The Conversion Agenda

"Freedom to convert" is counterproductive as a generalized doctrine. It fails to come to terms with the complex interrelationships between self and society that make the concept of individual choice meaningful. Hence, religious conversion undermines, and in extremes would dissolve, that individual autonomy and human freedom.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Mahatma Gandhi, Dr B R Ambedkar and Atal Bihari Vajpayee on Christian Missionary Work

Dr T Hanuman Chowdary
20 April, 2007

Sri John Dayal and other strident spokespersons of Christian Church and missionaries have faulted Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the Prime Minister, for the public expression of his opinion that the humanitarian services that the Christian missionaries are rendering through their schools and hospital have a conversion motive. It is really astounding for them to disown the conversion motive. It is not only Atal Bihari Vajpayee who has asserted this truth of the missionaries� motives, but no less a person than Mahatma Gandhi himself has on several occasions asserted this opinion publicly and in writings in the Harijan and Young India journals he edited.

Swamy Vivekananda during his sojourn in the USA, after attending the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in October 1893, had also brought out this prime motive of the Christians and spoke against it. This is what he said to the Christian missionaries. �You train, educate and pay men to do what? Come over to my country to curse and abuse all my forefathers, my religion and everything. They walk near a temple and say , you idolaters will go to hell. They dare not do that with the Mohammadens of India. The sword will be out. �� if all India stands and takes all the mud that is at the bottom of the Indian Ocean and throws it up against the Western countries, it will not be doing an infinitesimal part of that which you are doing to us. (History of Hindu Christian Encounters. Page 241). Mahatma Gandhi had tried to put the Christian missions in a tight spot by proclaiming that proselytization was morally wrong and spiritually sterile, if not counter-productive.

Here are excerpts from what Mahatma Gandhi said and wrote.


Mahatma Gandhi advised the missionaries to serve the spirit of Christianity better by dropping the goal of proselytizing but continuing their philanthropic work.

�� Although the missionary went to the foreign fields to win souls for Jesus, the results of his labours also meant the extension of commerce. Trade would follow the banner of the Cross, as readily as it would the Union Jack, the Stars and Stripes, or any of the other national emblems and usually it cost a good deal less.��. (Young India of February 8, 1923)

�I am sorry to have to record my opinion that it (Christian missionary work) has been disastrous. It pains me to have to say that the Christian missionaries as a body, with honourable exceptions, have actively supported a system which has impoverished, enervated and demoralised a people considered to be among the gentlest and the most civilized on earth.�. (Young India Feb 8, 1923)

Mahatma Gandhi further wrote: ��it (the missionary�s work) is not unusual to find Christianity synonymous with denationalization and Europianisation�.� It was precisely for this reason that Dr B R Ambedkar refused to become a Christian. While renouncing Hinduism he converted to Buddhism and not Christianity, saying that if he converted to Christianity he would cease to be Indian. Mahatma Gandhi wrote �If instead of confining themselves to purely humanitarian work such as education, medical services to the poor and the like, they use these activities of theirs for the purpose of proselytizing, I would certainly like them to withdraw. Every nation considers its own faith to be as good as that of any other. Certainly the great faiths held by the people of India are adequate for her people. India stands in no need of conversion from one faith to another. Gandhiji gave an interview to the press on March 21, 1931. Gandhiji made no concession to conversion by �modern methods�, which �has nowadays become a business like any other. He was reminded of �a missionary report saying how much it cost per head to convert and then presenting a budget for the �next harvest�.

He then asked some very pertinent questions: �Why should I change my religion because a doctor who professes Christianity as his religion has cured me of some disease or why should the doctor expect or suggest such a change whilst I am under his influence? Is not medical relief its own reward and satisfaction? Or why should I, whilst I am in a missionary educational institution have Christian teaching thrust upon me?�


The Harijan dated May 11, 1935 published an interview given by Gandhiji to a missionary nurse before that date. The nurse asked him, �would you prevent missionaries coming to India in order to baptize? Gandhiji replied, �If I had power and could legislate, I should certainly stop all proselytizing. It is the cause of much avoidable conflict between classes and unnecessary heart-burning among the missionaries�.

