The Fight that Won Before the Freedom Struggle
Anyone who has a fair knowledge about history knows that Christians in India were the first Indian community to be colonised than their counterparts. This was when the Christian missionaries came along the traders from Portuguese who were happily welcomed by the Hindu kings of Kozhikode in 1498. The Saint Thomas Christians were brought under a spiritual and cultural colonisation by the Portuguese missionaries markedly after 1552.
The St Thomas Christians in Kerala had started their fight for freedom sooner or later their spiritual and cultural identity was challenged and dominated by the Portuguese. But this cultural war against the domineering missionaries became stronger and persistent after the illicit council of Diamper in 1599, and became very organised and visible with the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653. Their collective fight is said to have won when the Pope established the Archdiocese of Kodungalloor and ordained Mar Joseph Kariatty as its bishop in 1778.
This epic battle happened at least 75 years before the great Indian rebellion of 1857 and a 100 years before some princely states thought to fight their British colonisers under the aegis of Indian National Congress in 1885. What many call today as the `Idea of India’ is only the result of a Pan Indian people’s consciousness which emerged merely during the course of this Indian freedom movement.
Defying the Communal Card
The glorious victory of the Indian Christians’ fight against colonisers should not be forgotten not because the Christians are crazy about communalising their national consciousness but because larger public should inculcate a culture of appreciating their fellow people with diverse identities. Indeed the communal card played by the BJP MP Gopal Shetty from Mumbai North who said that Christians did not contribute to the freedom struggle did not really work despite some media wanted to trigger a fire.
Various leaders of BJP have made themselves a laughing stock with their false claims and deviant historical narratives which the brainy people of India no longer heed to. So BJP’s intention is very clear: to create communal polarisation in order to sway the electorate in their favour before the impending mass verdict of 2019. While the erudite Indian citizenry should not fall prey to the communal discourse and perpetrations it is important for them to strive for a more inclusive society at a time when every vulnerable section of the society is unduly targeted by the majoritarian right wing. This is important for making a counter narrative which is inevitable for the integrity of our Nation.
BJP’s clever tactics of pseudo nationalism and communal polarisation buoyed by cow vigilantism and other hindutva sentiments have made India a fragile bubble whose explosion would only benefit the BJP. It has made the minorities and other weaker sections dumbfounded in such a way that even their self-defence would benefit the BJP. That is why the RSS can claim the Bharat Ratna back from Mother Teresa and Sashi Taroor cannot speak about Hindu Pakistan. If the understanding of BJP leaders about freedom fight is simply about holding a nationalistic flag and calling out slogans the Christian community in India can give a list of people who did more than that.
Warriors of Peace, Progress and Love
35 out of 607 delegates were Christians in the third session of Indian National Congress. This is a number disproportionately huge given the Christian population at that time. As this article does not envisage an exhaustive historical survey of Christian contribution Indian freedom struggle, I do not attempt to mention names of those involved in the freedom movement here. They belonged to various denominations and included Bishops, presbyters and courageous laymen and women from across the country spanning from Bengal to Maharashtra and Travancore (present Kerala) to Tamil Nadu. Christians also engaged actively in the freedom struggle since the 1920s by forming a number of organisations like, the All India Conference of Indian Christians, the National Christian Council of India, Calcuta Christo Samaj to mention a few. With an unashamed fervour the native Christians went hand in glove with national leaders who fought for freedom.
Neither did these heroes at their life time nor do I in this article claim any special allowance for Christians’ role in freedom movement because Indian Christians, though they practiced a different religious faith, have considered themselves proud children of this land in which they are born. They took it as their responsibility to fight the foreigner along with many other sections of people whom they considered their own brothers and sisters which the split minded BJP has never been able to conceive.
Moreover, who can deny the absolute contributions of Christian community in general and Christian missionaries in particular towards the national integration and empowerment through their unparalleled service in education, health and social sectors both before and after independence. Christian organisations particularly focussed on the pathetic areas of India out of their inherent compassion inspired by the Gospel and Christ, to alleviate poverty, malnutrition and empower the folks with good education, an impossible task the fake nationalists have failed to achieve even today. Christians work for inclusive society where true progress is achieved through the path of peace and charity.
Even in a very divisive and polarised political context where every action is qualified in terms of religion and caste Christians do not come up with retaliatory rants because they are aware that they do not need any endorsement from anyone for their nationalistic consciousness and constitutional responsibilities.
Spirit of Unity Fight Communal Forces
The wider public especially the media should wake up to the fact that the present political discourse is counterproductive not only because it diminishes the vulnerable sections and the minorities but more importantly because it derails the path of progress and tarnishes its global esteem. The glut of politicians and media for momentary advantages would only risk our country of permanent prosperity.
Our public sphere faces a terrible starvation of scholarly interventions. Educators, writers, thinkers and artists should take courage to make prompt deliberations flying above the fear of death sown by the fascist forces in our country. Organisations and people of good will should come together to shape a new humanity based on mutual respect, faith, hope and charity.
Devi Prasad Roy Chowdhury has captured eloquently the spirit of unity and peaceful fight in his famous sculpture Gyarah Murti, the massive 11 piece structure on Sardar Patel Marg in the capital city. The thoughtfulness of the artist to include the figure of a Christian priest among the 10 followers of Gandhi might not be as much a gaffe as many of our ministers make routinely. While they work for temporary gains the nation cannot remain apathetic to its strong warriors whose collaboration in nation building was little to none.
For further insights read:
Imsong, Atula (2004), Christians and the Indian National Movement: A Historical Perspective
Kollanoor Greger R., Indian Christianity and National Movements
Kuruvachira, J., Indian Christians And The Independence Movement
This article was published in Indian Currents on 16th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 29)