How Jawaharlal Nehru Opened India’s Gates to Christian Missionaries for Converting Hindus
The history of the Indian freedom struggle was dominated almost wholly by inspiration, symbolism, heroes, motifs, literature, poetry, and episodes drawn from the vast and rich Sanatana repertoire. Recall that even Gandhi was called “Mahatma” Gandhi, a term that connotes a completely Hindu spiritual meaning. Gandhi’s methods were also drawn from the deep fount of Sanatana culture and ideals. The consequences of his leadership are an entirely different matter altogether. The underlying point is the fact that Hindu society had largely remained Hindu; Hindus thought in and spoke their own mother tongues; the masses of Hindu society still looked downupon English as the language of Christians or Firangis or Mlecchas. In other words, Hindu society was robust enough to not be seduced by Christian soul predators.
But something changed for the worse after independence. And that change for the worse was directly facilitated by India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
The indomitable Sita Ram Goel categorizes the history of Hindu and Christian encounters in four phases beginning with the barbaric Portuguese genocide and mass conversions of Hindus in Gomantaka or Goa. According to Goel the fourth phase commenced with the Indian independence, which
proved a boon for Christianity. The Christian right to convert Hindus was incorporated in the Constitution. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who dominated the scene for 17 long years, promoted every anti-Hindu ideology and movement behind the smokescreen of a counterfeit secularism. The regimes that followed continued to raise the spectre of ‘Hindu communalism’ as the most frightening phenomenon. Christian missionaries could now denounce as a Hindu communalist and chauvinist, even as a Hindu Nazi, any one who raised the slightest objection to their means and methods. All sorts of ‘secularists’ came forward to join the chorus. New theologies of Fulfilment, Indigenisation, Liberation, and Dialogue were evolved and put into action. The missionary apparatus multiplied fast and became pervasive. Christianity had never had it so good in the whole of its history in India. It now stood recognized as ‘an ancient Indian religion’ with every right to extend its field of operation and expand its flock…The Constitution of independent India adopted in January 1950 made things quite smooth for the Christian missions. Mahatma Gandhi had raised Jesus to the status of a spiritual giant, and Christianity itself to the status of a great religion as good as Sanatana Dharma. His mindless slogan of sarva-dharma-samabhava was proving to be an effective smokescreen for Christian missions to steal a march against Hindu religion, society, and culture.
In a letter written to C.D. Deshmukh on 22 June 1952, Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had said, “Nothing amazes me so much as the perversion of well-known words and phrases in political and other controversies today. I suppose every demagogue does it…”
He was blissfully unaware that he himself had become the most despicable demagogue in India’s hoary historywhen he borrowed the word “secularism” from Western political parlance and made it mean the opposite of what it had meant when it emerged during the European Enlightenment…The first Prime Minister of independent India became the leader of a Muslim-Christian-Communist combine for forcing Hindus and Hinduism first on the defensive and then on a run for shelter. [Emphases added]
This backdrop is crucial and essential to understand what follows.
Throughout his life, if there was one thing Jawaharlal Nehru was scared of, it was the fact that he never wanted the White Man, the Christian apparatus to see him in bad light although in public he uttered hypocritical puffery to the contrary. This essay brings to light a mostly-forgotten truth after India got independence: how Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru literally opened the gates for Christian missionaries to set up their shop in India and convert Hindus en masse. Don’t take our words for it. Read his own words.
On 17 October 1952, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a circular commanding the Chief Ministers of all States to appease Christian missionaries of all hues no matter what they did. Here is the full text of the letter.
I have sometimes received complaints from Christian missions and missionaries both foreign and Indian, about the differential treatment accorded to them in certain States. It is said that there is some kind of harassment also occasionally. Some instances of this kind have come to my notice. I hope that your Government will take particular care that there is no such discrimination, much less harassment. I know that there is a hangover still of the old prejudice against Christian missions and missionaries. In the old days many of them except in the far south, where they were indigenous, represented the foreign power and sometimes even acted more or less as its agents. I know also that some of them in the north-east encouraged separatist and disruptive movements. That phase is over. If any person, foreigner or Indian, behaves in that way still certainly we should take suitable action. But remember that Christianity is a religion of large numbers of people in India and that it came to the south of India nearly 2000 years ago. It is as much a part of the Indian scene, as any other religion. Our policy of religious neutrality and protection of minorities must not be affected or sullied by discriminatory treatment or harassment. While Christian missionaries have sometimes behaved objectionably from the political point of view, they have undoubtedly done great service to India in the social field and they continue to give that service. In the tribal areas many of them have devoted their lives to the tribes there. I wish that there were Indians who were willing to serve the tribal folk in this way. I know that there are some Indians now who are doing this, but I would like more of them to do so. It must be remembered that the Christian community, by and large, is poor and is sometimes on the level of the backward or depressed classes.