In Hindu households the advent of a missionary has meant the disruption of the family coming in the wake of change of dress, manners, language, food and drink�. The nurse commented, �Is it not the old conception you are referring to? No such is now associated with proselytisation�. Gandhiji was well-informed about the missionary methods. He said, �The outward condition has perhaps changed but the inward mostly remains the same. Vilification of Hindu religion, though subdued, is there���

About the humanitarian work Gandhiji had this to say. , � the other day a missionary descended on a famine area with money in his pocket, distributed it among the famine-stricken, converted them to his fold, took charge of their temple and demolished it. This is outrageous. The temple could not belong to the converted, and it could not belong to the Christian missionary. But this friend goes and gets it demolished at the hands of the very men who only a little while ago believed that God was there.�

The incident of a Polish student asking Gandhiji�s autograph, on the photo, is very revealing of the motives of the missionaries. A Polish student brought a photograph to Gandhiji and got it autographed by him. �There is,� he said, �a school conducted by Catholic Fathers. I shall help the school from the proceeds of the sale of this photograph.� Gandhiji took back the photograph from the student and said, �Ah, that is a different story. You do not expect me to finance the Fathers in their mission of conversion? The Harijan dated July 18, 1936, published a discussion which Gandhiji had with Pierre Ceresole (PC), his very admiring Christian friend and some Christian missionaries.

(PC) Would you be really happy if I stayed at home?

(Gandhiji)I cannot say that. But I will certainly say that I have never been able to understand your going out of America. Is there nothing to do there?

(P.C) Even in America there is enough scope for educational work.

(Gandhiji) That is a fatal confession. You are not a superfluity there. But for the curious position your Church has taken you would not be here. �� There is a kink. At the back of your mind there is not pure service for its sake, but the result of service in the shape of many people coming to the Christian fold.

The same issue carried the following dialogue between Gandhiji and a Missionary Lady (ML).

ML: �..the Church at home would be happy through our hospital more people would be led to Christian lives

Gandhiji: But whilst you give the medical help you expect the reward in the shape of your patients becoming Christians.

ML: Yes, the reward is expected. Otherwise there are many other places in the world which need our service. But instead of going there we come here.

Gandhiji: There is the kink. At the back of your mind there is not pure service for its sake, but the result of service in the shape of many people coming to the Christian fold.

The definite views of Gandhiji fearlessly expressed and recorded and published and the conviction of Dr B R Ambedkar vindicate what Sri Atal Bihari Vajpayee said about the �humanitarian� motives of Christian missionaries. Let us not dismiss them as pre-Independence situation. Government of Independent India appointed the Niyogi Commission to inquire into the reported unethical methods of Christian missionaries to gather harvest of converts. The Niyogi Commission found evidence of inducement, fraud, mis- and dis-information practised by Christian missionaries to convert Hindus, especially, the illiterate, isolated and destitute. It recommended the enactment of laws to regulate conversions. Only two or three Governments (Orissa for example) enacted the law. But in the last forty years less than a dozen conversions were reported in compliance with the relevant Orissa law. Obviously, the Christian missionaries have been disregarding the law with impunity. In light of the Pope�s call for a harvest of souls for Christianity from Asia (surely not from Islamic countries eg. Afghanistan where eight Christian UN aid workers are jailed and charged for attempting to convert Moslems to Christianity) i.e., the tolerant Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs and the feverish activity of missionaries supplied with fantabulous foreign funds and the alarm that their activity is raising among Hindus and the strife that would follow from Hindu resistance to conversion and defence of their religion, Government of India must first enforce a temporary halt to conversions to be followed by enactment of law to regulate conversions, to prevent fraud, inducement, mis-information and tricks to secure converts especially from vulnerable and defenceless sections of our country.


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