The Christian missionary orchestra in India after independence has continued to rise from one crescendo to another with the applause of the Nehruvian establishment manned by a brood of self-alienated Hindus spawned by missionary-macaulayite education.  The only rift in the lute has been K.M. Panikkar’s Asia and Western Dominance published in 1953, the Report of the Christian Missionary Activities Committee Madhya Pradesh published in 1956, Om Prakash Tyagi’s Bill on Freedom of Religion introduced in the Lok Sabha in 1978, Arun Shourie’s Missionaries in India published in 1994 and the Maharashtra Freedom of Religion Bill introduced in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly by Mangal Prabhat Lodha, M.L.A. on 20 December 1996.  We shall summarise in this chapter what these rifts revealed, and the reactions to them not only from the Christian missionaries but also from the ‘secular’ establishment.


Panikkar’s study was primarily aimed at providing a survey of Western imperialism in Asia from CE 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 such as 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 and commoners in Asia, said Panikkar, were force or fraud or conspiracy and morally questionable in every instance.  Finding that “missionary activities… which became so prominent a feature of European relations with Asia were connected with Western political supremacy in Asia and synchronised with it”1 he 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 at supplementing the political authority already enjoyed by Europe.  Though the results were disappointing in the extreme from the missionary point of new, this assault on the spiritual foundations of Asian countries has had far-reaching consequences in the religious and social reorganization of the people…”2

What hurt the Christian missionaries most, however, was Panikkar’s observation that “the doctrine of the monopoly of truth and revelation… is alien to the Hindu and Buddhist mind” and that “to them the claim of any sect that it alone represented the truth and other shall be condemned has always seemed unreasonable”.3 He had knocked the bottom out of the missionary enterprise.  No monopoly of truth and revelation, no missions.  It was as simple as that.

Most people in the targeted countries do not know that the first missionaries sent out by the Pope Innocent IV after the Council of Lyons in 1245 CE were spies commissioned to gather information about the strength and resources of the Mongols who had swept over West Asia and were posing a serious threat to Christendom in Europe.  The second mission was that of John de Monte Carvino commissioned by the Pope to visit the court of Kublai Khan at Peking for the, same purpose.  He started to smuggle Christianity in China surreptitiously by buying slaves and baptizing them and building a few churches.  The Pope in Rome felt great joy that the ‘only true faith’ was spreading in China.  But within a few years of Carvino’s death in 1328 the entire edifice built by him collapsed and not a trace of it was left except in his letters to the Pope.4

The Christian missionary enterprise in earnest started with the dogged efforts of Don Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), the third son of the King John I of Portugal.  Henry was a militant Christian fired with a bitter hatred for infidels.  He was obsessed with the idea of reaching and converting India, and believed that he had received a command from God for this purpose.  He had at his disposal the immense wealth of the Order of Christ of which he was the Grand Master.5 In 1458 Pope Nicholas V issued a Bull granting to the King of Portugal “the right, total and absolute, to invade, conquer, and subject all the countries which are under rule of the enemies of Christ, Saracens or Pagans…” On March 13, 1456 this first Bull was confirmed by a second one by Pope Calixtus III.  Finally, Pope Alexander VI confirmed the Treaty of Tordesilhas signed on June 9, 1494 in terms of which he divided the world, east and west, between Portugal and Spain to conquer and convert.6 The kings of Portugal fitted and sent several naval expeditions to India, and King Dom Manoel “assumed for himself the title of ‘The Lord of the Navigation, Conquest and Commerce of Ethiopia, Persia and India’.”7 The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) though founded by a Spaniard, Ignatius Loyola, “found a staunch supporter and champion in the Portuguese monarch”.  Henceforward Portugal became the base of the missionary enterprise in Asia.  It is noteworthy that some of the great figures in the history of Christian missionary activities in the East came to adopt Portugal as their second country “with the revival of religious zeal within the Catholic church following the Protestant movement... Francis Xavier, a Spaniard, came out as the Portuguese King’s Inspector of Missions.  Father Vagliano, an Italian recruited in Lisbon forty-two missionaries of whom only six were Portuguese.  To Ricci, another Italian, who completed his education at Coimbra and Goa, Portugal was the spiritual home.”8 Small wonder that “with the Portuguese christianization was a state enterprise” and that the Portuguese kings “paid for the entire ecclesiastical establishment in the East”.9

The great merit of Panikkar’s book is that it provides a history of missionary activities in every country of South and South-East Asia as well as in the Far East India, China, Japan, Annam, Cambodia, Cochin-China, Laos, Sian (Thailand), Burma, and Indonesia.  We shall take up missionary doings in these countries and the support they received from various Western powers.


Christian missionaries had accompanied every Portuguese naval expedition to India after Vasco da Gama reached Calicut in Malabar in 1498.  In 1534, Goa which had been occupied by the Portuguese in 1509 “was made a bishopric with authority extending over the entire Far East”.  Rooting out of Hinduism was a special task assigned to every Portuguese viceroy.  “Hindu temples in Goa were destroyed and their property distributed to religious orders (like the Franciscans) in 1540.” With the arrival of Francis Xavier in Goa in 1542 and the establishment of the College of St. Paul by him, Goa became the centre for training missionaries to be sent out to other countries in Asia. “For the next hundred years entry of missionaries into the Far East was permitted only through Goa.” Under advice from Francis Xavier, the king of Portugal established the Inquisition in Goa.10 “Intolerance of things Indian became henceforth the characteristic of feature of missionary zeal in India.  Any compromise with Hindu life or religion was avoided e.g. the eating of beef was held to be necessary as it would put the converts altogether out of the pale of Hinduism.” But Portuguese power decayed in the second half of the seventeenth century and Portugal’s interest in missionary work declined even in South India.  “The establishment of the Inquisition in Goa (1561) and the auto da fé (first instance 1563) revolted the conscience of both Hindus and Muslims alike.”11 Even in Goa, the majority of population continued to be non-Christian.  Thus the “attempt of the Portuguese, secular and missionary,… to carry the heathen fort by assault” has failed.12

It was now the turn of the Protestant missions to evangelize India by all means short of physical force.  Small Protestant missions had been established in some coastal areas of South India from 1660 onwards.  But the big boost came with the foundation of the Church Missionary Society by the Anglican Church in 1799 and “other sects followed in their wake”.  The Baptist Mission was established at Serampore near Calcutta by William Carey in 1803.  “A violent propaganda campaign was launched by Carey and his associates against Hinduism in Bengal which seemed to them to be in a state of dissolution.  But Hindu orthodoxy reacted vigorously and Lord Minto felt obliged to prohibit such propaganda in Calcutta.” He had in mind the Vellore Mutiny which had outraged the religious sentiments of the sepoys.13

Christian missions achieved some small success in Bengal after India was thrown open to missionaries at large in 1813.  But once again, Hindu response in the shape of reform movements was strong, and the missionaries received another severe jolt.  More significant gains were made by the missions in Travancore where the Raja was threatened with deposition when he tried to prevent the conversion of some depressed classes.  “The action opened the eyes of other ruling princes and there were a number of important states where no missionary activity of any kind, including schools, was permitted upto 1947.”14

