In this series of articles, we are introducing the book ‘History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996)’ by Shri Sita Ram Goel, to readers old and new. Shri SR Goel was one of the leading intellectuals & writers of Independent Bharat, whose work was subsequently marginalised & suppressed by the left-leaning academic establishment. We are grateful to VoiceOfDharma.org for making this treasure trove of books/articles available for the common public.
The Hoax of Human Rights
The next encounter between Hindu Dharma and Christianity took place in the Constituent Assembly which started framing independent Bharat’s Constitution in 1947 and completed the work by the end of 1949. The dialogue centred round what the Christian participants proclaimed as the their fundamental human right, namely, to propagate their religion.
The Christians were quite clear in their mind as well as pronouncements that the ‘right to propagate’ religion entitled them to
1) receive massive financial help from foreign sources;
2) maintain and multiply churches and missions;
3) train and mobilize an ever expanding army of missionaries, native and foreign;
4) enlarge the mission infrastructure of seminaries, social service institutions and mass media; and
5) convert an increasing number of Hindus to Christianity by every means including fraud and material inducements. They had been holding meetings and passing resolutions on all these points even before the Constituent Assembly was mentioned in the negotiations between the Congress leaders and the British Cabinet Mission.
The Hindu participants, on the other hand, did not grasp the full meaning of the ‘right to propagate religion’. They did understand that the word ‘propagate‘ was only a substitute for the word ‘convert‘, and tried to hedge in the provision with various restrictions. But they did not realize or think it important that ‘propagation of religion’ had employed and would employ a formidable organisational weapon forged almost entirely with the help of foreign money and controlled completely by foreign establishments including intelligence networks. Therefore, the points they raised in the course of the dialogue did not go to the heart of the matter.
Mahatma Gandhi had tried to put the Christian missions in a tight spot by proclaiming that proselytisation was morally wrong and spiritually sterile if not counter-productive. He had also appealed to the missions to employ their enormous resources for rendering humanitarian service to the poor without any motive for proselytisation. But that was tantamount to asking and expecting a man-eater to start living on vegetarian diet. The only point which had registered with the missions was his ruling out any legislation against proselytisation and his affirmation that they would be free to operate in independent Bharat. The missionaries had continued to maintain that they could not withhold sharing their spiritual riches with the heathens. The Mahatma’s infatuation with Jesus as a great teacher and his identification of Christianity with the Sermon on the Mount had only whetted their appetite for converts. It was not long before they leapt into renewed endeavour.
On the other hand, the leaders of the nation who were in charge of framing the Constitution behaved as if they had never heard what Gandhiji had said vis-a-vis proselytisation. His views on the subject were not even mentioned in the deliberations of the sub-committee entrusted with finalising the clauses on fundamental rights relating to religion. Nor did his views figure in the relevant debates in the Constituent Assembly. One wonders whether this silence was maintained on his own behest or whether he had been side-lined. He was alive and active when the first debate on the subject came up in the Constituent Assembly in May 1947.
It is also significant that the Christian leaders who had made it a point to pester Gandhiji in earlier years ignored him completely after Bharat become independent. Either they had given him up as a hopeless job or were apprehensive that he might say something which could create difficulties for Christian missions. Instead, they concentrated on the leaders of the Congress Party for seeking assurances that Christian rights and interests would be safeguarded in the future set-up.
What helped the Christian lobbyists a good deal was the talk about fundamental human rights which filled the atmosphere at the time the Constitution was being framed. The San Francisco Conference, had completed the framework of a United Nations Charter. A declaration of fundamental human rights was being proposed and discussed. The Christian missions were backed by powerful, people and establishments in the West. They, therefore, exercised considerable influence in the United Nations and were able to ensure that this declaration included their right to wield organisational weapons in the countries of Asia and Africa for the conversion of non-Christians. The politicians who mattered in Bharat were either unaware of the Christian game or did not understand the implications of the fundamental right to propagate religion. They yielded easily when the Christian lobby pressed for inclusion of the word ‘propagate’ in the clause which in its earlier version had allowed only freedom to profess and practise religion.
The controllers of Christian missions in Europe and America had foreseen quite early in course of the Second World War that the enslaved countries of Asia and Africa were heading towards freedom. The future of Christian missions in these countries was fraught with danger. The missions were an integral part of Western imperialism. Leading native freedom fighters did not look at them with favour. It was, therefore, felt that the future of these missions had to be rethought and replanned. They had to be presented in a new perspective in the post-war world.
In the past, propagation of Christianity and conversion of heathens with the help of organisational weapons, forged and financed by the West, had been propped up as a ‘divinely ordained’ privilege. That was not going to work in the new world order which was emerging fast. Propagation of Christianity was, therefore, to be presented as a fundamental human right. Christian missions were to become champions of religious liberty and minority rights.
