Saturday, January 29

Some references on proselytization in India around 1857

An email which I wrote on a mailing list.


To show how Indians have been reacting to the proselytisation efforts in history particularly around the indian war of independence in 1857 which is a watershed against the proselytisation efforts, I offer up the following. This will also give your assertion that the BOC did now allow missionaries in their regions a bit of pause, while not actively encouraging them, they distinctly now only allowed but also encouraged them in a variety of ways. Finally, don’t get on the high horse of saying that one historian is better than another, what matters is what sources they use and what treatment they do. Just having a history degree doesn’t help. I don’t think I have to refer you to Arun Shourie's book, do i?

1. I quote some extracts for that period, Walter. From an article written by Ian Copland, published in the Historical Journal, 2006, 49, 1025-1054. You might find the article interesting. But here are some large chunks. The numbers relate to further biographical, autobiographical, journals, books and newspaper articles. I quote:

Nevertheless, if the path was not always straight, its overall direction remained constant from the 1830s through to the ‘Mutiny’ of 1857: every year, the Company’s government moved closer to identifying, philosophically, with the Christian cause in India. Lord Ellenborough, an unsympathetic governor-general, who followed Grant as president of the BOC, would later assert that the innovation of giving government grants to missionary schools had destroyed ‘the neutrality to which we have at all times pledged ourselves to adhere’. His successor, Lord Stanley, agreed: ‘while professing religious neutrality we have departed widely from it in fact’, he wrote in September 1858.79

Indeed, the trajectory of the period in this respect is so salient that it begs the question of what might have transpired had not the Great Revolt intervened to disrupt it. Even as the sepoys and their allies were rampaging across north India, officials associated with the Punjab circle of John Lawrence were calling for full government support for the Christianization of India. ‘I believe myself’, wrote Herbert Edwardes in a letter to his mentor, ‘that there is nothing for it but to stand forward in future and govern India on openly Xtian principles, encouraging Xianity as much as ever we can.’80 Mission historian John Kaye, writing in 1859, concludes that, but for the Mutiny, India would have had ‘State patronage of Christian education’ within fifteen years.81 It is possible. But we will never know. In the event, when the inevitable backlash hit, Edwardes was one of its first victims, ordered to sever his links with the missionaries and bound over to silence. The counterfactual moment had passed.82

Although the 1857 outbreak was, from the start, universally condemned in Britain as a gross display of heathen folly and barbarism, its causes and ‘lessons’ rapidly became the subject of heated argument between different interest groups. Once again, church and state found themselves on different sides of the fence. For their part, the missionary societies interpreted the rebellion as a divine wake-up call, sent to spur the faithful to greater efforts. CMS secretary Henry Venn wrote:

    Here the broad fact stands out to confront us, that India has been lying passive at the feet of Great Britain for the greater part of a century … But the Christian Church has not taken advantage of the opportunities opened up in India … The vast tracts of the country lying in unbroken Heathenism–the paucity of the Missionaries, scarcely one for half a million, reproach our neglect … The instrument of Divine Judgement has been the cherished high caste Bengal army, from which the first sepoy Christian convert was expelled … in the year 1819, by order of the Governor-General.83

The Christianizing of India had not gone too far; it had not gone far enough. But the government’s judgement was quite the opposite. In Calcutta the rising was attributed mainly to native prejudices and particularly to the exploitation of popular fears on the subject of Christian conversion. ‘It is … firmly believed’, the governor-general, Earl Canning, wrote in 1859, ‘that we … made men soldiers and … ordered them to lick Cartridges, in order to convert them’.84 In London, the politicians made the same connection, but blamed the East India Company for encouraging this warped notion by, in Wood’s words, trying to bring in ‘a system foreign to the wishes and habits of the people’.85 Conveniently overlooking the fact that the BOC had overseen these very same policies, parliament in November 1858 voted to wind up the Company and transfer its Indian territories to the Crown. To mark the handover, the Queen issued a proclamation, drafted by Wood but liberally amended in her own hand, which read in part: ‘we do strictly charge and enjoin all those who may be in authority under us [in India] that they abstain from all interference with the religious belief or worship of any of our subjects on pain of our highest displeasure’.86

