The Hands that Built India

A true Christian is ever a builder, be it an individual, collectively a society or a nation. He is ever engaged in the building of the Kingdom of God – of love, justice, equality, equity, liberty, brotherhood and loving kindness.

The nation building role of Christians in India started when Thomas, the apostle of Christ visited India as early as A.D 52. He was equipped with the message of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father (God) except through Me”. This message was a direct answer to India’s age-old socio-spiritual Vedic pursuit-

“asato mā sadgamaya
tamasomā jyotir gamaya
mrityormāamritam gamaya”.

‘From untruth, lead me to truth;
From darkness, lead me to light;
From death, lead me to immortality’.
(Brihadaranyaka Upanishads 1.3.28)

Thomas was a herald who later paved the way for thousands of missionaries and reformers to come to India and contribute to the best of their abilities in building the modern nation, India. The same Spirit of Christ transformed thousands of natives as well to get involved in nation building using their socio-political and literary skills.

Before the nineteenth century, Indian education was chiefly religious and literary in nature. The Ashrams, Madrasas, Paathshalas and Shrines were the centres where non-formal education was provided. This lacked the tinge of modern formal education. What we know as the formal way of education in schools, colleges and universities today, was not the reality until the advent of the Christian missionaries from 16th century onward in India.

Thrilled with Christ’s Spirit, the awakening of national consciousness stimulated many reform movements in India. The noted reformist Ram Mohan Roy was impressed by Christ’s insistence that love of God must find expression in service of one’s fellowmen. Mahatma Phule declared Christ’s teachings on the equal dignity of all men. Pandita Ramabai saw the liberation of Indian womanhood in Christ’s attitude towards women. Mahatma Gandhi found Jesus as the Prince of all Satyagrahis and wrote, “I shall tell the Hindus: your lives will be incomplete unless you reverently study the teachings of Jesus” (M K Gandhi-The Message of Christ, Bombay 1963, P.42). Swami Akhilananda remarked, “The teachings of Jesus are applicable in our daily lives; we go still further to say – “When they are not applied, life is not worth living” (Swami Akhilananda: Hindu View of Christ, New York,1949, P.139).

A famous historian R. L. Rawat, in his book on ‘History of Indian Education’, suggests that India will forever be indebted to the missionaries for the production of textbooks, dictionaries, and grammars, and for their zealous pursuit of educational advancement. Syed Mehmood, in his book –‘A History of English Education in India’ writes, “The missionaries’ great help and energetic efforts must always be recognized as a prominent factor in intellectual progress of India”. Likewise, Nurullah and Naik in their famous book-History of Education in India, spell out in terms like, “The missionary work has great value as the pioneer work which led to the building up of modern educational system of India….”. Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru, in his famous book “Discovery of India” (pp.317-318) referring about the development of Indian vernacular languages, acknowledges the contribution of the early missionaries saying that “The printing of books and newspapers by the missionaries, together with English- language education, no doubt broke the hold of the classics and allowed regional languages to emerge and blossom”.

The foundation of the Santa Fe School in Goa, as early as, in 1540 by the Franciscan missionaries, was the first ever formal education centre established and raised to the status of a college in 1548 renamed as St. Paul’s College. Soon more missionary schools started in various parts of India like, -at Bassein (present Vasai in Palghar District in MS) in 1546, in Cochin in 1549, at Punnaicayil, Tamil Nadu in 1567, in Pondicherry in 1575, 1713, in Madurai in 1595, a High School at Ellacurich in Tamil Nadu in 1731 and a Sanskrit school at Mannanam, Kerala in 1846.

