Saturday, March 20, 2010

Christian Response to Nationalism

Christian Response to Nationalism
                                                                               Shibu Joseph


Freedom and self-identity are the desires of every human being. Nobody likes to be the subject of any body. Every nation, state, or tribe wants to be independent. The main reason for the most of the turning points in the history of the world was quest for the freedom and identity. Similarly our nation India also had great turning point due to the search for its identity and freedom, which took almost a period of century. Many political and religious parties gave their strength and resources for it. Even Indian Christians had a great part in the struggle for the freedom fight.

The purpose of this paper is to examine how in fact the Indian Christians did respond to the Nationalistic Movements in India. This article touches upon the spirit of nationalism which was infused in the Christians, and their role in India’s freedom struggle. The author will touch upon the background of Indian Christianity, its triumphs and travails and finally show how the Christian community tried to come into the national mainstream. This paper covers broadly the Christian movements in later 19th century, in a nutshell political back ground of India, response of Christians towards nationalism and it impacts in Christianity.


The term Nationalism is referred to political movements seeking or exercising state power and justifying such actions with nationalist arguments. According to John Martin, Nationalism is an ideology about individuated being. It is and ideology concerned with boundedness, continuity, and homogeneity encompassing diversities. It is an ideology in which social reality, concerned in terms of nationhood, is endowed with the reality of natural thing

1.1 The Origin of Nationalism

The nationalistic movement was formed in the later half of the 19th century and was developed in the full form in 20the century. There are at least three opinions concerning the origin of nationalism. It is believed that by most of the scholars that Indian national congress paved the way for nationalism. Few others consider that the Sepoy mutiny in 1857 to be the beginning of nationalism, who fought the first fight against the British for independence. There are people believe that the undenominational Christian movements in the mid-nineteenth century are the root of nationalism. Nationalism was supported by all who resisted the establishment and expansion of British rule in India. In nature,
Nationalism was not specifically an anti Christian movement; but it was an anti British movement, many missionaries and other Europeans were attacked, they even persecuted the Indian Christians for their relation with Europeans. A thorough study highlights the causes of the rise of nationalism.

1.2 The Causes for the Rise of Nationalism
1.      It was a reaction against the British rule.
2.      Political subjection and the resulting misery and humiliation led the educated Indians to search for self-identify.
3.      Influence of European Nationalism and the liberal, political ideas.
4.      Revelation of India’s past as a result of studies of oriental scholars and the consequent pride that felt in the past.

1.3 The Two Faces of Nationalism
1.3.1 Nationalism Based on Hindu Religion

The nationalism based on Hindu religion paved the way to the formation of Brahma Samaj, which was started by Raja Ram Mohan Roy. He attempted to strengthen Hinduism to withstand the cultural and religious onslaught on British rule in India. A militant sect was formed by Dyananda Saraswathi, which is known as Arya Samaj, was based on the rejuvenation and protection of Hindu religion. Liberal leaders were pushed back by others to interpret nationalism in the terms of the Hindu religious tradition with its closely related structure of Hindu metaphysics, religious aspiration and religious exercise. Due to this growing identification of nationalism and Hinduism and development of an aggressive communalism among Hindus, which made effects on minority communities and their relation to the Indian National congress, many associations of Muslims refused to join it when the congress met in Calcutta, in 1886. This thought of nationalism paved the way for the formation of Muslim league in 1906.

1.3.2 Nationalism Based on Politics

Political nationalism began with the formation of Indian national congress in 1885. The political awareness emerged in the later half of 19th century made them to demand for a part in the Indian civil service and representation in the imperial and provincial legislative council of India. In regard to this reason political movements were formed through out India, which led the formation of the Indian national congress in 1885. In order to promote social relation with and cooperation between the Indian leaders and British government the initiation was taken by Octavius Davies Hume, who was a European. There were some Christian leaders from India also had great role in the formation of Indian National congress, they are Krishna Mohan Banerjee and Lal Behari Dey. Christians also began to participate in the activities of Indian National congress. The Christian women leaders were active in the Indian National congress, the chief among them was Pandita Rama Baj, who was the Indian Christian representative for the first meeting in 1888 in Bombay.


During British rule in India, the Indians lacked equal job opportunities. They were not allowed to advance to high positions in government service or to become officers in the army. In 1885, a number of Indian lawyers and professionals formed the Indian National Congress. Members of the organization belonged to various religions and came from all parts of India. Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Parsis and others who were arose to bring reform in religion and society. Congress members debated politiand economic reforms, the future of India, and ways for Indians to achieve equal status with the British.

