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Vintage picture of various Missionaries who reformed India. Images of William Carey, John Scudder, Edith Mary Brown, Alexander Duff etc.

ROLE OF MISSIONARIES IN BUILDING INDIA

In the ancient world, where battles were fought with chariots and horses, the common
man travelled miles on his donkey to take part in the new king’s coronation ceremony.
There were no news channels to broadcast the event, nor were there newspapers to
report the new empire’s laws and policies. The people with no means to travel all the
way to the capital remained home and waited… a Town Crier would arrive with his
rustic drum and clear, loud voice, drawing curious men, women, and children out of
their homes. He went from one town to another as the king’s spokesman, making
public announcements and bestowing the crowd with knowledge of the new empire.
The Town Crier reported the kingdom’s new tax policies, updates on the law and
conveyed the king’s message to the public. These Town Criers were also called
Couriers, Runners or Bellmen, and in the Christian world, they were known as
Missionaries, Evangelists and more.


When Jesus gained victory in the battle against death, He sent out Town Criers to
proclaim the good news that death was no longer king (Mark 16:15,16). He gave them
charge to go into every nation, every town to announce the great news about the new
kingdom (Matthew 28:19,20). The people had to know that this new kingdom offered
them a new life (Acts 5:20, NIV). One of Jesus’ first Town Criers, Thomas, came to
India in AD 52, and although some embraced the good news he brought, many
opposed his message and killed him. But that did not stop the Town Criers of Christ
from coming. They came, one after another, to inform and reform the nation with
Truth.


In India, the term “missionary” is often synonymous with proselytization and viewed
with bullheaded aversion. There is a misconception even today that the function of a
Missionary is to strip a nation of its precious culture and tradition and, in its place,
propel a foreign God named Jesus. But their true mission is not propagating a religion,
but educating the people about a new way of life; a life of love and freedom. We only
need to scroll back the pages of history to know how Missionaries did not forcefully
instill a religion in India, but gently healed ignorance and revived humanity. Without
Missionary intervention, you and I would still be oppressed for belonging to the wrong
caste, tribe, or gender. Without the reformations brought about by Missionaries, India
would still be making corpses out of widows and temple prostitutes out of little girls.
It does not matter if we acknowledge their contributions or not, but Missionaries did
play a major role, a substantial role, in making India a nation to be proud of.


LINGUISTIC DEVELOPMENT:

The variety of languages and dialects in India was a major inconvenience to its
invaders, traders and some of the native rulers. The Moghul rulers made Persian the
court language, the Brahmins ennobled Sanskrit and the British wished everyone
would speak English to make things easier. None were too eager to invest time, talent,
or resources to develop the other languages. The British government in India cast the
Assamese language, Assamiya, out of courts and schools. The individuality of
languages like Hindi and Konkani were often questioned. Oriya was de-recognised and

humiliated by foreign administrators and Bengali teachers. Many tribal languages were
downtrodden, and India was at a risk of losing a huge chunk of its vernacular glory.
People who spoke dialects that were not officially recognised by the government found
themselves excluded from administrative positions and respectable jobs. As this kept a
majority of Indians subdued and illiterate, the rulers and upper-caste men left things
as they were.


But the Christian missionaries viewed each language as a treasure with much beauty
and history. Moreover, their mission to impact lives could be carried out effectively
only by walking the bridge called ‘mother tongue’. Nothing could convey the message
of the gospel as effectively as a mother tongue could. So began the work of Bible
translations, for which missionaries learned new languages extensively. Since many
languages lacked a standardised script, they focused on orthography (the system of
correct spelling and study of letters in a language) to develop scripts and prose for
them. The making of bilingual dictionaries and grammar books revived many
languages that were almost as good as dead. Christian missionaries like William Carey,
Nathan Brown, Oliver Cutter, JVS Taylor, Dr Samuel Henry Kellog, Robert De Nobili,
Barthalomeo Ziegenbalg, Sir A. Sutton, etc, worked hard to bring about a revival in
languages like Assamese, Konkani, Gujarati, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Oriya, Manipuri
and more. Their focus was not only to get the gospel message across to the people but
also to accelerate literacy across lower-caste folk and linguistically minority groups.


EDUCATION:

The educational system in India was largely religious and catered only to upper caste
men, in languages unknown to common men. The Hindu Brahmins learned to read
and write their sacred prose in Sanskrit, and the Muslim schools taught religion and
accounting in Arabic. Lower caste men were not permitted to even enter an
educational institution. Women were so suppressed that education was not something
they could even dream of. If a Shudra (Dalit) was found eavesdropping or reciting
sacred prose, molten lead was poured into his ears and his tongue was chopped off.
Such cruel practises prevailed because keeping the masses illiterate and ignorant
worked to the advantage of the upper strata of Hindu men and British traders.


When Missionaries perceived the conspiracy behind illiteracy in India, they
determined to do something about it. The very first primary school in India was
established by a Missionary group headed by William Carey. His school catered to
both boys and girls of all castes and religions. The Portuguese missionaries established
schools in Goa, Daman, Diu, and Bombay to teach religion, arithmetic, and crafts. The
British started the Free Charity institutions in Madras, Bombay, and Calcutta in the
1700s, while William Carey and his team founded India’s first degree-awarding
university in 1818 at Serampore,
West Bengal. Despite the opposition against women’s
education, by 1826, William Carey had started 12 schools for girls with over 300
students.