A early as 1941 church organisations in Britain and the USA had set up Commissions1 for projecting a post-war world order from the Christian point of view. The Commissions foresaw great opportunities for world evangelization in the just and durable peace that was to be ensured in the wake of victory over the Axis Powers. More important, the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America and Foreign Missions Conference of North America had set up a joint Committee on Religious Liberty with which the International Missionary Council was cooperating unofficially. The Committee completed its work at the end of 1944 and its findings were presented to the world at large in a 604-page book published by the International Missionary Council from New York in January 1945.2
Part I of book surveyed the whole world, country by country, in order to pin-point the problems of religious liberty today. Coming to Bharat under British rule, the book said, “The major difficulty is in lack of social liberty, rather than in deficiency of civil liberty legally formulated. It is extremely hard for members of most Indian groups to transfer their allegiance to Christianity or to any religion unless it be to the majority group of Hindus – or in some areas, of Moslems among whom they dwell. Persecutions and disabilities are severe, especially in regard to employment and the use of land. They rest upon the fact that transfer of religious allegiance brings a loss of entire status in society, including family position, economic relationship in village or caste guild and opportunities of marriage in the natural grouping. Not only do these hindrances tend seriously to limit accession to Christianity, even from the ‘depressed classes who have little to lose and everything to gain, but they also serve to cut off Christians as a distinct body of persons largely dependent upon their own meager group for economic and social opportunity.”3
The problem faced by Christian missions in some princely states of Bharat was also noted. “Restrictions in certain Native States,” it was pointed out, “are ominous, since they suggest what the full combination of political rule with religious community interest may hold for wide portions of India in the future. Despite considerable British persuasion and influence to the contrary, certain Indian states prohibit the preaching of Christianity and the entry of missionaries within their borders. Some states forbid the erection of church buildings, some prohibit schools, one is tolerant of a single denomination. Patna recently put severe difficulties in the way of change from Hinduism to any other faith, using the piquant title ‘Freedom of Religion Act’.”4
Looking to the future the book stated, “Rule by Indians is already well along in transition and is certain to be consummated, whether by gradual or by revolutionary change from the present mixed system in which British authority has long fostered the concept and the practice of self-government; The Congress Party has committed itself to religious freedom and the protection of minorities. But the restraints of British neutrality and British protection of minorities are irksome to the strenuous elements, and they may be swept away in the name of Bharat’s unity or even of Hindu Dharma restored. All that has been associated in fact or in the emotions of Indians, with foreign rule and its cultural connotations will be a target for attack.”5
Finally, it came to the main culprit – Hindu Dharma. “It is necessary,” it said, “to consider further the basic nature of Hinduism, the system which controls the lives of a multitude half as numerous as all the peoples of Europe. It is a totalitarian social and economic and cultural complex knit together with powerful religious sanctions. Every act of life, from birth till death, is directed by it. Race, caste, guild or occupational grouping, tribe or clan, family, gods, temple and pilgrimage, literature and legend, folklore and local superstitions, ethical and social prescriptions, community in all senses of the term: they are one pervasive, controlling force – Hinduism. How can one renounce it? If not impossible the thought is unnatural, impious. Withdrawal is an outlawing of self from all established institutions and from normal human fellowship. Such is the background for the Hindu view of conversion.”6
Mahatma Gandhi invited pointed attention. “Gandhi,” said the book, “less conservative and less vehement than many Hindu leaders, has nevertheless on many occasions spoken his hostility to any enterprise, good though it is in much of its spirit and service, which has as its purpose or result the change of an Indian’s faith from Hinduism to another.”
He was pinned down as inconsistent because he was a party to the resolutions of the Delhi Unity Conference in 1924. One of the resolutions was quoted as having said that “every individual is at liberty to follow any faith and to change it whenever he wills, and shall not by reason of such change of faith render himself liable to any punishment or persecution at the hands of the followers of the faith renounced by him.” Moreover, Gandhi has been reminded in a friendly way that much of his own life has been an effort to influence the spiritual and moral outlook of all sorts of people by speech or writing, by appeal to reason and emotion.7
The book laid down 15 important issues on religious liberty recurrent in the contemporary scene.8 Three of them were as follows:
12. Does the individual have liberty to learn of other forms of religion than that in which he is born and trained and the liberty to give his allegiance to one of them?
13. Then there is the issue of the freedom of the religious believer, singly or in association, to express his faith in such manner as to seek the adherence of others to it. Such freedom is the converse of the foregoing liberty.
14. Are religious allegiance and the presentation of religion to be confined by state frontiers? May the believer seek religious truth and fellowship, or express his faith, or devote himself to religious service beyond the boundaries of his own state?9
In its part II – The Problem of Religious Liberty -, the book conceded that throughout its history Hindu society had solved its religious differences peacefully. At the same time, however, it pointed out that the problem of religious liberty had never been raised by Hindus and no guidance in this respect was available from Hindu history. “There is small evidence,” it said, “in Hindu literature of persecution within Hindu society proper. There was much controversy, religious and philosophical, and a good deal of variety in organization. But vague and absorptive polytheism, whether ethnic and static or advancing by addition and syncretism, did not raise clear issues of compulsion or liberty. Jainism and Buddhism were deviations and reforms from some aspects of the early Aryan faith-tradition. Their rise and progress; the standardization of Jainism as a minor sect of ascetic tendencies; the extension, export, the decline of Buddhism within a society of Hinduism – all were essentially peaceful. The changes came by persuasion and by slow social. pressures or movements, without clear conflict of group wills against other groups or against individuals.”10
Religious intolerance and persecution, it was noted, came to Bharat in the wake of Islamic invasion. The Portuguese also practised religious persecution. But it is only in the political developments of recent years, in the missionary introduction of fresh Christian undertakings, and in the social and intellectual change of the contemporary scene that the issue of religious liberty has become apparent. Hindu Dharma was again held up as the main culprit because ‘The chief social persecution of Christians has come from Hindus’ while ‘Christianity has had little significant contact with Islam in India.’11 The reasons for this lack of Christian contact with Islam were not given. The book withheld the stark truth that Islam was in the same sordid business as Christianity, and that Christian missionaries were murdered and mission stations burnt down whenever and wherever they came in significant contact with Islam. The bandits were devising a strategy for attacking a soft target which Hindu society has been for quite some time.
Part III of the book posed the question: What is religious liberty? Definitions of religious liberty given by various individuals and organisations were surveyed. Finally, the statement on religious liberty given by the sponsors of the joint Committee in 1944 was chosen as a brief and working formulation of recent attitudes. The statement was as follows:
The right of individuals everywhere to religious liberty shall be recognized and subject only to the maintenance of public order and security, shall be guaranteed against legal provisions and administrative acts which would impose political, economic, or social disabilities on grounds of religion.