The Muslim League, on the other hand, continued to support the British. British reform efforts were put on hold during World War I. As the war was ending, India fell into a deep depression. The people of India are taxed more than twice as heavily as the people of England and three times as heavily as those of Scotland. According to the latest statistics at hand, those of 1905, the annual average income per person in India is about $6.00, and the annual tax per person about $2.00. Think of taxing the American people to the extent of one-third their total income yet such taxation here would not create a tithe of the suffering that it does in India, because incomes here are so immensely larger than there. Here it would cause great hardship, there it creates starvation.

The Swadeshi movement was formed in 1905-1906. The Swadeshi Movement was protest against economic exploration inherent in the colonial rule. It was in the first decade of the 20th century that Indians began to feel that freedom from the British government was a prerequisite for national progress. In 1905, the British divided the state of Bengal into separate Hindu and Muslim sections. Indians protested this act, the Swadeshi movement took the form of a multifaced boycott of British goods and a series of bombings and shootings. In an effort to stop the violence, the British introduced the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. These reforms enlarged the viceroy’s executive council to include an Indian. They also allowed Indians to elect representatives t the provincial legislative councils. In 1911, the British reunited Bengal. When World War I broke out in 1914, Britain declared that India was also at war with Germany. Indian troops fought in many parts of the world. In return for support, the British promised more reforms and agreed to let Indians have a greater role in political affairs. Nevertheless, protests against the British continued.

In 1900 Joseph Baptista, an East Indian, brought the idea of Home Rule. According to Tilak, “Home Rule” meant nothing more than power in the hands of the people carry through beneficial projects”. In the initial days of this league Mahatma Gandhi did not join with Home Rule, because he was not sure that the Home Rule would carry the message of freedom to the people, but later he joined with the league. Mahatma Gandhi became the first president of this league on 28th April 1916 when it was formed as League. The first annual conference of the Indian Home Rule league was conducted at Nasik on 17th & 18th may 1917.

In March 1919, the British passed the Rowlatt Acts to try to control protests in India. The acts attempted to restrict the political liberties and rights of Indians, including the right to trial by jury. But demonstrations against the government increased in response to the British Rowlatt acts. On April 13, 1919, thousands of Indians assembled in an enclosed area in Amritsar. Troops entered the meeting place and blocked the entrance. The British commander then ordered the soldiers to open fire on the unarmed crowd. The shots killed about 400 people and wounded about 1,200. This event called the Amritsar Massacre, proved tobe a turning point. From then on, Indians demanded complete independence from British rule. The British promised more reforms, but at the same time they tried to crush the independence movement.
 The Montagu- Chelmsform Reforms were passed in late 1919 and went into full effect in 1921. The reforms increased the powers of the provincial legislative councils, where Indians were most active. The central legislative council was replaced by a legislature with most of its members elected. However, the viceroy and the governors still had the right to veto and bill. The Indians did not believe the reforms gave them enough power. By 1920, Mohandas K. Gandhi had become a leader in the Indian independence movement and in the Indian National Congress, which had become the most important Indian political organization. Gandhi persuaded the Congress to adopt his program of non-violent disobedience, also known as non-violent nonco-operation. Gandhi’s program asked Indians to boycott British goods, to refuse to pay taxes, and to stop using British schools, courts and government services. As a result, some Indians gave up well-paying jobs that required them to cooperate with the British. Gandhi changed the Indian national congress from a small party of educated men to a mass party with millions of followers.

In 1928 the congress resolution was passed that if Britain did not give Indian dominion status with in a year, the congress would launch a mass disobedience movement. On 12th March 1930 the campaign started March with Gandhiji form his Ashram to Dandi on the sea cost and he broke the Salt act there. They continued the boycott for foreign goods. Nehru and Gandhiji were arrested. This led to a mass revolt against the foreign rule, thousands of people were imprisoned. In 1940 the Civil disobedience Movement held individual satyagraha where Pinto was arrested. Gandhiji’s Quit India call of 1942 was harkened to by thousand of people.

In 1946 December the Constituent Assembly of India commenced functioning as the constitution making with Dr.Rajendra Prasad as its chairman. The advisory committee set up on 24th January 1947 was to consist of not more 72 members of the assembly. On the main adversary committee the representatives of minorities were 7 Sikhs, 3 Anglo-Indians, 3 Parsees and 7 Indian Christians. The dream of the Indians became true on 15th August 1947.