Meanwhile, the ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity began to make their mark in the hearts and minds of Indian people by the way of Gospel. By 1818 the Serampur Missionaries established more than 100 schools at a stretch in West Bengal. Slowly the focus shifted to secondary and higher education and that too in English medium. It was during this time that some of the outstanding colleges came into being like- Scottish Church College, Kolkata in 1830, Wilson College Mumbai in 1832, St Xavier’s College, Kolkata in 1835, the Madras Christian College in 1837, Noble College at Machilipatnam in 1843, Hislop College ,Nagpur in 1844, St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchirapalli in 1844, St John’s College, Agra in 1850, Christ College, Kanpur in 1866, St, Xavier’s College, Mumbai in 1869, Baring Union Christian College , Batala in 1874, St. John’s College, Palayamkottai in 1878, St. Aloysius College, Mangalore in 1880, St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi in 1881, The American College, Madurai in 1881, and St. Joseph’s College Bangalore in 1882, all are highly reputed until today. Soon the smaller towns and rural areas caught the attention of missionaries which describes their ability and inclination to understand the need of inclusive and balanced development.

In 1834 it was reported that the women literacy was only 1% in India. This was the time when the women missionaries lifted the baton for Indian women and tried to bring some respect and respite from the age-old bondages. They were the first to promote women’s education in India. The first ever Girls’ school in India was opened at Kottayam in 1819 and in Kolkata in 1820, followed by Serampore Mission which took the loftiest lead in this regard. The first women college, namely Isabella Thoburn College, Lucknow, UP started in 1886 with a noble motto “We Receive to Give”. The inception of women education marked a great breakthrough in transforming the Indian society at large enabling the lady leaders in all walks of lives.

The field of medicine is another area where Christian community made a thumping contribution by establishing two medical colleges, one the Christian Medical College Hospital, Ludhiana, founded by Dr Edith Brown in 1893 and the other, the Christian Medical College Hospital, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, which grew out of Dr Ida Scudder’s roadside clinic in 1895. Both these colleges are even today the capstones of medical education in India and are famous for high quality medical care.

They also tried to upscale the hands of farmers by establishing huge institutions like Allahabad Agriculture College in 1910 and Bethel Agriculture Fellowship in Salem, Tamil Nadu in the early 1960s with the idea of “rural reconstruction”.

It was in 1556 that the Jesuits missionary established the first Printing Press in Goa at St. Paul’s College.

The Christian communities not only contributed in bringing about the modern and inclusive education and awareness in general with the values of liberty, equality and fraternity in Indian society but also participated in freedom movement from the beginning. It was A O Hume who founded the ‘Indian National Congress’ in 1885 which later became a prime political party for the national freedom movement. Indian Christians were heavily involved in Indian National Congress and Indian Freedom movement. The All India Conference of Indian Christians advocated for ‘SWARAJ’ and opposed the partition of India.

This has been the historical trajectory of Christians’ roles in the making of Modern India. Equally important is what roles they are and would be playing in the development of self-reliant India which is free from all linguistic, gender, religious, regional, majority-minority biases, shaping her in the model of the kingdom of God. Our vision is for transforming India through transformed students and youths possessing the Spirit of Christ. The Spirit of transformation being the Spirit of God works through believers and followers of Christ alone. For the all-round development of the nation India, filled with the Spirit and attitude of Christ, they should lead her from all fronts with the best of their abilities and characters, by being exemplary leaders in all walks of lives. A transformed nation can be established only by the transformed people of God. Therefore, our Christian youths need to reach all heights and positions, be it civil, judiciary, political, industrial, arts and so on, with Christ-like, Christ-taught servant leadership attitude by transforming the system within and without to fulfil the purpose of Jesus Christ and the aspirations of people of granting and receiving the “fullness of life” (John 10:10).

If we are proud of our forefathers’ services and attitudes towards our people and nation building who did so in spite of all disregard, shall we not give an opportunity to our descendants to be proud of our roles in nation building too, no matter what berated treatment we receive from the world in spite of our being good to them, in and for Christ?

R P Dwivedi, Bhopal Egf president and formerly a District Education Officer in Govt. of MP, is an educationist, blogger, preacher of Christ in indigenous manner who took voluntary retirement to be more available for ministry. He resides in Bhopal and is deeply involved in students’ ministry

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