian missionaries as an 'Apostle of Peace', one of their own, in an effort to silence their critics.
Yet, there was a time when missionaries loathed Gandhi and held him in contempt, and not all who did so were of foreign origin.

For Christian missionaries, Gandhi was an "extraordinary casuist"... Unless stopped, his views would become a "dangerous phenomenon of present day politics in India"... His teachings can lead to "chaos and anarchy only"... His politics will lead to "mischievous consequences". 


These words have been taken from history. From cold print. From journals published by Christian missionaries. Journals that still exist as evidence of missionaries willingly allowing themselves to be used as instruments of British rule in India. And the target of their ire is Mahatma Gandhi, whom the Church now describes as an "apostle of peace" because it suits its social, political and cultural agenda.

Gandhi's arrival on the scene had greatly charged the nationalist movement and expanded the spread and scope of the struggle against British colonial rule. Gandhi's philosophy of peaceful resistance to colonial rule had found expression in the non-cooperation agitation. This in turn set alarm bells ringing - the colonial establishment, including the Church, was quick to realise Gandhi's potential. It retaliated in full force, using its arsenal, including missionaries and their publications.

In September 1919, the Christian Missionary Review fired the first salvo. A year later, the Christian Missionary Review dropped all niceties and described Gandhi as an "extraordinary casuist", an "unscrupulous and irresponsible demagogue" responsible for the disturbances in Punjab the previous year. Urging India's colonial masters to "adequately" deal with Gandhi's "egotistical mysticism," the Christian Missionary Review said that unless putdown, Gandhi and his nationalism would emerge as "one of the dangerous phenomena of present day politics in India."

In fact, the murderous attitude of the British in Punjab and the terrible fallout of the Rowlatt Act, found ample support among the missionaries. Bishop Henry Whitehead not only supported the Act but went on to denigrate the nationalist agitation against the Act as a "striking illustration of the incapacity of a large section of Indian politicians to face facts and realities, or to understand the first principles of civilised government." We all know of the action of the "civilised Government" so ardently backed by the missionaries - the massacre at Jallianwala Bag.

Indeed, Ms Marcella Sherwood, speaking on behalf of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society and Rev Canon Guildford, speaking on behalf of the Church Missionary Society, lauded Gen Dyer's brutality, saying it was "justified by its results". The Christian Missionary Review, describing Gen Dyer as a "brave man", said, absurdly though, that his action was "the only means of saving life".Another missonary publication, rather disingenuously named The Young Men of India, heaped praise on Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lt Governor of Punjab during those terrible days of bloodshed and brutality by a ruthless colonial administration, saying that he was "the strongest and best ruler the country has had in modern times." The Harvest Field, also a missionary journal, was quick to point out that during the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, Indian Christians were not found "wanting in loyalty to the (British) Government." The International Review of Missions was clear in its pronouncement that the means and methods adopted by the British to put down the uprising in Punjab were neither un-Christian nor a blot on British rule.

It is important that we understand the import of the missionaries' view of the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, their justification of the massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, their unrestrained praise for Gen Dyer. Those who saw nothing wrong with drenching the ground of Jallianwala Bagh with the blood of Indian nationalists, those who saw nothing "un-Christian" about the bloodshed, those who found "loyalty to the British" in the cowardice of Indian Christians, could not but have derided Gandhi and his non-violence.

For, Gandhi's unique contribution to India's freedom movement, as also to freedom struggles in oppressed nations across the world, Satyagraha, was considered "un-Christian" by a majority of Protestant missionaries. The Christian Missionary Review describing Gandhi's agenda as dangerous, predicted that it would lead to violence, chaos and anarchy.

This view was seconded by The Young Men of India. Commenting on Gandhi's freedom campaign fashioned around the philosophy of Satyagraha, in March 1920, The Young Men of India wrote: "Though Mr Gandhi may have satisfied his conscience as to its morality, to plain common sense it means playing with fire, with the certainty that if used with masses of Indian people, the fire will become a conflagration?" . The Harvest Field, yet another missionary journal, in its May 1921 issue, put on record its belief that "Mr Gandhi's teachings" would result in "chaos and anarchy only." Gandhi, it said, had brought a "sword to his beloved land." "We have no animus against the man," said the Madras Christian College Magazine in October, 1921 -- the best way to rubbish a person, to inflict the most grievous wound, is to preface the attack with "we have nothing against the man" -- "but we have always regarded the doctrines he has been preaching and the policy he has advocated as pernicious." The Magazine, of course, had a pious purpose behind its attack: to save India from the mischievous consequences that must follow from their (Gandhi's doctrines) adoption." Such concern! Such piety!