Religious liberty shall be interpreted to include freedom to worship according to conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom to preach, educate, publish, and carry on missionary activities; and freedom to organize with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes.12
Part IV of the book The Grounds of Religious Liberty provided a scholarly discourse on Natural Law and Natural Rights, Religious Liberty and the Interests of Organised Community, Religious Liberty in Terms of Ethics and Philosophy, Religious Liberty in Terms of Christian Theology and Tradition, and the Position of the Roman Catholic Church. ‘The main historical record,’ it was admitted, and the present map of intolerance suggest that Christianity does not carry within itself principles, teachings, and practices which automatically and generally secure religious liberty for all men under its influence. An ethic is there, some teachings and practices are there, which are potentially favourable to religious liberty. But religious and social tendencies toward intolerance prevail over the elements working toward liberty… Beyond question Christians need in far greater measure to recognize the wrong of their intolerances, to realize the liberty of the spirit necessary to the Christian life and inherent – but too often latent – in Christian history, and to make their needed contribution to liberty in a world essentially non-Christian.’13
Part V of the book discussed Religious Liberty in Law. It was noted that the Modern State, of whatever type, tends to assume jurisdiction over all persons in its territory and that the individual thus possesses legal rights only in so far as allowed by the state.14 Nor could religious liberty be safeguarded by international action because international relations are controlled by sovereign states.15 The only way out, therefore, was to find out whether religious liberty is an inviolable right.16 The search spread to the arena of international law. The development of international law, it was discovered, has been associated in history and in concept with the growth of religious liberty. But there is no principle or consensus in international law asserting an obligation of each state to accord religious liberty to its inhabitants.17
The search for consensus in international law formed Part VI of the book. It contained the joint Committee’s conclusions and proposals. To start with the existing states were placed (or evaluated) in five main and three subsidiary categories according to conditions of religious liberty.18 Bharat found its place in Category III(a) along with Anglo-Egyptian Sudan, Burma, Ethiopia and Nigeria. These states were found to have freedom of religion limited in certain regions, with important social pressures.19
Next, the book provided fifteen brief observations on important issues for religious liberty recurrent in the contemporary scene.20 The core observations were as follows:
(12) and (13): In order that development in religion may be possible in any society and that individuals or groups may follow the expressions of religious truth which seem likely to bring them to their highest spiritual development, without the risks of hypocrisy and cramping confinement, individuals should have liberty at least from adolescence to learn of other forms of religion than that in which they are born and trained – with liberty to give allegiance thereto. Conversely, religious believers should naturally have liberty to declare and to recommend their faith to others and to invite fully voluntary adherence to it. Where these opportunities do not freely exist, religious liberty is denied or limited, and monopoly or fixity is sought by means of enforced ignorance and group compulsion.
(14): Religion confined by national frontiers is politically bounded and is in danger of becoming in some measure a tool or function of the State. Individuals and groups should be free to receive the stimulus and challenge of spirit which may come from outside their state and free to be associated in religious concerns, subject, of course, to all proper duties of citizenship, with persons and groups resident in other states. Any great truth or conception of truth has a supra-local quality, and several of the world’s major religions are rightly called universal. Similarly, the normal expression of religious faith in service and in commendation of the faith to others is not confined by political boundaries; The alternatives of such normal liberty are either the denial of spiritual contact, the nationalizing of culture, in patterns of hideous danger revealed by the sealed-off minds of the totalitarian states primitive and sophisticated alike; or restriction and control for political ends, infringing religious liberty and limiting the benefits which should be expected from essentially free contacts on the religious level.21
In this context the book cited the recommendations made by the Commission on The Church and State in Post-War India set up by the National Christian Council of India in 1944. The Commission had proposed:
The Church claims freedom to proclaim its Gospel, and to receive into its membership those who from sincere and honest motives desire to join it. The Church claims this freedom to commend its Gospel, because it can do no other in the light of the command of its Founder to preach the Gospel to every creature. This argument may not weigh with a non-Christian government; but it is best for the Church to admit frankly that it desires to preach the Gospel because of its conviction that fullness of life and truth cannot be enjoyed apart from Christ. On those who cannot accept such a reason it may urge that religion is such a personal matter that every individual should be given freedom to make his own decisions in the matter. To commend truth as one sees it is no infringement of the liberty of another, as he is free if he wishes to continue in the convictions which he already holds. Rather it is a recognition of the responsibility of each man to choose what he believes.
In pleading for freedom to commend the Gospel to all, we would disavow any methods of propaganda which would endanger public order or cause scandal and unnecessary offence. We disapprove all methods of propaganda which hold out material advantage as a motive for conversion. Furthermore, though conversion does increase the number of Christians, and such increase may strengthen the political influence of the Christian community, we disavow any desire for such influence. It is not our wish that Christians as a community should seek political influence for themselves; it is rather our wish that they should form a Church intent only on obeying the will of God. Again, we are of opinion that no minor under the age of eighteen should be admitted into the Christian Church without the consent of his parent or guardian. But in the event of parent or guardian becoming Christian, it is in our opinion better that division in families is as far as possible to be avoided.22
Finally, the book came out with its own recommendations. “First,” it said, “there should be serious study and discerning advocacy of proposals for an International Bill of Rights or International Charter of Liberties.23 The program suggested by the Commission to Study the Organisation of Peace was summarised:
We propose that measures be taken to safeguard human rights throughout the world by (1) convening without delay a United Nations Conference on Human Rights to examine the problem, (2) promulgating, as a result of this conference, an international bill of rights, (3) establishing at this conference a permanent United Nations Commission on Human Rights for the purpose of further developing the standards of human rights and the methods for their protection, (4) seeking the incorporation of major civil rights in national constitutions and promoting effective means of enforcement in each nation, (5) recognizing the right of individuals or groups, under prescribed limitations, to petition the Human Rights Commission, after exhausting local remedies, in order to call attention to violations.24
The program was recommended to the United Nations which was in the process of formation. “The United Nations Declarations of January 1, 1942,” concluded the book, “based their common action upon the necessity to defend life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands; The Dumbarton Oaks Agreements (Proposals for the Establishment of a General International Organization) of October 7, 1944 declare that ‘the organization should facilitate solutions of international economic, social, and other humanitarian problems and promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.’ The proposals center responsibility for this task in an Economic and Social Council, under the authority of the General Assembly. Thus commitments of direction are already made. They can be actualized by determination and persistence.”25
There was not a word in this big book about the right of the heathens to defend themselves against Christian aggression euphemised as the right to propagate religion. None of the learned men who collaborated in the compilation of this study noted that the heathens stood wholly unarmed vis-a-vis the Christian missions. The heathens were in no position to mobilise the mammoth finances which Christian missions could do with considerable ease. The heathens had no seminaries where they could train missionaries of their own and meet the challenge of Christian legionaries. The heathens commanded no mass media which could defend their faith against the Christian blitzkrieg on any comparable footing. Nor had the heathens developed a scholarship which could prostitute itself in the service of an imperialist enterprise masquerading as a defender of human rights.