The British Government of India had pretended to be indifferent to Christian missions, particularly after the Revolt of 1857.  But it helped the missions indirectly.  “Legislature protected the right of converts to their share in Hindu joint families, and High Court decisions enabled converts to blackmail their wives to follow them into the fold of their new religion.  The Government also encouraged the missionaries to work among the backward tribes.”15 Another design which the British evolved to promote Christianization of India was T.B. Macaulay’s educational system introduced in 1835.  “It was the devout hope of Macaulay… and of many others, that the diffusion of new learning among the higher classes would see the dissolution of Hinduism and the widespread acceptance of Christianity.  The missionaries were of the same view, and they entered the education field with enthusiasm, providing schools and colleges in many parts of India where education in the Christian Bible was compulsory for Hindu students.  The middle classes accepted Western education with avidity and willingly studied Christian scriptures, but neither the dissolution of Hindu society so hopefully predicted nor the conversion of the intellectuals so devoutly hoped for showed any sign of materialization.  On the other hand, Hinduism assimilated the new learning, and the effects were soon visible all over India in a revival of a universalistic religion based on the Vedanta.”16 The Grand Design on which “they had spent so much money and energy had failed”.17 The rise of Indian nationalism also had an adverse effect on missionary fortunes.  The great leaders of the national movement such as Lokmanya Tilak, Sri Aurobindo and Lala Lajpat Rai were champions of resurgent Hinduism.  “The Christian leaders in India themselves began to feel that too obvious a separation from their countrymen could not benefit them.  Christianity began to show interest in Indian culture…18


Francis Xavier’s vision was not confined to India.  He was eying the whole of South East Asia and the Far East, China and Japan in particular.  He had sailed to Malacca in Malaya in 1545 and then to Amboyna in Indonesia.  While he was in Malacca again on his way back from Amboyna, he met a Japanese named Anjiro who was a fugitive from justice of his own country.  “Anjiro gave him glowing accounts of the readiness of the people of Japan to receive the message of Christ.” Xavier trained this Japanese criminal at the College of St. Paul in Goa and then set sail for Japan with him in 1549.  He was encouraged by a provincial feudal lord but opposed by the Buddhist priests.  He travelled to the Capital of Japan, Miyako, in the hope of converting the Emperor of Japan.  But the Emperor refused to see him and he returned disheartened to Goa in 1551. “The opposition of Buddhist monks had dashed his hopes and ignorant as he was of Eastern religions, to him the Buddha was a demon under whose influence the Japanese people were living in monstrous sin.  But he did not give up hope.  He wrote to Ignatius Loyola to send more workers for Japan.”19

Limited Christian missionary work continued in Japan mainly in the western part of the Island.  Japan at that time was divided into a number of principalities.  “The feudal rulers of that part of Japan were anxious at that time to attract Portuguese vessels to the harbours mainly with the object of strengthening themselves against other feudal Lords.  They realized instinctively the close connection between the foreign powers across the seas and the missionaries who had come to preach the new religion.”20 It was at this time that the great Japanese leader Oda Nobunaga started his career of conquest to unite Japan.  He was being opposed by the powerful Buddhist monasteries.  “The Jesuits saw a chance of interesting him in their mission to the disadvantage of the Buddhist church.  Nobunaga encouraged them and in 1568 he invited the Catholic missionaries to Kyoto and even gave them land on which to build a church.  Under his powerful protection the mission made unexpected progress.”21

Hideyoshi who succeeded Nobunaga was also favourably inclined towards the missionaries.  “But he was a keen-eyed observer.  He noticed that the Portuguese had landed artillery to protect the area in which Christians lived.  On a visit to a Portuguese vessel to see Father Coelho, he observed that the ship, though small, was heavily armed.  He was also aware of the interest that the western daimyos were manifesting in the arms and equipment of the Portuguese and of their attempts to strengthen themselves by friendship with foreigners.  Hideyoshi acted with firmness and in 1587 the activities of the missionaries were prohibited throughout the length and breadth of Japan.” By now the Spaniards had conquered the Philippines and were negotiating a commercial treaty with Japan.  “The commander of a Spanish galleon which was driven ashore spoke of Spanish power and recounted to the local daimyo who had salvaged the vessel and claimed the cargo the glories and prowess of the Conquistadores in a boastful manner.  Hideyoshi’s suspicious mind, already aware of Portuguese action in the East, ordered the arrest of all Spaniards in the country and had them crucified in Nagasaki as spies.”22

The Japanese had collected considerable intelligence about the doings of the Portuguese, the Dutch, the Spaniards and the British in the islands of the Pacific.  They had also realized that the converts in Japan sympathised with and looked for support to the foreigners.  So they put down with a strong hand efforts to convert more Japanese to a creed which was heaping abuse on the gods of Japan.” The local Christian community continued to exist as a minor and obscure sect subject to intermittent persecution mainly because of its affiliations with foreigners.  However, in 1614 Iyeasu, the Tokugawa Shogun, made it clear that Christian teachings were no longer to be tolerated and an edict banning the religion was issued that year.”23 At the same time, the Japanese sent a special spy to the southern regions to report on the activities of the Europeans there.  Information about a Spanish plan to invade Japan reached them in 1622.  Then came the Christian rebellion in Japan in 1637.  “It took a considerable army and a costly campaign to put down the revolt which was said to have received support from the Portuguese.  The reaction of the Shogunate was sharp and decisive the firm policy of eliminating the converts was put into effect and a few years later the country was closed to the Westerners.”24

Japan remained closed to Christian missions till 1889 when the policy was revised under the Meiji Restoration.  The Japanese remained suspicious about Christian missionaries but as the new Constitution included a clause about complete religious toleration.  The doors were opened to foreign missions.  By that time, however, both Shintoism and Buddhism had revived in Japan and Christianity continued to be looked down upon by the mainstream Japanese as an evil sect.  “Finally the educational system in Japan was under national control and Christian teachings were suspected to be in conflict with the tradition of state dominance enjoined by Shintoism.”25


It was in China that Christian missions achieved their greatest success as well as met their greatest failure.  Backed by the gangsterism of European powers, particularly Britain and France, the mission’s spread their tentacles far and wide shattered the political, social and cultural fabric of China, and prepared the way for Communist take-over after the Second World War.

There were a large number of Chinese in Malacca when the Portuguese captured this place in 1511. It was from these Chinese that the Portuguese heard of the vast riches of China.  They started sending commercial embassies to China.  But the real purpose of these embassies was to spy and gather intelligence; they were planning invasion and conquest.  A Portuguese embassy under Thomas Pires was sent to Peking and the Chinese Emperor showed readiness to receive it.  But Simon d’Antrade who had accompanied Pires landed a party of Portuguese on the Chinese land and started building a fort.  “The Chinese fleet attacked him and he was driven out.  When news of Simon d’Artrade’s piracies reached Peking, the Chinese Government naturally refused to receive the ambassador who was sent back to Canton where he died in prison in 1523.”26 Francis Xavier had also cast covetous eyes on China after his return from Japan.  “He set out for China.  But waiting for a ship on a little island off the Kwantung coast the indomitable old man died (1552).”27

On the other hand, unofficial trade between the Portuguese and some Chinese on the coastal areas was proving profitable to both parties.  A Portuguese ship helped a Chinese admiral who was chasing pirates, and the Portuguese had given rich presents to the local governor of Chuang Chao and Ningpo.  So the viceroy allowed the Portuguese to establish a trading post on the small deserted promontory of Macao in 1557.28 In 1565 the Jesuits built a residence in Macao and Christian missionaries started arriving.  By now the missionaries had evolved a new policy.  They tried to be of special service to high Chinese officials and use their patronage for propagating Christianity.  Matteo Ricci reached Macao in 1582 and travelled to the Chinese Capital at Peking in 1595 He gained the favour of the Court by presenting chiming clocks, other scientific toys and by showing his skill in mathematics.  At that time a conflict had arisen in China between Buddhism and Confucianism.  Seeing that the Court was inclined towards Confucianism, he sided with this creed.  “He quoted from the Confucian texts in support of the Christian doctrines and tried to show that Confucian doctrines did not conflict with Christianity.”29

