Coffee Break: Kanchan Gupta
Jomo Kenyatta had a sharp tongue and a sharper mind, both of which he used to devastating effect while lashing out at the 'civilising' West. The White man's fictional burden of taming the savage East and enlightening the 'dark continent' was no more than a convenient cover to hide his role as the master of the subjugated races. Colonialism and Empire-building were inspired as much by a sense of racial superiority as driven by greed; it was a complex social, political and economic enterprise facilitated in no small measure by Christian missionaries who helped deracinate the indigenous people -- the 'heathens' -- and convert them into loyal subjects of an alien Emperor.As in India, so in the African colonies were people uprooted from their ancient cultural moorings in preparation for their political suppression and economic deprivation. They were accorded the 'privilege' of embracing a strange faith and genuflecting at the altar of Christ in exchange of what they possessed and held dear till then: Their land, their language, their rites and rituals, and their religion. By the time the natives realised that all this was no more than a con job to disinherit them and enrich their foreign rulers, they had invariably lost most, if not all, of what once belonged to them. Jomo Kenyatta, not given to niceties and asphyxiating political correctness, put it succinctly: "When the missionaries came, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray'. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, they had the land and we had the Bible!"At a recent gathering of Christian missionaries, I made bold to recall Jomo Kenyatta's famous comment which fetched a fusillade of denial and denunciation. I was accused of trying to divert attention from the depredations of 'rapacious' and 'murderous' Hindu mobs which have brought a 'bad name' to the land of Mahatma Gandhi, the "apostle of peace" as one of them described him. That's a Christian description, I protested, to which the response was: How else would you describe him? Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi was a crafty politician who made a fetish of non-violence; so call him a 'man of peace' if you must, but don't describe him as a follower of Jesus, as were the 12 apostles of Christ, which he definitely wasn't.In any event, the Mahatma the Church now holds up to shame those who object to proselytisation and conversion through allurement and deceit, the harvesting of the souls of the poor and the vulnerable, was mercilessly denigrated and lampooned in his lifetime by Christian missionaries in keeping with their loyalty to the Empire. Charles Freer Andrews was an exception and his association with Gandhi did not exactly make him welcome in mission drawing rooms. Many years ago, while researching the Goa Inquisition, I had chanced upon material about the attitude of Christian missionaries towards Gandhi. Those notes resurfaced while I was clearing out the accumulated, fraying papers in my study; they make for interesting reading, especially when Gandhi is being touted by Christian missionaries in an effort to silence their critics.Gandhi's politics of peaceful resistance to colonial rule had found expression in the non-cooperation agitation. This in turn set alarm bells ringing -- the colonial establishment, including the Church, was quick to realise his potential. It retaliated in full force, using its arsenal, including missionaries and their publications. In September 1919, the Christian Missionary Review fired the first salvo, but was circumspect. A year later, it described Gandhi as an "extraordinary casuist", an "unscrupulous and irresponsible demagogue" responsible for the disturbances in Punjab. Urging India's colonial masters to "adequately" deal with Gandhi's "egotistical mysticism", the Christian Missionary Review said that unless put down, Gandhi and his nationalism would emerge as "one of the dangerous phenomena of present day politics in India".The terrible misdeeds of the British administration in Punjab, of which the Rowlatt Act is but only one example, found ample support among the missionaries. Bishop Henry Whitehead not only supported the Act but went on to denigrate the nationalist agitation against it as a "striking illustration of the incapacity of a large section of Indian politicians to face facts and realities, or to understand the first principles of civilised Government". Those 'principles' were on display at Jallianwala Baag. Marcella Sherwood, speaking on behalf of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society, and Rev Canon Guildford, representing the Church Missionary Society, were to later applaud Gen Dyer's brutality, saying it was "justified by its results". The Christian Missionary Review, describing Gen Dyer as a "brave man", said his action was "the only means of saving life". Another missionary publication, rather disingenuously named The Young Men of India, heaped praise on Sir Michael O'Dwyer, the Lt Governor of Punjab during those bleak and brutal days, saying that he was "the strongest and best ruler the country has had in modern times". The Harvest Field, another missionary journal, was quick to point out that during the nationalist uprising against the Rowlatt Act, Indian Christians were not found "wanting in loyalty to the (British) Government". The International Review of Missions was clear in its pronouncement that the means and methods adopted by the British to put down the uprising in Punjab were neither un-Christian nor a blot on British rule. On the other hand, the Christian Missionary Review described Gandhi's political agenda as dangerous, predicted that it would lead to violence, chaos and anarchy. The Young Men of India, commenting on Gandhi's concept of satyagraha, declared: "Though Mr Gandhi may have satisfied his conscience as to its morality, to plain common sense it means playing with fire, with the certainty that if used with masses of Indian people, the fire will become a conflagration...". The Harvest Field, in its May 1921 issue, put on record its belief that "Mr Gandhi's teachings" would result in "chaos and anarchy only". Gandhi, it said, had brought a "sword to his beloved land". The Madras Christian College Magazine, in its October 1921 issue, declared, "We have always regarded the doctrines he has been preaching and the policy he has advocated as pernicious." The journal then went on to offer a homily: All those who want "peace and sobriety of life and progress" should reject the "sophistry of non-violence"Yet today we are told by Christian missionaries to follow Gandhi's doctrines, pay heed to his philosophy of non-violence. Amazing sophistry!
AGENDA Sunday Pioneer, November 2, 2008