Simultaneously with the publication of this pretentious book, the U.S. Commission met in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. and set up a National Study Conference which suggested several improvements in the Dumbarton Oaks Proposals of October, 1944. The British Commission did the same. The suggestions were hailed by the churches in both countries and recommended to their governments for being taken up at the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations which was scheduled to meet in April-June 1945.
Meanwhile, a Foreign Missions Conference had met at Toronto from January 5 to 8, 1945. It was attended by 485 delegates and visitors from every state and province of the U.S.A. and Canada and represented every major Protestant denomination and church affiliation. The Conference passed resolutions earnestly petitioning its two governments of Canada and the U.S.A. to give immediate attention to their responsibilities in three matters basic to world organisation, security and peace. One of the three matters was responsibility for religious liberty.26
The World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council exhorted church organisation all over the world to intercede for the success of the San Francisco Conference. The National Christian Council of India received a cable from New York stating that the American churches were planning special intercession on April 22 for the success of the San Francisco Conference and suggesting like action in ‘your constituency.’ The National Christian Council Review commented, ‘Momentous issues will face the delegates to the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations as they assemble on April 25’ A supreme responsibility rests at this time on the Universal Church.27
What this ‘intercession’ meant became clear when the U.S. monthly, Christianity and Crisis, published in its June issue a report about Christian influence at San Francisco. “The concern,” it said, “which Church leaders have shown during the past decade for the development of a law-governed world has borne fruit… The State Department included in its group of advisers or consultants, representatives of certain Church organisations, Federal Council, Church Peace Union, Catholic Welfare, and others. These representatives had worked consistently and steadily to back the American delegates in giving what Mr. Dulles has called a ‘soul’ to the Charter. They had backed the recommendations for a commission on Human Rights and had urged the recognition of such in preamble and definition of the Assembly’s work.”28
It seems, however, that lobbying for ‘religious liberty’ through government delegations was not enough. Pressure from outside had to be maintained. It was with this aim that the World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council set up a Commission on International Affairs which held its first meeting in Cambridge, England, in August 1946. One of its aims was to make sure that ‘the Church should and will play an important part in promoting the work of the United Nations.’ According to a spokesman of the Church, ‘It is imperative that Christians develop an intelligent understanding of what the United Nations Organisation is, what its duties are and the manner in which these duties are to be discharged.’29 He added, “The American Church helped influence the shaping of the Charter. Upon invitation of the Department of State they had their consultants at San Francisco Conference. Plans are now being perfected whereby Churches may have ‘observers’ present at the public meetings of the major organs of the United Nations including the General Assembly.”30
Rest is history. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in October 1948 included Article 18 which read: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and -religion: this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”31 The renewed assaults to be mounted by Christian missions in post-war Asia and Africa had, been camouflaged in clever language.
Christian missions in Bharat were privy to these proceedings of their international patrons. They had gone into action even before the United Nations Organisation came into being. The Punjab Indian Christian Association held a meeting at Lahore on November 4, 1944 and adopted a resolution that in view of Gandhiji’s statement that conversion is the deadliest poison that ever sapped the fountain of truth, this meeting, “urges the leaders of the community all over India to make it known to all concerned that ‘To preach the gospel’ is a definite command of our master and an integral part of the Christian Religion, and that therefore no constitution for India will be acceptable to the community which does not guarantee freedom to every citizen to propagate his faith and to every adult to change his religion at his own free will without any legal let or hindrances.”32
Another meeting of Christians of all denominations held at Nagpur on November 25, 1944 considered ‘the right of freedom to convert people of other faiths as an integral part of the Christian religion and inalienable and unalterable right of all Christians as individuals or as organized in Churches.’33
More conferences were held at Bombay, Calcutta, Lahore and Madras in January and February 1945 on the occasion of the visit to Bharat of Dr. J. W. Decker, Secretary of the International Missionary Council. He had come in order to discover major principles, methods and emphasis which the Christian movement should adopt in its plan for the post-war decade or decades with special reference to strengthening the Church and its effective witness and to the collaboration and help desired from abroad.34 They adopted similar resolutions on religious liberty.35
The Executive Committee of the All India Council of Indian Christians was held in Bombay on October 27-28, 1945. It decided to start negotiations with responsible Congress authorities for the legitimate protection in the coming constitution of Bharat of their rights both as a minority community and as a body standing for freedom of conscience and the full and unfettered profession, practice and teaching of their religion.36
On October 30, 1945 representatives of the Catholic Union of India and the All-India Council of Indian Christians formed a joint Committee with Mr. M. Ruthnaswami, Vice-Chancellor of the Annamalai University, as its Chairman. The Committee adopted a resolution suggesting that in the future constitution of Bharat the free profession, practice and propagation of religion should be guaranteed and that a change of religion should not involve any civil or political disability. The Committee also appointed a sub-committee to formulate proposals for a future constitution to be placed before the Constituent Assembly.37
On February 4, 1946 a Christian Deputation met the British Parliamentary Delegation which was visiting Bharat at that time. Some members of the Delegation asked the Deputation ‘whether Christians feared that they would suffer in a self-governing India.’ The Deputation saw a possibility arising, specially in rural areas but were clear that they desired to have secured to them as to other religious communities – in the Constitution itself – the right to practise, teach and propagate their faith without obstruction or discrimination.38
The National Christian Council Review of March 1946 published an editorial on ‘Religious Liberty’ and announced that a comprehensive and profound study of this whole subject has been completed recently by Dr. Searle Bates. The words of the Council which Bates had borrowed vis-a-vis Bharat had become profound in the process of being played back. The same issue published a long article by Rev. K. F. Weller of the Baptist Missionary Society in Orissa pointing an accusing finger at certain Native States vis-a-vis religious liberty. “These instances,” he warned, “are symptomatic and the situation should be watched carefully for it is a challenge to religious liberty which may grow in intensity in future.”39 He was repeating what had been stated by Bates who, in turn, had repeated what the missionaries in Bharat had told him.