The Jesuits who followed Ricci served the Ming Emperors as astrologers and gun manufacturers, which activities brought them patronage but in no way promoted-Christianity.  Adam Schall who had succeeded Ricci in 1630 “was nominated Vice-President of the Imperial Sacrifice, the Superintendent of the imperial Stud and High Honourable Bearer of the Imperial Banquet strange posts for a Christian priest to hold.”30 The mission at Peking was closed after the Ming dynasty was overthrown by the Manchus and Schall was jailed.  He died in 1666.  But another Jesuit, Ferdinand Verbiest, succeeded in winning the favour of the Manchu King, Kang Hsi who needed the Jesuit’s skill for manufacturing cannon for suppressing a rebellion.  The new king permitted the missionaries to preach their religion.  Verbiest appealed to the king of France to send missionaries to China from the newly established (1664) Congregation de Missions Estrangers in Paris, and six French priests left for the Far East in 1685.  One of these French fathers, Gerbillion was “a brilliant linguist who rendered brilliant service to the Chinese Government during the Sino-Russian border disputes which led to the Treaty of Nertchinsk (1689).  As a reward for his ability and tact an ‘Edict of Tolerance’ was issued by the Emperor (1692) which declared that the doctrines taught by the Europeans in charge of Astronomy and the Tribunal of Mathematics, ‘are not evil’ and permitted people ‘to go to the churches freely to worship God’.”31

But the Jesuits had gone too far in compromising the Christian doctrines and rites.  They were practising astrology for the Chinese Court.  “The head of the Jesuit mission as the Honourable Bearer of Dishes at the Imperial Banquet, or as the President of the Rites was not likely to find favour either in Rome or in Paris, and this was the problem that was raised at the Vatican itself, by the Dominicans,”32 The Pope sent to China the Vicar General who gave a decision against the Jesuits.  The Jesuits appealed to the Chinese Emperor for declaring that the Chinese rites were not in conflict with the Christian practices.  The Emperor confirmed the Jesuit position, which was resented by the Pope.  He sent a Legate for further enquiry.  The Legate prohibited the Jesuit practices.  The Emperor sent the Legate to jail where he died in 1710. On the other hand, a Papal Bull was issued against missionaries in China practising any Chinese rites.  “In 1724, the preaching of the Christian religion was officially suppressed and the foreign missionaries, except those employed at the Court, were deported to Canton.  Thus came to an end the grandiose scheme of the Jesuits in China.”33

Christian missions entered China in a big way with the arrival of Britain, France and the U.S.A. on the scene in the second quarter of the nineteenth century.  Opium trade which was forced on China by the British East India Company led to the opium wars, defeat of China, and acquisition of extraterritorial rights by the various Western powers.  Christian missions gained the right to operate not only in the extra-territorial enclaves but all over China.  They also shared the indemnities exacted from China in the aftermath of various wars.  All sorts of questionable characters became converts to Christianity and sought the protection of imperialist powers.  “Christianity in China was involved with the Taiping rebellion… Protected by foreign authority these converts looked down upon the Chinese and took up an aggressive attitude towards them…” The Christian missionaries created mischief everywhere but were protected by the consuls of foreign powers.34

“But there was not a single province or area during all this time where the common man, as well as the mandarin, did not make it clear that the missionary was an unwelcome intruder… Not a single year passed without violent manifestations in some town or other against missionary activity.  The Boxer rebellion could only be understood against this background.  It was the missionary and the ‘secondary devil’, the native convert, who were the special objects of the Boxer’s fury.  Indeed the Chinese Christians had to pay dearly for being ‘secondary devils’ suspected to be supporters of foreign aggressors.”35

One particular incident in the history of Christianity in China deserves special notice.  The French had built a cathedral on the site of a Chinese temple in Tientsin.  An orphanage was also established by Catholic nuns.  “These sisters arranged for the payment of a sum for every child brought to the orphanage, that is, in plain words established a kind of purchase system, encouraging the less scrupulous Chinese middlemen to kidnap children… Naturally, the Chinese public was greatly agitated by the procedure.”36 The matter was represented to the Imperial Commissioner who took it up with the French consul.  The consul resisted enquiry by a committee of the Chinese and fired at the mob which had collected outside the orphanage.  The consul was murdered and the Cathedral as well as the orphanage was destroyed.  The French threatened war and were supported by the British, the Americans, the Russians and the Italians.  The situation was saved by the Franco-Prussian war in Europe in which the French were defeated.37

The Boxer war gave an opportunity to the Christian missions to acquire monopoly over education in China.  The Treaty that followed “provided for the suspension of official examinations for five years in towns where foreigners had been molested - a device meant to give a chance to the missionary educated young men and Christians to be employed in service…”38 In the next ten years the missionaries established a monopoly over education in China.  Missionary education in turn created spiritual chaos.  Instead of a Chinese renaissance based on Confucianism or Buddhism what followed was a basically antireligious movement - the Chinese New Tide which paved the way for “penetration of revolutionary ideas of Marxism”.  The leader of the New Tide, Chen.  Tu-hsiu, became in due course the founder of the original Communist Party of China.39

Christian hopes in China revived when Sun Yat-sen, a Christian, emerged as the leader of the Chinese Republic after the overthrow of the Manchus in 1911. “But he showed that he was more interested in the greatness and welfare of China than in the promotion of Christianity.  The disappointment which Sun Yat-sen felt at the attitude of the Christian powers of the West and the influence which the October Revolution in Russia exercised on him led him away further and further from the missionaries to whom he had at one time looked for support.  Moreover, the rising tide of nationalism, against unequal treaties and against imperialism, was unfavourable to Christianity The Anti-Christian Federation founded in Shanghai in 1922 asserted that Christianity was an ally of capitalism and imperialism and thus an instrument for oppression of weaker nations.”40

Seventy years of sustained missionary effort for Christianizing China had inflicted great damage on Chinese society and culture.  The missionaries had also helped the Western powers in destroying the political system of China.  “Anarchical conditions in China were expected to be favourable to missionary hopes.  Anarchical conditions did come about in Chinese society, but the beneficiaries were others.”41


Christian missionary intrusion in Indo-China started with the activities of Alexander de Rhodes, a Jesuits who started work among Japanese Christian refugees (1662-27).  But his success was not significant.  His appeal to the Pope for support bore no fruit.  The newly established Mission Estrangers in France (1659), however, provided help.  “Some businessmen in Rouen had established a society for the double purpose of trade and religion.  It was in their ship that Bishop Lambert, selected by Father Alexander de Rhodes for the mission, reached Tongking in the guise of a merchant (1662).  The Trinh monarchs of Tongking however showed no desire to welcome missionary activity… The Dutch soon succeeded in destroying the French factory at Tongking, and the local people remained indifferent to the new religion.  So there was nothing to report for nearly a century.” It was only in 1765 that Pigneau de Behaine of the Mission Estrangers arrived in Cochin China.  The Nguen King of Hue was in exile at this time.  Behaine fitted out an expedition and restored him to his throne.  But Behaine died soon after (1779).  Meanwhile, the Revolution had broken out in France and the mission could expect no help from the mother country.  By the time of the Bourbon restoration in France “the new Emperor of Annam, Minh Mang, had become very hostile to Christian activity.  In 1848 Emperor Tu-Doc declared the religion of Jesus to be a ‘perverse religion’ and ordered ministers of this religion to be thrown into the sea.”42

Tu-Duc’s hostility to Christianity provided an excuse to Napoleon III of France.  He decided to use force.  In a communique published on 14 November 1858, he announced that “ruthless persecutions of our missionaries have brought our warships on more than one than occasion to the coast of the Annamite Kingdom”.  The Spaniards in the Philippines came out in support of the French expedition, “the commander-in-chief emphasizing the necessity ‘to avenge the insults to our sacred religion and our pious missionaries’.”43