In the 1830s, Alexander Duff, a Missionary from the Church of Scotland, perceived that
education in India did not cover a broad range of subjects. So he started English

medium schools with all kinds of secular subjects in the curriculum, and he came to
be known as the Father of Modern Education in India. In the 1850s, William Miller
founded the Madras University and the Universities of Bombay, Punjab, and
Allahabad, paving the way for educational reforms on a larger scale. Many more
Protestant and Catholic Missionaries played sincere parts in establishing a stable
educational system in India that made rapid progress in socio-economic development
as well. The Indian educational system is now looked upon with much admiration by
other countries because a bunch of Bible loving missionaries decided to fight the
conspiracy of illiteracy in India.


HUMANITY:

The missionaries knew of India’s backwardness before their arrival in the country. But
what they had in mind was a poetic version of India’s reality. When they witnessed the
cruel traditions and inhumane rituals firsthand, they were beyond horrified. Sati,
female infanticide, caste-based untouchability, child marriage, slavery, and oppression
of lower-caste citizens were common sights. Lower caste women in South India were
prohibited from covering their breasts; they could only wear clothes from the waist
down. Widows and lepers were burned alive, child sacrifices were prevalent, and
Dalits faced harsh treatment and were denied basic human rights. Poor tribes were
enslaved and their lands encroached upon by money lenders through exorbitant
usury. Back then, India surely was not a nation ‘of the people, by the people, for the
people”. Only the upper caste literate men lived unscathed by savage traditions, while
the rest wasted away under oppression.


The heartbroken missionaries, whose King and Saviour gave them the “Love thy
neighbour as thyself” command, were determined to speak against these social evils.
William Carey urged the then Governor General Lord Wellesley to outlaw child
sacrifice, and in 1802 an act was passed to ban infanticide. In 1814, Ram Mohan Roy
joined Carey, and together they campaigned against Sati. The displeased Hindu
leaders opposed and prevented the campaign from ever making a difference, but in
1829, Lord William Bentinck finally outlawed Sati. The Dohnavur Fellowship in South
India, spearheaded by Irish Missionary Amy Carmichael, opened rescue centres to
accommodate girl children rescued from child marriage and temple prostitution.
Slavery was another major evil haunting the country, especially in the south, with the
Travancore government owning over 150,000 slaves. Slaves were underpaid, punished
brutally for petty mistakes, and prohibited from wearing decent clothes. Missionaries
like Col. Munro and Charles Mead battled against the government of Travancore with
the help of the Madras government to give them basic human rights to wear proper
clothing. John Hocksworth, Joseph Pitt, Henry Baker, and other Christian missionaries
fought consistently against slavery, and their efforts have ensured that you and I walk
free today without shackles around our necks.


MEDICINE AND HEALTH CARE BENEFITS OF MISSIONARIES:

India was a land where menstruation was repugnant, the sick were abhorred and
abandoned, and lepers were burned or buried alive. India’s indigenous health care

system was underdeveloped and catered only to the socially respected classes of men
and women. The mortality rate among women and infants was shockingly high due to
child marriage and unhygienic midwifery. Astrology and religious superstitions led to
the ill treatment of women in labour to prevent them from birthing a child at
inauspicious times of the day. The missionaries realised the urgent need for physicians
in the country and established many health care centres and hospitals. In 1885, the
Lady Dufferin Fund was established to educate and send a great number of women
doctors and nurses to India to help Indian women get hygienic healthcare. But the
problem was persuading the people to avail themselves of the free health care services
offered to them. Cultural superstitions, fear of western medicine, and many religious
restrictions kept the hospitals empty. The people feared the nurses in white uniforms
because of the social prejudice that only widows wore white. But Medical Missionaries
like Dr Fells, Clara Swain, John Scudder, Sir William James Wanless, and others
relentlessly made consistent efforts through many decades to establish good health
care in India. The American Methodist Episcopal Board, John Steele, John Newton,
and others started medical relief work in Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Punjab
respectively. Some of the exceptional educational and medical institutions in India
owe their legacy to the selfless work of Christian missionaries.


This is just a tiny glimpse of what missionaries did to transform India. History often
fails to appreciate and acknowledge their phenomenal contribution in India’s
evolution. Instead, they are often accused of marring sacred cultures and defiling
religious traditions. But they were merely instruments in the Hands of a God who
heard the cries of the oppressed. Through these missionaries, God was not trampling
on something sacred; He was merely pruning the nation of all injustice, oppression,
and cruelty. God was instilling His reign of love and justice, and the missionaries were
His Town Criers.


In his book ‘Mere Christianity’, C S Lewis writes, “Imagine yourself as a living house.
God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is
doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you
knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He
starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to
make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building
quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here,
putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought
you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He
intends to come and live in it Himself.”


This is exactly what God did in India through Missionaries. For an extensive reading of
what missionaries did in India, check out ‘Let there be India’ by Babu K Verghese,
Missionary Conspiracy’
and ‘The Bible in India’ by Vishal Mangalwadi on
www.triaze.com

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