Rev. Stanley Jones wrote an article, ‘Opportunities for the Church facing Indian Nationalism’, in the Review of April 1946. He mounted a straight attack on Mahatma Gandhi. “There is the obvious fear,” he said, “which possesses many minds, Christian and Muslim, that the Congress is closely bound up with Hinduism; that the national renaissance and the renaissance of Hinduism have been simultaneous and synonymous; that the supremacy of the Congress will mean the supremacy of Hinduism. There is some basis for this fear, for the leader of the nationalist movement, Mahatma Gandhi, has been closely identified with the movement to regenerate Hinduism, especially as it concerns the outcastes; It is also to be regretted that he uses Ramrajya in speaking of the kind of India he wants to see. In his mind this is probably very innocent and proper but nevertheless it has not helped in the winning of the Muslims to the nationalist cause, nor has it made it easy for the Christians to feel at home, for they do not want Ramrajya either.”40 These were exactly the charges which the Communist Party of India and the Indian Muslim League were heaping on the Mahatma at that time.
Jones had no doubt that ‘there will be attempts made to forbid evangelistic work in an independent India.’ But he felt sure that the attempts will fail. “I believe,” he concluded, “that the presentation of a disentangled Christ will be allowed and welcomed in free India. If it is not, then I do not understand the soul of India.”41 He knew how to combine frowns with flattery. Moreover, he had his eyes on that powerful section in the Congress led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru which harboured a deep-seated animus against Hindus and Hinduism and which could be made to say or do anything in order to avoid being called ‘Hindu communalists’.
The same issue of the Review had given the ‘good news’. “It is equally assuring,” it reported, “to read what Pandit Nehru said while exhorting Indian Christians of the U.P. to vote for the two Indian Christian Congress candidates who were standing for election to the U.P. Legislative Assembly: ‘I am astonished to read some of the propaganda that is being issued by or on behalf of the opponents of the Congress’ The cry of religion in danger is used when everybody knows that the fundamental creed of the Congress is freedom of religion and all that goes with it; ‘Christians form the third largest group in the country and it is absurd for anyone to imagine that their religious or other rights can be suppressed or ignored.‘”42
The Congress Election Manifesto had proclaimed a charter of fundamental rights. One of the clauses assured that ‘Every citizen shall enjoy freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise his religion, subject to public order and morality.’43 What the Christians missed in it was their inalienable and unalterable right to propagate religion. Pandit Nehru’s assurance did not mention this specific right. But the assurance was ample enough to cover anything and everything. The Review made the point quite clear. “These utterances of persons in responsible positions in Indian politics,” it said, “go a long way toward dispelling our fears that under Swaraj Christianity will be in danger. However, the events of the next few months will show whether or not Christians have justifiable cause for thinking that they may be in for severe persecution. We trust in any future constitution of India that may be drawn up by a Constituent Assembly, religious freedom will be guaranteed and no let or hindrance will be placed in the way of Christians living, preaching and teaching their religion and taking into membership of their Church those who honestly accept their way of life and belief.”44 The posture of being persecuted comes easily to those who are aggressive by nature.
Pandit Nehru removed all Christian apprehensions in the next assurance he gave them. The Delhi correspondent of The Catholic Herald of London had an interview with Pandit Nehru and asked him pointedly, “What is your view of the Indian Christian representatives” proposal to the Cabinet Mission that they should be free not merely to practise but also to propagate their religion? Pandit Nehru replied, “It stands to reason that any faith whose roots are strong and healthy should spread, and to interfere with that right to spread seems to me to be a blow at the roots themselves… Unless a given faith proves a menace to public order, or its teachers attempt to thrust it down the unwilling throats of men of other persuasions, there can be no justification for measures which deprive any community of its rights.”45 It was a habit with him to speak ‘generally of things in general’, to use his own wards. But those who knew his prejudices and preferences never missed the point. It was, of course, his privilege not to know the source from which Christianity derived its strength and not to care what that strength had done and was doing to its weak and defenceless victims.