American historian T. R. Metcalf has characterized the post-1858 period in India as one of ‘reaction’ against the Company policies that supposedly had provoked the Mutiny. This was true, certainly, of the area of social policy, which became ultra cautious and defensive. The Evangelical project to trim Hinduism of its ‘barbaric’ excesses was put permanently on hold. However while the new Indian government made a great show, especially in the 1860s, of distancing itself from the evangelizing of the missions, it did not stop giving aid to Christian schools. In fact, in most provinces, the subvention actually increased–rising in the Punjab to 15 per cent of total government expenditure in 1868·87 Nor did the government’s warnings to its officials about the danger of their associating with missionaries stop pious members of the Indian Civil Service–and there continued to be many, such as Lawrence’s protégé, Richard Temple (governor of Bombay, 1877–80), and Andrew Fraser (governor of Bengal, 1896–1901)–from publicly attesting to their personal belief in the moral superiority of Christian values.88 Significant, too, in retrospect, is that the queen insisted on prefacing her Proclamation of 1858 with the assertion that she herself acknowledged the ‘truth of Christianity’–and appears to have deliberately and pointedly struck out the reference to ‘religious neutrality’ from the government’s draft.89 As late as the mid-nineteenth century the issue of what, essentially, the Raj stood for, was still unresolved.
The historical consensus is that there was, at best, fluctuating government support for Christian missions during the nineteenth century. Penelope Carson contests this, however, in the case of India. She believes that ‘a remarkable consistency on the part of the Court of Directors and the men appointed as governors of British India can be discerned in their attitudes towards missionary activity’.90 The burden of the argument presented above supports Carson’s conclusions. Though initially poles apart, the Company Raj and the missionary societies found a common cause, ‘English’ education, and through this nexus, a robust partnership between the two was forged during the 1830s, which might well, in the fullness of time, have grown closer still, had the Great Revolt not intervened. But what imperial–or, for that matter, spiritual–benefits did it actually confer?

Let us begin with the state. Despite appearances to the contrary, the government did quite well out of its financial deal with the missionary societies. While the grants-in-aid to the missionary schools were costly, in rupee terms, they represented good value for money. Mostly, provincial expenditure on state-aided education hovered around 5 per cent of total budgetary outlays–not a large drain on the public purse.91 Moreover, according to the Hunter Commission, the cost of directly funded public education across all sectors and provinces was in 1882 Rs 297 per pupil; whereas state aid to missionary and other privately run institutions was achieving the same result for less than Rs 36 per head–a vast saving.92 Also, by tapping into the physical and human resources commanded by the missionary societies (tried and tested curricula, books, keen and qualified teachers) the government was able to push its educational project faster and further. By the 1850s, thirty-one English-medium public schools and colleges were operating in Bengal; they had a student population of 4,241; missionary schools in the presidency numbered twenty-two, but catered for over 6,000 pupils. The North-Western Provinces, by the 1850s, possessed eight government-run English schools and colleges serving 1,548 scholars, and twenty-two missionary-run English institutions catering to 1,754 pupils.93 The figures for British India as a whole make the picture even clearer: missionary schools had 101,192 pupils, government schools just 23,163·94 Whatever limited cultural impact Western education may have made by the end of the Company’s rule in 1858 (a moot point we shall return to later) was due mainly to the resources and energies contributed by the missionary bodies.