The struggle between Tu-Duc and the French continued for fifteen years.  The Annamite King appealed to China for help and the French suffered a defeat.  But the relief was temporary.  In the end Tu-Duc had to come to terms with France.  He signed a treaty in 1874 ceding Cochin China to France and opening the Red River to French commerce.  “This treaty… brought into existence the political structure of Indo-China with its separate areas of Cochin China, the Empire of Annam, the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Principality of Laos.”44

The cultural resistance offered by Buddhism and Confucianism in Cambodia, Laos and Annam proved to be weak and not very widespread.  The missionaries had a field day.  The social system showed signs of breakdown everywhere.  Nor was there a strong national movement in this region till after the First World War.  “When that movement started, the Russian Revolution had already become a major factor in Eastern Asia, and therefore from the beginning the new nationalism of Indo-China had a Marxist bias, which later developed into Communist leadership.”45

Slam (Thailand)

Siam was able to resist Western pressures for unequal treaties till 1855 when the changed position in China and the British annexation of a part of Burma persuaded her to negotiate with Britain.  “Sir John Bowring, who negotiated the treaty of 1855, was able to secure the principle of extra-territoriality for British subjects, permission to build churches and exemption of all duty for import of opium.”46 France also found pretexts for using strong arm methods and acquired some sort of extraterritorial rights for all her Asian subjects by a treaty signed in 1893.  But rivalry between France and Britain enabled Siam to maintain her independence as a buffer state.  The greatest factor which came to the rescue of Siam, however, was a succession of strong and able kings who introduced reforms and revived native culture.47 Missionary activity had but little impact on the people in Siam due to the strength and vitality of the Buddhist Church.  “The monarch of Siam assumed the title of the Defender of the Buddhist Faith in imitation of the British King’s title.  The conservative but generally enlightened policy followed by the monarchy during the critical period between 1870 and 1920 had the effect of getting Siam through the transition without violent tumult and a disorganization of society, so that in the period following the First [World] War she was enabled to recover her natural independence in full by the gradual abolition, through negotiations, of the rights of extraterritoriality which the foreign nations possessed.”48


Burma after its annexation by the British remained a part of India till 1937 so that the rise of Indian nationalism had a strong impact on Burmese nationalism.  Though Buddhism had ceased to be the state religion of Burma after its annexation, its influence amongst the people was not seriously affected.  Nationalist leaders in Burma had to profess to be devout Buddhists to gain popular support.  “An instance of this was the case of Dr. Ba Maw, who was baptized as a Christian in his childhood; when he had become a prominent national figure, he declared that he had returned to the mother (Buddhist) church.”49  Missionary activity in Burma was able to affect neither its social structure nor its religion except among the Karens, the backward tribals.  “There was thus considerable missionary sympathy for Karen separatism - a movement which was at one stage a major threat to the cause of Burmese independence.”50

Missionary Response to Panikkar

The message that Panikkar had tried to convey to Asians in general and to his own countrymen in particular was that the history of Christianity surveyed by him was a running commentary on the imperialist character of the Christian doctrine.  But the Brown Sahibs who had taken over from the British - the politicians and the intellectual’s elite in India - failed to grasp his message and ignored his monumental study altogether.  On the other hand, the missionaries were up in arms against him.  “To prove his point,” they said, “Panikkar picks and chooses historical facts and then deals with them one-sidedly.” 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.”51 But he or his missionary colleagues never bothered to tell what was that history which Panikkar had not taken into account.  Subsequent Christian writings show that the missionaries have never been able to stop smarting from the hurt caused by Panikkar’s book.  They have also learnt a lesson, namely, that the Christian doctrine has to be salvaged from the history it had created.  By now there is a plethora of Christian literature which bemoans the “colonial handicap” which has stood in the way of Jesus scoring over Rama and Krishna and the Buddha.  And there has been a determined and sustained effort to present to the Indian people what Stanley Jones has named as the “disentangled Christ”.


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.”52

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.”53

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 worldwide 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.”54

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 indoor patients.  Reference was also made to the practice of the Roman Catholic priests or preachers visiting newborn 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 fines of Pakistan.”55

To start with, Christian missions put up a show of co-operation 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).”56

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.”57

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.”58 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.”59

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.”60

Next, the Report considered “Christian postwar world policy,”61 and quoted from several Christian sources.  The aim of this policy in India was threefold: “(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’.”62

The newly adopted Constitution of India, according to the Committee, had encouraged the controllers of Christian missions in Europe Ad 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.63 and I.M.C.64 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.”65

The Report surveyed the state of religious liberty in various countries in the past and at present.  It cited High Court judgements 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.”66 Then it turned to “missionary activities in Madhya Pradesh since independence as disclosed by oral and documentary evidence.”67 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”68 and how the paid pracharaks of various missions had canned 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.”69

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.”70 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.”71 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 proselytization.  “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 Rome, 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.”73 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.”74

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.”75

Another device employed for proselytisation was money-lending.  Roman Catholic missions had specialised in this field.  Poor people often approached the local missionary for loans which were written off if the debtor became a convert; otherwise he had to repay it with interest which were often found difficult.  Protestant missionaries and others cited before the Committee instances of how this method worked.  One of the conditions forgetting a loan, for instance, was that the recipient agreed to chop off the topknot (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.”76 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.77

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.”78 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.  ‘Gidapujan’ was interpreted to the people as ‘Girjaghar’ i.e., a Church.”79 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’.”80 

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 topknots 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.”81

The Committee had “reliable information that Mission organisations possess upto-date records of Baptisms.”82 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.”83

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 Jabaipur.”84 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.”85 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.”86

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.”87 The Christian missions were making a deliberate and determined “attempt to alienate Indian Christian Community from their nation.”88 The Community was most likely to become a victim of foreign manipulations in times of crisis.89 The history of the Christian missions provided ample proof that religion had been used for political purposes.90 Evangelization was not a religious philosophy but a force for politicisation.91 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.92 And conversions were nothing but politics by other means.93

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.94

Storm in Missionary Circles

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.”95

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.”96 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.”97 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.”98 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 Soekarno of Indonesia who had “stated that Nationalism should be limited by Humanism”.99 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.”100

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.”101 But they found a hard 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 my 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.”102

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 shelved.”103

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.”104


Om Prakash Tyagi was a Janata Party Member of Lok Sabha elected after the Emergency (1975-77) in 1977.  On 2 December 1978, he introduced in the Lok Sabha Bill No. 178 of 1978 under the title THE FREEDOM OF RELIGION BILL, 1978 “to provide for prohibition on conversion from one religion to another by use of force, or inducement or by fraudulent means and for matters incidental there to”.  The Draft of the bill was dated “New Delhi, The 21st November, 1978”.

STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS in the Bill stated as follows:

One of the Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Constitution is the right to profess, practice and propagate religion of one’s choice.

Conversion from one religion to another, done by free consent and will, cannot be questioned.  But State protection is required where it is sought to be obtained by threat, undue influence, allurement or wrongful inducement.  The importance of providing this protection to persons belonging to the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes is all the more necessary and cannot be ignored.  The policy of the State should be directed to achieve this aim.

The Bill had 8 sections of which the first two dealt with definitions.  The other relevant sections were as under:

3. No person shall convert or attempt to convert, either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by inducement or by deceit or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.

4. Any person contravening the provision in section 3 shall without prejudice to any civil liability, be punishable with imprisonment of either description which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to three thousand rupees or both:

Provided that in case the offence is committed in respect of a minor, woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Caste or Scheduled Tribe, the punishment shall be imprisonment to the extent of two years and a fine up to five thousand rupees. 

5. An offence under this Act shall be cognisable and shall not be investigated by an officer below the rank of an Inspector of Police.