So the Tenth Triennial Meeting of the National Christian Council of India, Burma and Ceylon was held in November 1946 in an atmosphere of confidence in the future of Christian missions in India. Once again, Christian missions and churches could plan their future programme in a mood of optimism. The proceedings of the Meeting were reviewed by Rev. C.E. Abraham of the Serampore Theological College, “Another impression,” he wrote, “that was left on one was the immensity of the unfinished task of the Missions and Churches in India. A coloured map of India that was exhibited showing unoccupied areas; drew pointed attention to the huge proportions of the evangelistic task of the Church in India. Conditions in India, political and social, are changing quickly and sometimes changing beyond recognition. At such a time as this, foresight rather than caution, is what is demanded of missionary statesmen: Are future leaders being recruited in sufficient numbers? Are they being given sufficient training in India or abroad to assume responsibilities? Or is the shibboleth of self-support being allowed to stifle initiative and to cover up complacency? These are questions that need to be pondered most conscientiously by Mission Boards in India and overseas.”46
The Meeting set up a Commission for making recommendations on ‘The Church in a Self-governing India’. The Commission advocated that churches and missions should be integrated. This was to ensure that foreign missions were not spotted separately. In any case, integration was not to hinder the flow of foreign money and manpower. “This matter of integration,” said the Commission, “should not of itself involve the diminishing of assistance by old Churches in personnel, funds-and counsel to the Churches in India. The National Christian Council is convinced that the Church in India will continue to need and to welcome as colleagues their brethren in faith from the older Churches to join with them in the building up of the Church in the fulfilment of the duty of sharing the evangel of Christ.”47
Bishop C. K. Jocob read a paper in the Meeting. The Churches in Bharat, according to him, were in a transition period. “Till the Churches are established on a firm footing,” he said, “they should continue to receive financial aid from the old Churches in the West. Not only for the building up of the Church, but for extending the evangelistic work in areas not yet touched, funds are needed by every section of the Church.”48
A message which the National Christian Council received from the Indian Christian Association of Bombay repeated the same recommendation. “The Church of Christ,” said the message, “is a Universal Church and there can be no place in Christian work for any distinctions on lines of nationality, race or colour. We, therefore, emphatically disagree with the ill-conceived cry of ‘Foreign Missionaries Quit India’ raised in certain disgruntled and irresponsible quarters. Moreover, the Christian Church in India is not in a position to take over the complete responsibility for the conduct of the Christian enterprise in this country. We are therefore deeply conscious of the fact that we still need the help and cooperation of the Churches in the West – both in the shape of material resources and personnel.”49
The March 1947 editorial of the Review was full of hope for the future. “That the Christians in India,” it said, “will be called upon to play an important part in the national life of the country is becoming increasingly clear. Not very long ago Pandit Nehru in an interview with a representative of The Catholic Herald said, ‘Indian Christians are part and parcel of the Indian people. Their traditions go to 1500 years and more and they form one of the many enriching elements in the country’s cultural and spiritual life.'” It quoted ‘a leading Congressman’ saying to Dr. Stanley Jones that “what was needed for India was a character producing faith and that there was no doubt that the impact of Christ upon life produced miracles in change of character.”50
The same issue of the Review presented a pamphlet, The Right to Convert, written by two Christian scholars and published by the Christian Literature Society. The pamphlet which was being widely advertised in the Christian press defined conversion as changes of faith, together with the outward expressions that such changes normally involve, and efforts to promote such changes. It held up the right to convert as a fundamental human right which could not be interfered with. It also gave reasons and convincing answers to objections against conversions, namely, that the established position is true; that all religions are the same; that conversion denationalises; that conversion brings in denominations; that conversion is socially disruptive; that conversion involves religious controversy; that conversion uses abusive methods; and that conversion uses unfair methods. The reviewer thanked the writers for their ‘substantial contribution to the literature dealing with the problem of religious liberty in the context of the present situation in India.’51
The Review of May 1947 published a report of the findings of an informal conference of Christian leaders held at Brindaban, U.P., in January 1947. The report started by recording “its gratitude to the missionary enterprise which has led the churches of the West to bring to India the wonderful blessing of the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and which has promoted those activities – spiritual, moral, intellectual, social and economic – that have flowed there from.” It also assured “the sending societies that there is no thought here that the churches in India will not for a long time to come continue to need and to welcome the help of the older and the richer churches in facing the enormous tasks of regeneration and reconstruction of life in India.”52
It informed the fund-raisers abroad that a study is being made under the auspices of the National Christian Council of unoccupied fields and of the needs especially of the tribal areas in order that an appeal may be made to all concerned and the efforts of new workers in pioneer fields be directed to the best effect. It concluded by saying that “In regard to religious liberty it was agreed that while doing all possible through every channel to secure fundamental human rights for all, yet in every situation the church should go forward courageously and not be too much troubled by state action.”53
Meanwhile, the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights, set up by the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1947, had finalised the Draft Articles which included ‘Rights relating to Religion’. As related earlier, the Election Manifesto of the Congress Party had assured to every citizen ‘freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise his religion subject to public order and morality’.
The Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights held its first meeting on February 27, 1947 and elected Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as its Chairman. The Committee then set up a Sub-committee to deal specifically with Fundamental Rights as distinguished from Minority Rights, etc. Acharya J. B. Kripalani was elected its Chairman. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur was the Christian representative in the Sub-Committee.
On March 17, 1947 Shri K. M. Munshi presented to the Sub-committee a Note and Draft Articles on Fundamental Rights. The Rights to Religion under Article Ill included the following clauses among others:
(1) All citizens are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and to the right freely to profess and practise religion in a manner compatible with public order, morality or health:
Provided that the economic, financial or political activities associated with religious worship shall not be deemed to be included in the right to profess or practise religion.
(6) No person under the age of eighteen shall be free to change his religious persuasion without the permission of his parent or guardian.
(7) Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion, undue influence or the offering of material inducement is prohibited and is punishable by the law of the Union.54
Many meetings of the Sub-committee were held till its final report was submitted to the Advisory Committee on Fundamental Rights on April 16, 1947. The changes which the Draft Articles underwent on various dates are being narrated below.
March 26, 1947
Article VI — Clause (l): All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise religion in a manner compatible with public order, morality or health.
Explanation II: The right to profess and practise religion shall not include economic, financial, political or other secular activities associated with religious worship.55
March 27, 1947
Clause (6) of Article VI was accepted in the following form:
No person under the age of 18 shall be converted to any religion other than one in which he was born or be initiated into any religious order involving loss of civil status.
Clause (7) of Article VI was passed in the following form:
Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by law and the exercise of such coercion or undue influence shall be an offence.56
March 29, 1947
Clause (1) of Article VI as revised on March 26, 1947 was decided to be amplified so as to read as follows:
All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise religion in a manner compatible with public order, morality or health and with the other rights guaranteed by the Constitution.57
The numbering of clauses continued getting changed as they were arranged and rearranged under Chapter I. They stood as under on successive dates:
April 3, 1947
16. All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess and practise religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this chapter.
Explanation II: The right to profess and practise religion shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious worship.
Explanation III: No person shall refuse the performance of civil obligations or duties on the ground that his religion so requires.
22. No person under the age of 18 shall be converted to any religion other than the one in which he was born or be initiated into any religious order involving a loss of civil status.
23. Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by law and the exercise of such coercion or undue influence shall be an offence.58
April 14, 1947
Clause 16 was decided to be redrafted as follows:
“All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship and to freedom to profess religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this chapter.”
Explanation II: The above rights shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious worship.
Explanation III: No change.59
There was no discussion on Clauses 22 and 23 which were left unchanged.
April 15, 1947
Clause 22: For the words ‘converted to’ substitute the words ‘made to join or profess’.
Clause 23: In the third line, omit the words ‘or undue influence’. Dr. Ambedkar proposed that the clause should end with the words ‘recognized by law’ but this was not accepted by the Committee.60
April 16, 1947
16. All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience, to freedom of religious worship and to freedom to profess religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this chapter.
Explanation II: The above rights shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious worship.
Explanation III: No person shall refuse the performance of civil obligations or duties on the ground that his religion so requires.
21. No person under the age of 18 shall be made to join or profess any religion other than the one in which he was born or be initiated into any religious order involving a loss of civil status.
22. Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by law and the exercise of such coercion shall be an offence.61
By now Clauses 22 and 23 had been renumbered as 21 and 22. This draft was referred by the Advisory Committee to the Sub-committee on Minorities and some more changes were made in it on different dates.
April 17, 1947
Meeting of the Sub-Committee on Minorities examined the draft clauses recommended by the Fundamental Rights Sub-committee.
Clause 16. Mr. Ruthnaswamy pointed out that certain religions such as Christianity and Islam, were essentially proselytizing religions, and provision should be made to permit them to propagate their faith in accordance with their tenets.62
April 18, 1947
In the Sub-Committee on Minorities meeting:
Clause 21. Mr. Ruthnaswamy: Its provisions will break up family life. A minor should be allowed to follow his parents in any change of religion or nationality which they may adopt.
Clause 22. Mr. Rajagopalachari questioned the necessity of this provision, when it was covered by the ordinary law of the land, e.g. the Indian Penal Code.63
April 19, 1947
H. C. Mookerjee, Chairman of the Minorities Sub-Committee, made the following recommendations:
Clause 16: The clause may be redrafted as follows:
All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provision of the chapter; and that in Explanation 2 for the words ‘religious worship’, religious practice ‘should be substituted.’
Clause 21: This clause may be redrafted as follows:
(a) No person under the age of 18 shall be made to join or profess any religion other than the one in which he was born, except when his parents themselves have been converted and the child does not choose to adhere to his original faith;
Nor shall such person be initiated into any religious order involving a loss of civil status.
(b) No conversion shall be recognized unless the change of faith is attested by a Magistrate after due inquiry.64
April 21, 1947
In this meeting of the Advisory Committee the following discussion was held:
M. Ruthnaswamy: The word ‘propagate’ is a well known word. It includes not only preaching but other forms of propaganda made known by modern developments like the use of films, radio, cinemas and other things.
K. M. Munshi: The word might be brought, I think, to cover even forced conversion. Some of us opposed it. I am not in favour of it. So far as the ‘freedom of speech’ is concerned it carries sufficient authority to cover any kind of preaching. If the word ‘propaganda’ means something more than preaching, you must know what it is and therefore I was opposed to this introduction of the word ‘propaganda’.
Alladi Krishnaswami Ayyar: Even in the American continent we do not have these practices as a special right, because we have freedom of speech. We have freedom of conscience. You have got the freedom of the press which is involved in the freedom of speech and writing. Therefore why place in the forefront of our country this propagation of particular religious faith and belief? I personally do not recognise the right of propagation.
Govind Ballabh Pant: At the worst it is redundant and as so many members want it we had better introduce it.
K. M. Munshi: It is not a redundant word.
Chairman: Let us take votes on it. Those who are in favour of retaining the word ‘propagate’ may raise their hands. (The amendment was accepted.)65
Clauses 21 and 22 were taken up after some time and the following discussion ensued:
Secretary: This has been redrafted by the Minorities Committee like this: (a) No person under the age of 18 shall be made to join or profess any religion other than the one in which he was born except when his parents themselves have been converted and the child does not choose to adhere to his original faith; nor shall such person be initiated into any religious order involving a loss of civil status. (b) No conversion shall be recognized unless the change of faith is attested by a Magistrate after due inquiry.
Chairman: I consider these are matters to be left to legislation. (With the concurrence of the House) Clause 21 is deleted. We may take up clause 22. This clause too is unnecessary, and may be deleted. This is not a fundamental right.
Frank Anthony: These are matters which are absolutely vital to the Christians; clause 22 about conversion.
M. Ruthnaswamy: The deletion of the clause allows conversion.
Frank Anthony: You are leaving it to legislation. The legislature may say tomorrow that you have no right.
Chairman: Even under the present law, forcible conversion is an offence.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee: There is significance with regard to the civil law. If a person is converted by undue influence or coercion, the rights do not relate to the point at which he was converted.
Chairman: What you really want is that society will not recognize forcible conversions. It is for the society and not for the law.
Syama Prasad Mookerjee: Clause 22 should not be deleted. it may not be recognized by law. Let us be clear about facts. If a person is converted to another religion even by undue influence..
Chairman: Is not the exercise of such undue influence an offence?
Syama Prasad Mookerjee: I am talking about the first part. If there is conversion by coercion, it does not put back the civil rights of the person as before.
Chairman: We cannot have a fundamental right for every conceivable thing. We are not legislating.
Bakshi Tek Chand: Take the recent case of a Sikh who was forcibly converted in Rawalpindi District. The Sikh society took him back later. Now what is the position of his rights in- between these two times?
Chairman: That was forcible conversion. Forcible conversion is no conversion. We won’t recognise it. ‘Conversion from one religion to another brought about by undue influence shall not be recognised by law.’ We drop the last line.66
April 22, 1947
The meeting of the Advisory Committee decided as follows:
Clause 16 should be redrafted as:
All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health, and to the other provisions of this chapter.
(Note: It was agreed that Messrs Rajagopalachari and S. P. Mookerjee should submit a draft proviso to this clause permitting social legislation which may affect religious practice.)