We permit, by our Constitution, not only freedom of conscience and belief but also proselytism. Personally I do not like proselytism and it is rather opposed to the old Indian outlook which is, in this matter, one of live and let live. But I do not want to come in other people’s ways provided they are not objectionable in some other sense.
In particular, I would welcome any form of real social service by anyone, missionary or not. A question arises, however, how far we should encourage foreigners to come here for purely evangelical work. Often these foreign countries raise funds on the plea of converting the savage heathens. I do not want anyone to come here who looks upon me as a savage heathen, not that I mind being called a heathen or a pagan by anybody. But I do not want any foreigner to come who looks down upon us or who speaks about us in their own countries in terms of contempt. But if any foreigner wants to come here for social service, I would welcome him.
We suppose this is as clear as it gets and further commentary is unnecessary. This is apart from Nehru’s deadly patronage to the pedophile Christian bigot, Verrier Elwin, of who Ramachandra Guha is a big fan. It was the selfsame Verrier Elwin who helped quicken the pace of the Christianisation of the North East.
But this circular was just the beginning of the destructive path Nehru had chosen to hurtle India towards.
In 1955, a Bill was tabled in the Parliament to regulate conversions and put a stop to missionary activity in India. Felix Alfred Plattner, a researcher, and one who provided research and intellectual cover fire to missionaries noted that if the Bill was passed, “it would have seriously handicapped the work of Christian missionaries”, because it “provided for a strict system of regulating conversions”. But Plattner’s worries were misplaced.
The Prime Minister of India himself came to his rescue. Jawaharlal Nehru said to the Parliament,
I fear that this Bill, will not help very much in suppressing evil methods but might very well be the cause of great harassment to a large number of people…Christianity is one of the important religions of India, established here for nearly two thousand years. We must not do anything which gives rise to any feeling of oppression or suppression in the minds of our Christian friends… [Emphasis added]
Plattner was of course delighted. He further noted that
This attitude of Nehru and his government, has inspired the Christians with confidence in the Indian Constitution. Nehru [has] remained true to his British upbringing. [Emphasis added]
But you know who’s worse than Nehru in this limited context? The then Home Minister of India, Govind Ballabh Pant. In 1954, the pact between the US and Pakistan angered India so much that we made it incredibly difficult to grant visas to US missionaries who wanted to travel to India. The Catholic missionary setup was naturally angry. So, the Catholic Bishops of India took out a delegation led by Father Gracias of Bombay and eventually met Home Minister Pant. This clueless eminence gave them an idea that had not occurred to them so far: of a far more effective method to convert Hindus than by importing foreign missionaries. Writes Plattner,
[Pant] could not understand why the Catholic Church, which had a long and historic existence in the country, had not succeeded in training Indian priests and professors for seminaries. The interview helped us to realise that in every sphere we have to recruit locally and train selected candidates for responsible positions.
None less than the Home Minister of India. A practicing Hindu. A Pandit, no less: Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. These then are some of the decisive roots of how the clueless and egomaniacal Nehru and his gang of servile flatters literally offered Hindus on a platter to missionary wolves. The fact that Bishops and Archbishops and numerous other clergy have acquired frightening political power and social capital today was thus directly facilitated by Hindus themselves. One would be hard-pressed to find a more suicidal people in the world.
- Sita Ram Goel. “VINDICATED BY TIME: NIYOGI COMMITTEE REPORT.”
- Sita Ram Goel. “DEFENCE OF HINDU SOCIETY.”
- Jawaharlal Nehru. “SELECTED WORKS OF JAWAHARLAL NEHRU: SECOND SERIES, VOL 18-19.”
- Felix Alfred Plattner. “THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN INDIA: YESTERDAY AND TODAY”