Again, while conversion of the natives to Christianity had never really been part of the imperial project, few Company officials, by the 1840s, would have quarrelled with the Scottish missionary Alexander Duff’s assertion that there were ‘not in all India more devoted and loyal subjects of the British Crown than those Natives who have openly embraced Christianity’.95 Company surveyors Connors and Wood, who met a number of Christian converts while working in the state of Travancore, summed them up thus: ‘Peaceful and valuable subjects, they return obedience for toleration and protection.’96 John Sherer’s impression, from his years of service in Bengal, was that Indians who had accepted Christianity had become ‘eminently improved’.97 Asked by a Commons committee whether he thought the conversion of the natives had potential administrative benefits, the Bombay Army’s Major Rowland relied: ‘I do, inasmuch as I believe it makes them more loyal and attached subjects.’98 Hence, it came as no surprise to the government when, in 1857, Indian Christians rallied, en masse, to its defence.99 In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that missionary schooling often had a salutary ‘disciplining’ effect, even when it did not result in conversions. Madras governor Sir Henry Pottinger was so taken by the ‘moral improvement’ wrought by the missionary system in his presidency that he prohibited public schools from being established in areas where missionary schools already operated.100 And veteran Central Provinces administrator Andrew Fraser felt the same: ‘some of the best servants of Government’ in the province, Fraser avers in his memoirs, ‘were trained in the Central Provinces Missionary College. Even when they had not been led to embrace Christianity, they had undoubtedly imbibed principles of the greatest value to Government.’101

Again, the support, such as it was, that government received from the converts has to be weighed against the damage that was done to its standing in the eyes of the Hindu majority by its increasingly fraternal association with the Christian missionaries. As we have seen, the Hindus were perfectly happy to patronize missionary schools; and most did not object in principle to missionary preaching, so long as it was restrained. When the Reverend W. J. Deare of the CMS arrived in Krishnagar village, in Nuddea district, Bengal, he was not only provided with lodgings in the compound of its richest landlord, but was permitted to read from the Gospel to the landlord’s Brahmin sons.108 But the standard, confrontational style favoured by the itinerant missionaries did not go down well; and neither did their tactic of adopting stray children. While attached to the CMS missionary station at Bankura, the aforementioned William Bowley happened across a young boy sitting on the riverbank and, discovering that the boy had no living parents, took him back to the station compound and the following day enrolled him as a pupil in the Bankura missionary school. Several months later, an elderly woman turned up at the compound. As soon as she set eyes on the boy, the woman ‘began to weep’. It transpired that she was his grandmother. Bowley gave the woman a rupee and ‘sent her away’. A missionary colleague who witnessed the incident noted sadly in his diary that Bowley seemed both oblivious to the grandmother’s pain, and wholly unworried about the effect her story might have on local opinion.109 Then there was the issue of apostasy. Conversion of Hindus to Christianity may have been infrequent, but when it did happen, the repercussions were seismic. On 19 August 1832, the aforementioned Reverend Deare baptized four Hindu adults, laying the ‘foundation stone’ for what he hoped would eventually become a robust congregation. Immediately he was persona non grata:

    The rage is great … Before this I was visited from morning to evening, and every body courted my friendship; now no body comes near us; the teachers at the School come to me only in the night, so much is our house dreaded. Even the boys refused to come for their remuneration.110

This reaction was typical. In other Bengal moffusil towns, reports of conversions led to the picketing of church schools.111 When some students attending the Scottish Free Church in Madras embraced Christianity in 1837, 70,000 Hindus signed a petition of protest; 112 and when two teenage Bombay Parsi boys were baptized in May 1839 by John Wilson, the uproar was such that the government took the unusual step of calling out European troops.113 And it did not stop with protest. Low caste converts in rural Madras were evicted from their houses, ‘stripped, and sent into the jungle to die’.114 Four converts in a village in Bengal were attacked with swords; and another, in the town of Howrah, was murdered. Children attending missionary schools were frequently beaten up. At Cuddapah, an English sub-collector died trying to rescue a missionary and his family from a Muslim mob. In 1845 a crowd of Hindus ransacked and burned houses belonging to converts in the district of Nellore.115 Bloodier vengeance still was meted out to native Christians in 1857. Andrew Porter’s dismissive reference to these incidents as ‘sporadic protests’116 hardly does justice to their spread, or ferocity. They may not have posed (until 1857) a serious threat to Britain’s hold on the subcontinent, but collectively, over the course of the half-century, they cost the Company heavily in police and judicial time and resources. More importantly, the growing perception that the British were secretly encouraging the missionaries to spread Christianity caused important groups of subjects to lose confidence in the Company Raj, and weakened its authority.117

2. # Jnl of the American Academy of Religion, # Volume74, Issue3, # Pp. 615-645 Parsi and Hindu Traditional and Nontraditional Responses to Christian Conversion in Bombay, 1839–45, Jesse S. Palsetia