8. The Central Government may make rules for the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this Act.

The Bill followed the pattern of Bills passed by the Congress Governments of Orissa (1967), Madhya Pradesh (1968) and Arunachal Pradesh (1977) following the recommendations of the Niyogi and Rege Committees to the effect that activities of foreign Christian missionaries in these States had to be restrained.  Christian organizations had challenged in the Supreme Court the Orissa and Madhya Pradesh Acts as unconstitutional.  But the Supreme Court had dismissed their appeal in 1977.  Now the same organizations were up in arms once again.105

The first shot was fired by Mother Teresa in a letter she wrote to Prime Minister Morarji Desai on 25 March 1979.  The text of the letter is not available to us.  But its substance comes out in the reply which Desai wrote to her on 21 April 1979.  She appears to have protested against the Bill as a hurdle in the way of charitable and philanthropic activities of the Christian missions.  She seems to have pointed out at the same time that the Roman Catholics were always engaged in praying, fasts and celebration of sacrifices made in the interests of peace, communal amity and religious freedom.  Desai wrote back, “If charity and philanthropy is not connected with any ulterior motive, they are beneficial.  But charity and conversions cannot go together.  Religion prospers only when charity and philanthropy are undertaken without any motive.  The Bill you have mentioned does not affect adversely the propagation of religion.  In fact, the Bill is an attempt to see that the poor and illiterate may enjoy religious freedom without any fear.  We have to be particularly vigilant about the Scheduled Tribes whose protection is not only guaranteed by the laws of the land but is also enshrined in the Constitution.  It is our duty to preserve every aspect of their way of life along with their religion and ways of worship.  No group belonging to any creed should interfere with their religion and rituals.  Other organizations are also engaged in the philanthropic work which you claim.  But that work can be helpful only when it is done without any ulterior motive.  It is my opinion that you should revise your attitude to O.P. Tyagi’s Bill in the light of what I have stated.”106

Meanwhile, Morarji Desai had met 36 delegations in Pune on 31 March 1979 and received their memoranda in connection with the Bill.  He explicitly rejected the plea of the Christian delegation that the Bill which provided for prohibition of conversions by force should be withdrawn.  He told Father Valerian D’Souza who was leading the Christian delegation that he saw nothing objectionable in the Bill.  At the same time he gave the assurance that he would study the Bill thoroughly and try to remove the misgivings felt by its opponents.

Another delegation which met him was from the Masur Ashram and the Patit Pavan.  They demanded that the Bill be passed.  Desai assured them that they (his Government) are in favour of the Bill and no one should have the apprehension that the Government would bend before any tactics of pressure.  Kaka Joshi of Masur Ashram congratulated the Prime Minister for the courage he had shown in the matter of conversions.  Joshi said that he was the first Prime Minister to adopt that attitude.107

Leading newspapers wrote editorials and published articles in support of the Bill.  Two retired High Court Judges issued statements to the same effect.  N. Krishnaswamy, former judge of the Madras High court, declared on 13 April 1979 that “This Bill is timely and Christians are only exposing themselves by opposing it”.  Shiv Nath Katju, former judge of the Allahabad High court, said on 29 April 1979: “The Bill should be passed immediately.  In days to come it will prove beneficial to all minority groups including the Christians.”108

Various Hindu organizations also passed resolutions endorsing the Bill.  The Hyderabad session of the Sarvadeshik Arya Pratinidhi Sabha held on 13 April 1979 appealed to all Sanatana Dharma Sabhas and organizations of Jains, Sikhs and Buddhists to hold meetings in support of the Bill and congratulate Prime Minister Morarji Desai for the firmness shown by him.  The four Shankaracharyas held a joint meeting at Sringeri and passed a resolution in support of the Bill.  Dr. Girdharilal Goswami, President of the Sanatana Dharma Maha Sammelan, issued a statement on 7 May 1979 saying that the Bill was in keeping with the secular policy as well as the Constitution of India, and that it will prove very helpful in stopping the large-scale conversion of Hindus by foreigners who were using material inducements as well as force for this purpose.109

Tyagi himself issued a statement in Hyderabad on 15 April 1979 stating that the Bill did not prevent anyone from propagating one’s religion nor came in the way of anyone changing one’s religion out of conviction.  If any group opposed such a just measure, he said, it only showed that it was guilty of committing offences specified in the Bill.  The only aim of the Bill, he added, was to protect the large number of socially and educationally poor people in such backward areas as the foreign missionaries had chosen for effecting conversions with the help of money and materials brought from abroad.  He cited the instance of 31,000 bales of cloth which had been imported by missionaries for distribution among the poor people in Madras but which had been sold surreptitiously and the proceeds utilized for other purposes.  The matter was under investigation, he said.110

The Hindu of Madras dated 29 April 1979 published a detailed report of a Press Conference which Tyagi had held in New Delhi on 27 April 1979.  After repeating the points he had made in his statement of 15 April 1979, he said that conversions by force naturally created tension between religious groups, and that such conversions had to be stopped in order to maintain- communal amity and national unity.  He added that it was only after religious tensions were brought to the notice of the Governments in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh that these Governments had felt obliged to enact Acts guaranteeing freedom of religion.  The Supreme Court, he said had judged these Acts as consistent with the Constitution.  His statement was followed by a question and answer session.  In answer to the first question he said that he was prepared to accept any amendment to the Bill provided it did not violate its spirit.  The Prime Minister Morarji Desai was in agreement with the intention of the Bill because he was opposed to conversions.  The second question was whether he would welcome a national debate on the subject.  Tyagi said he would welcome such a debate because he knew that all patriotic and intelligent people were in favour of the Bill, and that only those groups were opposed to it who were against national interests as well as their own long-term interests.  His observation in answer to a third question was that foreign missionaries who were entrenched in backward areas and among backward people were bent upon exploiting the poverty of our people and that the Government could exercise no control on the flow of foreign funds nor supervise use of those funds.  He added that ostensibly these funds were meant for opening schools but were actually used for some other purposes.  The fourth question demanded evidence about the misuse of foreign funds and materials.  Tyagi cited the Niyogi and Rege Committees’ reports in this context.  The fifth question asked was why Christians were opposed to the Bill.  Tyagi’s answer was that he knew it for definite that there was a foreign hand at the back of this opposition and that conversions were politically motivated.  The spectre of Hindu Rashtra, he added, had been raised in order to frighten the minorities.  He assured the minorities that there was no ground for their misgivings so far as propagation of religion and genuine conversions were concerned.  The sixth question was regarding the need for concrete steps to remove the fear of the minorities.  Tyagi cited the Acts in Orissa and Madhya Pradesh and wanted to know instances of their being misused.  The fear felt by the minorities had no legs to stand upon.  The seventh and the last question was whether the Bill would not harm the Janata Party by causing division in its ranks.  Tyagi dismissed the question by saying that only power hungry and opportunist elements were talking about the harmful effect of the Bill on the Janata Party, and that the Bill should not be dropped due to fear of a temporary controversy if it was fundamentally a right step in the interest of the nation.111

It was, however, true that the Janata Party at this time was riven with sharp controversies, though not on account of Tyagi’s Bill.  It was also true that the Socialist group within the Janata Party led by George Femandez was demanding that the Bill be withdrawn.  The Communist Party of India could not miss the opportunity and raised the matter in the Lok Sabha.  The CPI Member, Bhupesh Gupta, alleged on the floor of the House on 3 May 1979 that there was widespread resentment against the Bill among various communities and that it had actually led to large-scale rioting in Jammu and Kashmir.  He pleaded that the Government should withdraw the Bill.  H.M. Patel, Home Minister in the Janata Party Government, clarified that Tyagi’s Bill was a Private Bill on which the Government had yet to make up its mind.  He added that the Government could not withdraw a Private Bill.  Regarding riots in Kashmir, Patel said that Tyagi’s Bill had nothing to do with them and that they had been caused by the hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Pakistan.112

A few months later the Janata Party split and the Morarji Government had to resign.  Tyagi’s Bill could not even be discussed in the Parliament.  It became infectious.  An opportunity for enacting an all-India legislation against conversions by force, fraudulent means and material inducements was missed.