In the early years of Indian national congress, Indian Christens enthusiastically participated the national congress and attended its annual meetings. The missionary journal, Harvest field, gives the record of the presence and influence of Indian Christians in the Madras meetings in 1887, and claims that 40 people among the 700 delegates were Protestant Christians and Christian ministers. Though the Christian population was less than 0.75 per.

There were great leaders from Indian cent, the Indian Christian alone made up 2.5 per cent of the total attendance. Christians, who had political responsibility and participated actively. Kali Charan Banerji was the founder of the Christo Samaj that came into being in Calcutta in 1887. He was a Brahmin convert to Christianity and became a practicing lawyer, playing a pioneering role in Indian nationalism and the Indian Christianity movement. There were come other Christian leaders involved in the National movement they are, R.S.N Subramania, a Christian barrister, and Municipal councilor, Madhu Sudan Das, Lawyer and deputy magistrate in Orissa, and Peter Paul Pillai, a schoolmaster.

Though the next four meetings of congress held in cities, which are for from the main Christian centers, the Christians had active participation in these four sessions. The proporation of Indian Christian delegates remained very much higher than their proportion in the population. The Christian leaders were the speakers of these meetings. They were Kali Charan Banerji, C.G Nath and Peter Paul Pillai of Madras.

Christian women also had participated in Indian national congress, though they did not speak in the early sessions. Pandita Rambai was one of the first Indians who up held the right of Indian women to participate in national politics. The first time when women attended the congress meeting in 1888, there were no less than ten lady delegates. Some leaders among them are, Pandita Ramabai, Trimbuck and Nicamble, who devoted their time and energy to the cause of both secular and religious education. The another interesting thing was, the Indian Christians were often encouraged to attend the national congress by the European missionaries. In other side it is understood that they still tried to have a dominating power on them.

But in other hand many missionaries, like W Harker, warned Indian Christians of the dangers of joining with Hindus. In 1890’s records say that Muslims and Parsis had departed from the congress and National congress became virtually an organization of Hindus and Christians. Since the Christians were so few they were completely at the mercy of their Hindu associations. In this situation the majority of the missionaries expressed their favour towards Indian Christian participation in National congress.inspite of the arguments for the sake of their influence over community as a vehicle, Christian missionaries should not be associated with any political grouping, a few missionaries went  and attended the congress sessions. Many of their collages in other parts  of India also welcomed the nationalistic movement. Rev. Greaves wrote in 1910, that Indian Christians might be found in the very frontline of the national congress.

3.1 The Decline of Christian Participation in Indian National Congress

The Christian participation gradually began to decline by the end of 19th century. According to the record in 1892 only 2 Indian Christians attended the meeting at Allahabad. The decline in attendance is very clear when it compared with the number and proportion of Indian Christian delegates at the different sessions of congress held in the same city. For example; in 1890 there were 677 delegates at the Calcutta session 15 Indian Christians attended. In 1896’s session Indian Christians attended were 9 in number 1.2 per cent. In 1901 session it was 6 in number 0.68 per cent. And in 1906 session 7 in number 0.4 per cent of the total delegates. In the same way there were similar decline in Madras, Bombay, Allahabad and Lahore in the number and proportion of India Christian delegates.

3.1.1 The Reasons for the Declining Attendance

1, The main reason for declining attendance was the fear of Indian Christians of being      regarded as disloyal and in an anxiety about what might happen if the congress and the nationalists achieved their objects and India became independent democracy by a Hindu majority.

 2, The Indian Christians thought that their faith is purely personal and cannot be related it to politics and worldly affairs. One of the writings in 1910 says, Seeking for God in the high heaven we have failed to find him in the affairs of man…..No better proof of this position can be found then, in the frequently expressed view that we Indian Christians, as a people, have got nothing to do with    such mundane things as politics, our only mission being to preach the Gospel.

3. It was brought into light of Christians that the administration did not entirely approve of congress activities. The congress was attacked by the officials in India and even the British parliament criticized congress activities. Therefore some Christians understood that losing support and favour of the British authorities through an association is a foolish thing.

