INSIGHT I: Swami and Gandhi's views on Christian missionaries through the lens of Arun Shourie's book

When I started reading the book by Shri Arun Shourie "Missionaries In India Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas" (published first in 1994), it presented a clear picture of the arguments of these two great seers of our country - Mahatma Gandhi Ji and Swami Vivekananda Ji.

NewsBharati    13-Sep-2022 12:25:33 PM   
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Namaskar, the new series 'INSIGHT' is an attempt to present the central thought of a thought-provoking book. "Missionaries In India Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas", a book by Shri Arun Shourie compels readers to contemplate various points put forth.

It refers to towering personalities like Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi. When one reads their views one cannot help thinking that many socially aware people would like to know these facts. The book is first published in 1994, with 293 pages to read to understand the entire argument. Many may not be able to read it easily, so I have decided to present the important points in a form of small write-ups (series), mostly one major point in one write-up. Hope it would help many to understand it while some will be interested in reading the book too.

Swami Gandhi on conversion

Whenever there is any discussion on conversion, it always made me curious to know how Mahatma Gandhi Ji and Swami Vivekananda Ji might have reflected on the issue. When I started reading the book by Shri Arun Shourie 'Missionaries In India Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas' (published first in 1994), it presented a clear picture of the arguments of these two great seers of our country. Obviously, Shri Shourie always supports his points by making the source available to all. So thought that many karyakartas would like to refer to these points.

Their arguments are absolutely unambiguous and both mince no words when they point out the limitations or fallacies of the arguments. Shri Shourie made it clear in the beginning that he doesn't know either Sanskrit or Pali, he had to rely on English translations and most of them are by Christian missionaries.

The works of Swami Ji and Gandhi Ji provide a detailed account of the campaign of disinformation about Hinduism, India, and Swami Ji too. Gandhi Ji gave an exhaustive account of his conversation and correspondence with the Christian missionaries, their claims, and doctrines of the church, and his evaluation of the effects on our country. They are published within days or weeks of the events referred to. Of course, these are their personal experiences.
Gandhi Ji was of the opinion that the efforts by missionaries speeded up the thought process of Hindu reformers to put our house in order. Missionaries had focused on the trodden down section of our society. This hastened the process of their integration into Hindu society. Though the renunciation of Hinduism by missionaries was based on amplification, misrepresentation and on complete fabrication, it did serve the purpose of making us aware of the defects that had developed in our society over probably centuries. These arguments were presented to US and UK to raise money to help the activities of missionaries in our country.
The establishment of educational institutions and hospitals by church-affiliated organizations resulted in western education too. They maintained high standards. These set examples in our country.
But there is the other side of the story too.
Shri Shourie states that when religion has one profet, one text, one church it has some consequences. The text takes the form of dogma, verses of profet are usually treated as the last word on everything. He gave the example of the communist movement and the course of the church. It turns into a marketing agency, and the numbers become important. There are examples of reporting in terms of numbers in the conferences that discussed many issues related to missionaries' activities in various countries.
He gave the observations by the census commissioner (1921 which are really intriguing). It clearly discloses that converts are drawn from the lower classes of the Hindus and from the aboriginal tribes. Even in census report (1931) on Bihar and Orissa (now Odisha) reflects a similar picture, most of the converts, the reports states, are from the tribes. (88%) Of course there is a small number going back to the original faith, which may be due to pressure or fear of losing the benefits of belonging to a particular caste.
This Shri Shourie thinks this testifies to what Swami Ji and Gandhi Ji observed and criticized. When promises, recklessly made, couldn't be realized some gave up the newly embraced faith. Swami Ji stated on 11'th March 1894 in his address," the college's founded is alright, so far as education is concerned. But with religion it is different."
Shri Shourie refers to a background paper prepared that confirms that the conversion of 'the oppressed scheduled cast' has been going on since the 16'th century. They get isolated from Hindus and are isolated among Christians also. The facilities given to them created dependency and the ability to assert human dignity and fundamental rights is compromised. The confusion on identity becomes an important aspect.

Prof. Vidya Deshpande

Professor Vidya Deshpande has had a journey of more than four decades in the field of education. Her  main expertise is in the subject of Philosophy,  and she has worked as a teacher of philosophy and logic with Nowrosjee Wadia college for 36 years. She has been associated with the Janakalyan Blood bank for last for 38 years and has also carried out the responsibility as a management committee member of Karve Stree Shikshan Sanstha for 10 years. Her special fields of interest are Philosophy of social sciences, school education, development of skills for self reliance,  and top up skills to make students profession ready,