The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI), the highest body of the Catholic Church in India, was celebrating its 50th anniversary in January 1994.  Arun Shourie, the noted scholar-journalist, was invited by the CBCI to give “Hindu assessment of the work of Christian missionaries” in a meeting held at the Ishvani Kendra Seminary at Pune on 5 January 1994.  Many Archbishops, Bishops, senior clergy and Christian scholars from all over India were present.  The meeting lasted for more than two hours.  His lecture was followed by a question and answer session.  Everyone present seemed to be pleased and Arun Shourie was invited to write a paper on his talk so that it could be included in a volume containing the proceedings of anniversary celebration.  He finished the paper pretty soon and sent it to the Secretary of the CBCI.

The CBCI had, however, used the occasion to review the work of the Catholic Church in India.  The discussions were guided by two documents prepared in advance - ‘Trends and Issues in Evangelization of India Based on the CBCI Survey Reports’ and ‘Paths in India Today: Our Common Search [submitted by] CBCI Commission for Proclamation and Communication Working Group’.  Arun Shourie had received two sets of these documents - one which came to him in New Delhi along with the invitation for his lecture and another when he reached the venue of the meeting at Pune.

As he studied these documents, Arun Shourie felt that the paper he had sent to the CBCI had not done full justice to the subject.  So he delved deeper into the theology of Christianity and its history in India and studied a lot of primary material - the writings and speeches of important British administrators like T.B. Macaulay, Charles Trevelyan and Richard Temple; works of outstanding scholar-missionaries such as Max Muller and Monier-Williams; evidence tendered by leading Christian missionaries in 1853 before a Select Committee of the British Parliament regarding prospects of Christianity in India and the responsibility of the Christian ruling power in that context; report of the Simon Commission published in 1930; reports of the Rege and Niyogi Committees regarding missionary activities in Madhya Bharat and Madhya Pradesh published in 1956, etc.  At the same time he acquired an adequate knowledge of Hindu response to the missionary assault from the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi and the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.  He also discovered that the earlier Hindu response had not only been silenced but actually reversed in the post-independence India so that India’s intellectual elite had started speaking the missionary language vis-à-vis Hinduism with a vengeance in the name of Secularism.  The result of this painstaking research was a whole book - Missionaries in India: Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas - published from New Delhi in 1994.

The starting point of Shourie’s review of Christianity was his grasp of the hoary Indian traditions which the Christian missionaries had chosen to calumniate and erase so that their own creed could be imposed on the people of this country.  “The traditions of India,” he wrote, “were rich as can be.  They had attained insights of the first water… And they were inclusive.  A person devoted to a tree was not traduced as an ‘animist’, a person devoted to a bull or an elephant, or a lion or a snake or even the lowly mouse was not laughed away.  The objects of his devotion were received with reverence - they became parts of a pantheon... Nor was this artifice.  The inclusiveness flowed from deep conviction, from what had been experienced at the deepest… But no one could impede reform by an appeal to ‘fundamentals’, for these, fundamentals made the individual’s own experience the ultimate referent.  That everything should reform and transform, the tradition regarded as natural.  Differences were harmonised through discourse…”113

“But all this,” he continued, “the missionaries traduced.  The inclusiveness they condemned as a sinister stratagem to swallow up other religions.  The efflorescence of different speculations they condemned as cacophony.  The openness and tentativeness they condemned as intellectual flabbiness.  The inner directed search they condemned as morbid self-denial.  The offering of many ways they condemned as unsettled mush.  The many gods they condemned as chaos.  What had become the norm for Islam was made the norm for Christianity: freedom of speech meant the freedom to discover its glories… Asymmetry was the principle as in the case of Islam; conversion was held to be and acted upon as something that was an essential principle of Christianity; but when a person like Swami Shraddhananda argued in favour of taking back into the Hindu fold the converts who wanted to return, they were condemned as persons who were inventing a practice for which there was no warrant in Hinduism.”114

Why do the missionaries speak as they do?  Why do they fail to understand the richness of Indian traditions and appreciate its various dimensions?  Shourie answers the question after reproducing a dialogue between Mahatma Gandhi and Professor Krzenski, a Professor of Philosophy from Poland, who maintained that Christianity was the only true religion.  “For the position that Krzenski was articulating,” observes Shourie, “is the standard position, it is the ineluctable position that every adherent of a revelatory, millenniast religion must take.  The premises of such religions - of Christianity, of Islam, of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism - are that there is One Truth, that it has been revealed to One Man… that it has been enshrined by him or on his behalf in One Book… that the text is very difficult to grasp and therefore one must submit to and be guided by One (external, overarching) Agency... Now, as the Millennium shall come only when, but immediately when all accept the Revelation, it is the duty of the Agency… to see that everyone sees The Light.  If, even after The Light has been shown to a person he refuses to subscribe to it, he must be put out of harm’s way.  For in that circumstance the man is not only harming himself, he is coming in the way of the Mandate of God, of Allah’s Will, or as in Marxism, History... What must be done also follow inevitably from those premises: the Church must convert, Lenin and Mao must export the Revolution, Khomeini must export the Revelation.  These are inescapable responsibilities.”115

Coming to Christianity, Shourie continues, “Conversions have therefore been going on for 2000 years… An incredibly vast organization has been built up and incredibly huge resources are expanded to save souls.  It costs ‘145 billion dollars to operate global Christianity’, records a book on evangelization.  The Church commands four million full time Christian workers, it runs 13000 major libraries, it published 22000 periodicals, it publishes four billion tracts a year, it operates 1800 Christian Radio and TV stations.  It runs 1500 universities, and 930 research centres.  It has a quarter of a million foreign missionaries, and over four hundred institutions to train them.  And these are figures from a book published in 1989 - since then there has been the surge in Eastern Europe and Russia.”116

India has been a major target for Christian missions since the Portuguese pirates reached its shores.  Shourie quotes from the Mission Handbook: North American Ministries Overseas published in 1986.  “Today,” it says, “the most fruitful ministries are carried by more than 100,000 pastors, evangelists and preachers.  Full time Indian missionaries from organized societies increased from 420 in 1973 to 2941 societies in 1983.  These missionaries have seen remarkable growth in northern India in places such as Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and Sikkim.  In Western India, Christian workers estimate that two new worship groups are formed every week through indigenous missionary effort.  The Indian Evangelist Team has set a goal of 2,000 new churches by the year 2000.  In Tamil Nadu, the Indian Church Growth Mission hopes to plant 1,000 churches in unreached villages.”117

The missions have stopped at nothing in what one of their own theologians describes as the “game of numbers”.  Shourie continues, “There are volumes upon volumes that document the way the Church has spread by violence - in North and South America.  The sudden jumps in the number of adherents during famines and other privations, testify to the use to which such times were put…”118 He mentions a chapter, ‘Spiritual Advantages of Famine and Cholera’, in a Catholic publication, India and Its Missions, brought out in 1823.  The chapter carries a report from the Archbishop of Pondicherry to his superiors in Europe.  This high dignitary of the Catholic Church exults, “The famine has wrought miracles.  The catechumenates are filling, baptismal water flows in streams, and starving little tots fly in masses to heaven… A hospital is a readymade congregation.  There is no need to go into the highways and hedges and ‘compel them to come in’.  They send each other.”119

The best part of Shourie’s study, however, dwells - and dwells at length on the ‘Division of Labour’ between British administrators and Christian missionaries, and between the two of them and the Indologists.  These three groups might have differed among themselves about the means and methods to be employed.  “But in fact none of the three groups had any difference over the ultimate objectives - the conversion of the heathens to Christianity; and the extension and perpetuation of British rule… All eventually came to agree on the following:

1. India is a den of ignorance, iniquity and falsehood;

2. The principal cause of this state of affairs in Hinduism;

3. Hinduism is kept going by the Brahmins;

4. 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;

5. For this it is that ‘the walls of the mighty fortress of Brahminism’ are to be ‘encircled, undermined and finally stormed by the soldiers of the Cross’;

6. To do so the most effective weapon will of course be the enlargement, consolidation and indefinite prolongation of British rule;

7. For the Government to exert directly to spread Christianity will ignite resentment among the natives, so, it should maintain a position of neutrality;

8. Its contribution will none the less be decisive; to take just the Government schools, their emphasis on the English language itself will open students to Christianity, their imparting modern notions of science and geography will by itself undermine and eventually finish Hinduism - for it is not a religion that can stand a ‘moment’s scrutiny’… Hindu notions of time, space, geography, history… are bound to be not just shown up but utterly destroyed with the first wafts of western learning;

9. The work of the missionaries will in turn help in the consolidation and perpetuation of British rule; not just the converts but all those who have been weaned on western learning and values will seek the perpetuation of that rule for their own interest;

10. The work of the scholars - of missionary scholars and scholar-missionaries will expose the roots of Brahminism and thereby uproot everything that has flowed from it.

11. In the natural course, the missionaries will be focussing particularly on the outcastes and the tribals.  Hindu society - such as it is - will be rent asunder;

12. The work of the scholars will have a similar effect... it will widen the earth-faults in Hinduism and thus prepare the way for Christianity; it will convert the fissures between the people into earth-faults and thus perpetuate British rule.

“Having been brought up on books which made British conquest of India to have been an accident, if not something which the Indians dragged the unwilling British to accomplish, I myself would have been inclined to view a listing of this kind as an ex post construction, as reading design into events which happened spontaneously and quite independently of one another.  One look at the writings of the principal scholars, of the chief administrators and most of all at the writings and memoranda of missionaries and missionary societies is enough to dispel that presupposition.”120

Shourie devotes several chapters to verbatism citations of strategies suggested by some leading administrators, missionaries and scholars.  He concludes, “In a word, the work of the Church was not done by the missionaries alone, the religiously ‘neutral’ administrators did a good bit of it.  Correspondingly, the work of the Empire was not done by administrators alone, the missionaries did a good bit of it.  And that contribution was acknowledged by ruler after ruler.” He quotes Lord Palmerston, Lord Halifax, Lord Reay and Sir Macworth Young about the missionaries being “an additional source of strength to the Empire”.121

In a chapter, ‘Creating -Vacuums, filling them’, which carries more citations from the same sources, Shourie observes, “Several things strike one as one reads the writings and speeches of those days.  First of course there is the candour: political power is what induced it - there was no reason to be circumlocutory, there was no fear that any one of consequence would take offence as no one else was of much consequence.  The second thing is that in spite of the incessant frequency and explicitness with which all concerned spelled out their objectives and stratagems, these are no where in our collective consciousness.”122

That leads him to raising a very pertinent question: “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 after going through it, it has the most direct bearing on our denationalization.  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?”123

His answer to the question is as follows:

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, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”.  Sir Charles’ reading his prognosis, written in 1838: “Familiarly acquainted with us by means of our literature, the Indian youth almost ceases 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…”

But there 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 practised these forty-five years: a “secularism” in which double-standards have been the norm, one in which everything that may remove the dross by which our national identity has been covered has become anathema.124

The last section of Shourie’s book is mostly an analysis of the two CBCI documents which show that though adjustments in language and methods have been made after India became independent, missionary goals remain the same.  The questions that were put to him at the end of his lecture at Pune remind us of the questions which Mahatma Gandhi had faced and answered.  The questions were the same because the mind which had asked them has remained unchanged.  But spokesman after spokesman on behalf of Christianity assured Shourie that the Church had changed and its old record should not be held against it.  Shourie laid down five tests in this context:

First, we will know the Church has truly changed when it undertakes and disseminates an honest accounting of the calumnies it heaped on India and Hinduism…

The second thing to look for would be the extent to which the Church acquaints Christians in India as well as the groups it is aiming at with the results of scholarly work on two central claims of the Church - that the Bible is the revealed word of God, that it is wholly free from error, and that the Church, in particular the Pope in infallible…

Similarly, developments in various sciences have caused a sea-shift in what is sustainable and what is not in regard to creation, evolution, the division between man and other forms of life, between mind and matter.  The third bit of litmus would therefore be what is the extent to which the Church in India is disseminating information amongst its flock and its target groups about the consequence these developments have for its basic premises?

The fourth bit of litmus would be the extent to which the Church overcomes its present tremulous anxieties regarding dialogue and the opening up to other faiths.  And that would happen only when what is today just a grudging acknowledgement that salvation is possible through other faiths becomes an acceptance, when the current condescension and grudging admission… give way to a wholehearted acceptance of the fact that reality is indeed multilayered, that there are many ways of perceiving it, that each must assess for himself by an inner-directed search which is liable to be the most effective for him or her at that time…

Finally, of course there is the question of conversions.  In view of the fact, now proclaimed by the Church, that salvation is possible in each religion, what is the ground for converting people to Christianity, particularly by the sorts of means which we saw are in use in the North-East to this day?  The litmus test of the new ecumenism would therefore be the extent to which the Church brings its traditional zeal for saving souls through conversion in line with this new acknowledgement.125

Missionary Response

Fr. Augustine Kanjamala, Secretary of the CBCI, who had invited Shourie for the lecture at Pune and who had been amiability itself before Shourie’s indictment appeared in print, now came out in his true colours.  He was in the forefront of a campaign which was launched by the Catholic scribes in various newspapers, especially in publications of the Catholic Church.  Shourie was attacked personally and distorted accounts of his book were flashed.  As the campaign against Shourie snowballed, Prajna Bharati, an intellectual forum with headquarters in Hyderabad, invited several senior churchmen to discuss Missionaries in India with Shourie on a public platform.  All of them declined the invitation on one plea or the other except Kanjamala who accepted to appear on the platform provided he was given the opportunity to present a critique of Shourie’s book to start with.  Shourie agreed and an interesting debate took place on 4 September 1994.

Arun Shourie took care of all points raised by Kanjamala, and emphasized that the change in missionary language and theological blah blah was not due to any change in missionary mentality and objectives but had been induced by the collapse of Christianity in its traditional homelands in the West.126


A BJP Member of Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, introduced Bill No. XLII of 1996 in the Nagpur session of the Assembly on 20 December 1996.  It was titled “A Bill to provide for prohibition of conversion from one religion to another by the use of force or allurement or by fraudulent means and for matters incidental thereto.” Drafted on 29 October 1996 the Bill says as follows in its STATEMENT OF OBJECTS AND REASONS:

Conversion in its very essence involves an act of undermining one’s faith.  The process becomes all the more objectionable when it is brought about by taking recourse to methods like allurement, force, fraud and exploitation of one’s poverty.  Conversion or attempt to conversion in the above manner, besides creating various maladjustments in social life, also give rise to problems of law and order and also indirectly impinge on the freedom of religion.  It is, therefore, expedient to provide for measures for checking such activities.

The Bill seeks to achieve the above objectives.

Clauses 1 and 2 of the Bill are devoted to definitions of various terms used in the Bill.  The operative clauses are 3 to 6 which read as under:

3. No person shall convert or attempt to convert either directly or otherwise, any person from one religious faith to another by the use of force or by allurement or by any fraudulent means nor shall any person abet any such conversion.

4. Any person contravening the provisions contained in section 3 shall without prejudice to any civil liability be punishable with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to five thousand rupees or with both:

Provided that, in case the offence is committed in respect of a minor, a woman or a person belonging to the Scheduled Castes or Scheduled Tribes the punishment shall be imprisonment to the extent of two years and fine up to ten thousand rupees.