But that was not all. The Madras Christian College Magazine went on to offer a homily. All those who want "peace and sobriety of life and progress," it urged, should reject the "sophistry of non-violence". Let us recall these words when the current president of the Congress today pays tribute to Gandhi as an apostle of non-violence.

By 1922, the Madras Christian College Magazine had dropped all pretensions. It declared that there was nothing "positive or constructive" about Gandhi's programme of Satyagraha and that his role till then had been "negative throughout". Gandhi, the Madras Christian College Magazine added with a sweeping flourish, was "an anarchist at heart? prone to mental confusion."

In her book, The Attitude of British Protestant Missionaries Towards Nationalism in India, Elizabeth Susan Alexander, offers an explanation for such vile diatribe against Gandhi as articulated by the missionary publications: "British officials came to accept missionaries as partners in the 'noble' task of shouldering the 'white man's burden.' British officials defended their support of Christian missionaries as being in the interest of their rule, for missionaries were used as instruments of their policies of reform? Missionary activities were seen to have lucrative results for British commercial interests."

Lucrative results now accrue to the Christian West which funds missionaries and evangelists.

11 comments:

VIJAYA LAKSHMI said...

nice article. "now they hav the land n we hav the bible"- alarming statement indeed.
sometimes i wonder instead of having all d great philosophy in sanatan dharma - why the fellow ppl gulp the cake served by other religions ?

VIJAYA LAKSHMI said...

nice article. "now they hav the land n we hav the bible"- alarming statement indeed.
sometimes i wonder instead of having all d great philosophy in sanatan dharma - why the fellow ppl gulp the cake served by other religions ?

Arijit Das said...

a well written article.

Arijit Das said...

a realy well writen article.

VCMouli said...

An eye- opener of an article on the 'duplicity & hypocrisy' of missionary agents working side by side with the then ruling British in Bharat.
Committing violence on a nation by proselytizing on one hand & calling non-violence Satyagraha as a cause for chaos & anarchy & accusing Mahatma Gandhi as a mischief monger!
History of Bharat has indeed to be re-written & the truth needs to be chronicled.
However,with this UPA corrupt team in power today we the people of Bharat will have to wait for some more time.
May this dark,depressing decade of decay & degradation soon be over.

Thommy said...

Enjoyed my first visit....Brilliant Thoughts.

Thommy said...

Enjoyed my first visit. Brilliant Thoughts

swamiji tiwari said...

sreeman..gandhi avam..charch...yah lekha ''bhashantar_ki_asankhya_trutiyo_ki_vajah..se_samaz_hi_nahi_aya_ki_lekhak_kahna_kya_chahta_hai..krupya.._bhashantar{ anuwad}..sahi_kare

Jagdish Kadvekar said...

One often learn important things about our political history from Mr. Gupta. From this article too. But this article is also an oddity, because while many of the late missionaries had little feeling for India, this was to be expected of them - not only because of their nature, but also because India was mostly a mess, a colony, a slow place - there is much to be horrified about Gandhi as well. He was our leading politician, and our leading religious figure. The leading thinker. His writings are simple unpalatable: he is tellling Britons to give up their lands to Hitler, and he is telling the Jews to go to their own slaughter obediently. Why would westerners not think of him as a sort of a fakir?

Jagdish Kadvekar said...

One often learn important things about our political history from Mr. Gupta. From this article too. But this article is also an oddity, because while many of the late missionaries had little feeling for India, this was to be expected of them - not only because of their nature, but also because India was mostly a mess, a colony, a slow place - there is much to be horrified about Gandhi as well. He was our leading politician, and our leading religious figure. The leading thinker. His writings are simple unpalatable: he is tellling Britons to give up their lands to Hitler, and he is telling the Jews to go to their own slaughter obediently. Why would westerners not think of him as a sort of a fakir?

op said...

An Eye-opener!
I rad this article and realized the hypocrisy of so called missionaries of Church.
I was always refuting my father's contention that Missionaries has a larger agenda in their act and it is not a social work only.
I am sure of it now.

Thanks a lot!
-OP Trigunait