During this time there were two divisions among the Indian Christians. One held the view to support and participate in National congress and in other side some wanted to remain aloof from national congress and to have favour from British government. C.F Andrews wrote a letter in which he deplored the apathy of Indian Christians and urged them to participate more fully in the nationalistic movement. As a reply to it Rev. J.J Ghose wrote that the chief aim of national congress is extreme politics, which has for its propagandas Boycott, Swedeshism and Swaraj, therefore it will bring detriment to the Indian Christians. But some of the Christians did not agree with the policy of aloofness from congress and the nationalist movement. K.T Paul became one of the distinguished leaders of Indian Christian community. His view to solution was not withdraw or aloofness but active participation.

After the round table conference of 1926, Prof. C J Varkey in his address at Trivandrum said … “Let the Indian Christian community try to advance politically and nationally. Let them not only Christians, but also Indians…. We have to join hands with members for common civic and political purpose.” Mahatma Gandhi visited Mangalore in 1920 as a result to that the Kanara Indian Christian civic league was founded on 27th January 1925. When Gandhiji visited in November 1927 Christians offered more than Rs.10, 000/ worth of gold.

In 1930-32 when the British parliament called the Indians for the discussion. There were K.T Paul, and S.K Dutta to represent the Indian Christians at the 2nd round table conference in London. In 1930 the Nationalist Christian party was founded by Joachim Alva in Bombay. In 1931, Joseph Benme became the president of the Nationalist Christian party. The National Christian party was advanced by Jawahar Lal Nehru and Subhash Chandra Bose in 1937 in Bombay. In 1940 that the National Christian council came under the leadership of Christian Indians which Changed the attitude towards the nationalist struggle. The council declared its solidarity during the Quit India Movement. The Christians and other associations depressed their disapproval to view Christians and other minorities as separate from the total nation.

In 1945 the all India conference of Indian Christians voiced the stand of protestant Christians, when they passed the resolution giving up communal electorates and reservations. When Joachin was arrested, his wife Violet Alva was an active member of the N.C.C and was vice president of all I.C.C in 1946.


By the rise of the national Movement changed began to take place in the church. Religious, cultural and political awakening took place in the nation challenging the Indian Christians to reconsider their position in the Indian society. From the end of the 19th century, there arose new movements within the church leading to unification, indianisation and indigenisation of the church in India. The church had to re-state its beliefs and practices in the context of this new situation when the churches had to be closer to each other and it had to re-think its relation to the nation. And the great growth of associations of Protestant Indian Christians from 1868 onwards in different parts of the country. The search for identity reflected in the undenominational organization of India such as Protestant Christians in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras in the late 19th century. As well as the Presbyterian movements in Punjab.

National Movement inspired the Christians to have self-confidence and to raise their demand for freedom to manage their own affairs. Therefore the missionary societies handed over the administrative responsibilities of the church to Indian Christians. The indigenous missionary societies like N.M.S and I.M.S were formed due to the development of self-identity, with the aim to evangelize Indian sources, Indian people and Indian administration. It also helped to grow the various church union movements like S.I.V.C and C.S.I. The allegation that Christianity as a foreign religion religious led the Christians to attempt to indigenous the theology, life style, music, architecture, and liturgy.  As well as the theology of the mission was revised and gave more priority to concern to non-Christian religion.

4.1  Evaluation of Christian Response

The study about Christian response to nationalism tells us that though the involvement of Christians in the nationalism did not give them a full freedom for the work of evangelism it helped them in many ways. But it is true that since we are Indians we have a part to play with other Indians in the struggle for the freedom. It is true that, we cannot neglect the people who brought us to light of Jesus Christ, but it has nothing to do with our political affairs because most of their primary purpose was not evangelize our Land but the primary purpose was trade and business. In fact the missionaries who came to India for propagation of Gospel did not involve or intervened in the political affairs. On the other hand the Britishers who tried to dominate the Indians were looting our natural resources. Therefore we have a great part to play for our nation India, like Prof. C J Varkey said in 1926, that we are not only Christians but also Indians. Christians should not forget that truth


As we have seen in this paper that independence was a necessary thing for every Indian. Irrespective of religion, caste, colour, or culture it is matter of every individual in India. After all having studied this subject the researcher is proud to say that in the midst of problems, difficulties, humiliations and persecutions Indian Christians had a great role to pray for their nation India, along with other religious and political parties. And many of the Indian Christians were leaders in the National Movements. Indians cannot forget their effort and work, which they spent for the nation. But the problem Christians face today is that, regardless to what the Indian Christians had done of the nation the other religious communities claim that India is their land and Christians have no part in India, and Christianity is foreign religion. There are many developments took place among the Christians due to its involvement in the National struggles.


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