5. (1) Whoever converts any person from one religious faith to another either by performing himself the ceremony for such conversion as a religious priest or by taking part directly or indirectly in such ceremony shall, within such period, after the ceremony as may be prescribed send an intimation to the District Magistrate of the district in which the ceremony has taken place of the facts of such conversion in the prescribed form.

(2) If any person fails without sufficient reasons to comply with the provisions contained in sub-section (1) he shall be punishable, with imprisonment which may extend to one year or with fine which may extend to one thousand rupees or with both.

6. An offence under this Act shall be cognizable and shall be investigated by an officer not below the rank of an Inspector of police.

Introducing the Bill in the Assembly as a Freedom of Religion Bill, Lodha said, “It is a matter of pride to introduce this Bill in the Assembly session at Nagpur which is the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.  Such a Bill was passed in Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh in the wake of the Niyogi Committee’s Report, and later on the Supreme Court had also approved it.  Religious conversion is brought about at first and, in due course, a change of nationality takes place.  At the time of independence there were nearly 250 Christian families in Nagaland.  Today, in the same Nagaland 85 per cent families have become Christian, and missionaries are demanding that the State be declared a Christian State… Only yesterday the newspapers in Bombay published the news that Christian missionaries have fixed a target of one lakh conversions in Maharashtra.  Conversions are continuing by means of force, allurements, and use of foreign funds.  Not to speak of tribal areas and remote villages, conversions are going on in prominent areas of Bombay city itself.  Christian missionaries deem it their duty to convert Hindus to Christianity.  The Constitution recognizes everyone’s right to practice one’s religion, but assault on another religion is neither a legal nor a moral right… I appeal to the Honourable Chief Minister to get this Bill passed…”

But Lodha, it seems, had counted without the power of the Catholic Church.  In early January 1997 Cardinal Simon Pimenta, Bishop Thomas Dabre and Fr. Denis Pereira, Secretary Archdiocesan Board of Education (ABE) met the Chief Minister, Manohar Joshi, who assured the Catholic community not to be anxious about the introduction of the anti-conversion Bill by a BJP MLA since this Bill was a Private Bill.  The Bill was never beard of again in the Maharashtra Assembly although leading newspapers in Maharashtra had come out in its support.

The finishing touch to the controversy wag given by L.K. Advani, President of the BJP.  In a press interview in Chennai on 4 May 1997 he declared that his party “did not believe in use of legislation” to stop conversions.


1K.M. Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance, London (1953), Seventh Impression, 1967, p. 15.

2Ibid., p. 314.

3Ibid., p. 297.

4Ibid., pp. 279-80.

5Ibid., p. 25.

6Ibid., p. 27.

7Ibid., p. 34.

8Ibid., p. 45.

9Ibid., p. 280.

10Ibid., p. 280.

11Ibid., p. 28 1.

12Ibid., p. 283.

13Ibid., p. 290.

14Ibid., pp. 290-91.

15Ibid., p. 291.

16Ibid., p. 242.

17Ibid., p. 249.

18Ibid., p. 295.

19Ibid., p. 282.

20Ibid., p. 288.

21Ibid., p. 289.

22Ibid., p. 242.

23Ibid., pp. 67 and 289.

24Ibid., pp. 66-67.

25Ibid., p. 293.

26Ibid., pp. 56-57.

27Ibid., pp. 282-83.

28Ibid., p. 58.

29Ibid., P. 283.

30Ibid., p. 286.

31Ibid., pp. 286-87.

32Ibid., p. 287.

33Ibid., pp. 287-88.

34Ibid., pp. 291-92.

35Ibid., pp. 292-93.

36Ibid., p. 13 8.

37Ibid., pp. 138-39.

38Ibid., p. 149.

39Ibid., pp. 150-51, 254, 259, 267.

40Ibid., p. 296.

41Ibid., pp. 296-97.

42Ibid., p. 294.

43Ibid., p. 163.

44Ibid., p. 164.

45Ibid., pp. 273-74.

46Ibid., p. 171. Emphasis in source..

47Ibid., pp. 172-73.

48Ibid., pp. 272-73.

49Ibid., p. 27 1.

50Ibid., pp. 294-95.

51Felix Alfred Planner, The Catholic Church in India: Yesterday and Today, Allahabad, 1964, p. 14.

52Report of the Christian Missionaries Enquiry Committee Madhya Pradesh, Nagpur, 1956, Volume I, Appendix II.

53Ibid., Part I, p. 23.

54Ibid., p. 4.

55Ibid., p. 13.

56Ibid., p. 4.


58Ibid.  Part 11, Chapter R.

59Ibid., p. 49.

60Ibid., pp. 50-51.

61Ibid., Part H, Chapter RI.

62Ibid. pp. 59-60.

63World Christian Council.

64International Missionary Council.

65Ibid., p. 54. Emphasis in source.

66Ibid., p. 94.

67Ibid., Part III, pp. 95-129.

68Ibid., p. 99.

69Ibid., p. 102.

70Ibid., p. 100.

71Ibid., p. 102.

72Ibid., p. 96.

73Ibid., p. 103.

74Ibid., p. 105.

75Ibid., p. 113.

76Ibid., p. 115.

77Ibid., p. 116.

78Ibid., pp. 118-122.

79Ibid., p. 119.

80Ibid., p. 121.

81Ibid., pp. 122-123.

82Ibid., p. 123.

83Ibid., pp. 123-124.

84Ibid., P. 125.

85Ibid., P. 126.

86Ibid., Part IV, p. 132.


88Ibid., p. 144.

89Ibid., pp. 145-148.

90Ibid., pp. 148-149.

91Ibid., p. 149.

92Ibid., pp. 149-150.

93Ibid., pp. 151-152.

94Ibid., pp. 163-64.

95Felix Alfred Planner, op. cit., p. 10.

96The National Christian Council Review, October 1956, p. 403.

97Ibid. p. 405.

98Ibid., P. 395.

99Ibid., pp. 395-96.

100Ibid., pp. 396-97

101Ibid., p. 397.

102Ibid., December 1956, p. 490.

103Felix Alfred Plattner, op. cit., p. 11.

104Ibid., p. 7.

105What follows is taken from a Hindu booklet, Dharma SvAtantrya Vidheyaka KyoN?, written and published by Raghunath Prasad Pathak, Delhi.  The publication carries no date but seems to have been published after May of 1979.  I have translated from Hindi.

106Ibid., p. 42.

107Ibid., p. 41.

108Ibid., p. 33.

109Ibid., pp. 24-25.

110Ibid., pp. 3-5.

111Ibid., pp. 5-10.

112Ibid., pp. 42-43.

113Arun Shourie, Missionaries in India, New Delhi, 1994, pp. 41-42.

114Ibid., p. 43.

115Ibid., pp. 12-13.

116Ibid., pp. 13-14.  Emphasis in source..

117Ibid., pp. 14-15.

118Ibid., p. 15.

119Ibid., p. 16.  ‘Compel them to come in’ is with reference to the Gospel of St. Luke 14.23 which has been used by Christian missions as a divine command to use all means including force for getting converts.

120Ibid., pp. 58-60.  I have numbered the 12 points while Shourie has marked them by squares; I have also left out some passages from some of the points which Shourie has elaborated at greater length.

121Ibid., p. 109.

122Ibid., p. 161.

123Ibid., p. x.

124Ibid., pp. x-xi.

125Ibid., pp. 229-30.

126Full details of the missionary response to Arun Shourie’s book and the debate that followed can be read in Arun Shourie and His Christian Critic, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995 and History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996), Voice of India, New Delhi, 1996, pp. 465-82.

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