Explanation 2: The above rights shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice.
Explanation 3: The freedom of religious practice guaranteed in this clause shall not debar the State from enacting laws for the purpose of social welfare and reform.
(Note: The decision to insert the words ‘religious practice’ was taken by a majority of 2 votes.)
Clause 21: Deleted.
Clause 22 should be redrafted as follows:
“Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by law.”67
April 23, 1947
The clauses were renumbered and finalised as follows:
13. All persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practise and propagate religion subject to public order, morality or health, and to the other provisions of this chapter.
Explanation 2: The above right shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice.
Explanation 3: The freedom of religious practice guaranteed in this clause shall not debar the State from enacting laws for the purpose of social welfare and reform.
17. Conversion from one religion to another brought about by coercion or undue influence shall not be recognized by law.68
By now Clause 16 had become Clause 13 and Clause 22 had become Clause 17.
Thus even before Bharat attained independence, a criminal ideology had been recognized as a religion, a colony crystallized by Christian-Western imperialism had been accorded the status of a minority community, and gangsterism financed and controlled from abroad had received a new lease of life.
It is true that high pressure propaganda mounted by powerful establishments in Europe and America had contributed considerably to the success of this conspiracy. But Indian leaders were no less guilty of sponsoring the sin, for one reason or the other, as we shall see.
1 The British body was the Commission on International Friendship and Social Responsibility. Its counterpart in the U.S.A. was the Commission on a just and Durable Peace set up under the Chairmanship of Mr. John Foster Dulles, the future Secretary of State.
2 M. Searle Bates, Religious Liberty: An Inquiry, New York, 1945.
3 Ibid., pp. 56-57.
4 Ibid., p. 57. Patna was a princely state in Orissa.
5 Ibid., pp. 57-58.
6 Ibid., p. 59. Emphasis added.
7 Ibid., p. 61.
8 Ibid., p. 130.
9 Ibid, p. 131.
10 Ibid., p. 267. Incidentally, what was an asset of I-Hindu culture in the context of religious tolerance became a liability in the context of religious liberty!
11 Ibid., p. 271. Whatever the context, credit must go to Christianity!
12 Ibid., p. 309.
13 Ibid., pp. 431-432. Thus Christianity, with all its intolerance, was found to contain the seeds of religious liberty! But Hinduism, with all its tolerance, could not claim that credit! In simple language, what the learned exercise wanted to say was that religious liberty was a by-product of religious intolerance and consequent conflict. One had to be a bandit before one could hope to be a saint.
14 Ibid., p. 474. Italics in source.
15 Ibid., p. 475.
16 Ibid., p. 476. Emphasis added.
17 Ibid., p. 54.
18 Ibid., pp. 546-54.
19 Ibid., p. 547.
20 Ibid., p. 549.
21 Ibid., pp. 551-552. It was forgotten that the totalitarian states Fascist, Communist, Nazi – were creations of the Christian ethos which had dominated Europe during preceding centuries.
22 Ibid., p. 563.
23 Ibid., p. 573.
24 Ibid., p. 576.
25 Ibid., p. 579.
26 The National Christian Council Review, August 1945, p. 137.
27 Ibid., March 1945. p. 56.
28 Ibid., December 1945, pp. 212-13.
29 Ibid., February 1947, p. 56.
30 Ibid., P. 57.
31 The United Nations and Human Rights, published by the UNO, New York, 1984, p. 242. Emphasis added.
32 The National Christian Council Review, January 1945, p. 12.
33 Ibid., p. 31.
34 Ibid., p. 14.
35 Ibid., p. 81. Emphasis added.
36 Ibid., January 1946, p. 32.
37 Ibid., December 1945, pp. 239-41.
38 Ibid., April 1946, p. 120.
39 Ibid., March 1946, p. 81.
40 Ibid., April 1946, p. 99.
41 Ibid., p. 101. ‘Disentangled Christ’ means Christ tom out of Christian history. That criminal history which had been created, without a doubt by Christ, the one and only saviour, had come under fire in an age which had, by and large, freed itself from Christian monolatry.
42 Ibid., p. 93.
43 Ibid., February 1946, p. 62. Emphasis added.
44 Ibid., April 1946, p. 94. Emphasis added.
45 Ibid., November 1946, pp. 335-36.
46 Ibid., January 1947, pp. 12-13. The proposal of some ‘nationalist’ Christians that the Church in India should be self-supporting in order to be independent, was not relished by most Christians, particularly the missionaries.
47 Ibid., p. 17.
48 Ibid., p. 32.
49 Ibid., February 1947, p. 52.
50 Ibid., March 1947, p. 103. Fifteen hundred will become two thousand years in Pandit Nehru’s next pronouncement about the presence of Christianity in India.
51 Ibid., pp. 142- 43.
52 Ibid., May 1947, p. 243.
53 Ibid., p. 244. Emphasis in source.
54 B. Shiva Rao, The Framing of India’s Constitution, Select Documents, Volume II, Bombay, 1967, p. 76. Emphasis added.
55 Ibid., p. 124. Emphasis added. Explanation I relates to Sikhs and is not relevant in the context of Christianity.
56 Ibid., p. 125.
57 Ibid., p. 131. Emphasis added.
58 Ibid., p. 140. Emphasis added.
59 Ibid., p. 165. Emphasis added.
60 Ibid., p. 166.
61 Ibid., pp. 173-74. Emphasis added.
62 Ibid., p. 201. Emphasis added.
63 Ibid., p. 203.
64 Ibid., pp. 208-09. Emphasis added.
65 Ibid., pp. 267-68.
66 Ibid., pp. 271-72.
67 Ibid., pp. 290-91 Emphases added.
68 Ibid., p. 298. Emphasis added.
(To be continued…)
Book: History of Hindu-Christian Encounters (AD 304 to 1996) (Chapter 1 & 2)
Author: Sita Ram Goel
Originally published:1989 (2nd edition 1996)
Published by: Voice of India
Available on: Amazon
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