This article examines two celebrated cases of the conversion of Indian youths to Christianity by missionaries in Bombay: the case of Dhanjibhai Nauroji of 1839 and the case of Shripat Sheshadri of 1843. The cases were precedents in Indians challenging Christian conversion by way of the law courts, and highlight the adaptive responses of the Parsi and Hindu communities of Bombay and western India to Christian proselytism, and the attractions and challenges of the larger colonial environment to Indians’ ability to regulate and safeguard their community and caste norms. The article argues that in response to Christian proselytism and colonial power and ideology, Indians utilized traditional and nontraditional mechanisms that ultimately led to challenges, accommodations, and reassessments of Indians’ place under the ideological framework of colonialism.

The 1830s marked a period of intense Christian proselytism and activity in Bombay in western India. Bombay was a British colonial possession from the 1660s. From 1813 the British East India Company removed restraints upon Christian missions to operate within its jurisdiction in India, and a new age of Christian missionary activity and mission schools commenced. Between 1839 and 1843 the subject of Christian conversions reached a crescendo in Bombay, as first the Parsi and then the Marathi Hindu communities took to court Christian missionaries demanding the return of Indian children and sought their prosecution on a charge of unlawful conversion. This article examines two celebrated cases of conversion: the case of Dhanjibhai Nauroji of 1839 and the case of Shripat Sheshadri of 1843. The cases highlight the responses of the Parsi and Hindu communities of Bombay, respectively, to Christian proselytism and other aspects of the colonial environment. The cases were precedents in legally challenging missionary conversion of Indian children and evince the complexity of western Indian cultural encounters under colonialism. The conversion cases highlight the significance of the cultural and intellectual processes that equally make up the narrative of colonialism. As much as colonial domination was based on political and economic factors, colonialism shaped the ideological basis of colonial power and the development of modern society in India. Religion and Christian missionaries formed part of the complex ideological framework associated with colonialism. Within this ideological construct Indians sought to adapt to, adjust to, and challenge colonial culture, semiotics, and ideology. The conversion cases illustrate that in response to colonial ideologies Indians utilized both existing mechanisms of traditional society and creatively appropriated colonial apparatuses. The results were the emergence of cultural–intellectual struggles, accommodations, acquiescence to overpowering colonial ideologies, as well as reassessments of Indian tradition, culture, and ideology (Bayly 1988; Dirks 1992; Haynes 1991; Panikkar 2002).

3. I made a mistake in attributing the arya samaj activities to brahmo samaj, but curiously, it was partially the efforts of the missionaries which gave rise to the rise of institutions such as brahmo samaj, the ram krisna mission, arya samaj. The Brahmo Samaj formed by that hero of mine, Raja Ram Mohon Roy, explicitly wanted to reform Hinduism with a view of immunizing it against the christian missionary efforts. See page 171 of this book.

4. Do read up more on the history of CMS, it shows the inextricable link between this christian missionary outfit and the BOC, and then the British State.

5. Another academic article on the link. This time from the Anglican History journal.

The situation of the Christian missionary organizations also underwent a change
during this period. The Revolt of 1857 led to an outcry in Britain against the evangelistic
efforts of the missionaries in India, who were blamed for the unrest of the general population
culminating in the Revolt. Missionaries and their supporters reacted strongly, defending
their work and disclaiming any responsibility for the disturbances, arguing that it
was the neglect of evangelism that had led to such a deterioration of affairs in India.
Queen Victoria’s proclamation of governance with religious neutrality and tolerance after
the Revolt was interpreted by evangelical administrators such as Sir William Muir to allow for the private support of Christian missions, resulting in a resurgence of missionary
activity, especially in the newly acquired province of the Punjab.

And these are only a few references from google scholar from the first 2 pages of search. So the assertion that there is no academic research or evidence that christian missionary activity had nothing to do with the war of independence doesn’t really stack up.

My opinion stands, since the beginnings of 1800, India has had issues with proselytisation. This weight of history is a stark and immediate direction about the future trajectory of this debate. It aint going away.

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