Hindu Vivek Kendra
Appendix IV

Comments of Ashok Chowgule on the Articles "Christians Awake" by Shri Hansel D'Souza


As a prelude to his article, Shri Hansel D'Souza says that his article (The Secular Citizen, Bombay, June 95) is a result of his discussion with a group that subscribes to the Sangh parivar's ideology. I am a member of this group. When I read the article, the first thought that came to my mind is how the article would have been any different before he started this dialogue. Based on my reading of the writings of others dealing with issues similar to the ones handled by Hansel, I find there is a great deal of similarity in his perception and the perception of the others. The latest such example is the guest editorial in The Examiner (July 8, 1995), the oldest Church publication in India. I understand the author of this editorial works in the office of the Archbishop of Delhi. I had an impression that Hansel had a favourable perception of at least the theory of the ideology. It would now appear that I was wrong.

Hansel's first difference is his recommendation to the Christians to study Shri Arun Shourie's book (Missionaries in India, 1993, ASA Publications), even though he does not agree in toto with Shri Shourie. It is well documented the calumny that has been heaped on Shri Shourie by the Church and the Christians, some of whom claimed that they had not read the book. Amongst those who did, some even tried to spread mistruths like Shri Shourie did not even 'spare' Mother Teresa in his criticism. One of them is Father Kanjamala, the ex-Secretary of the Catholic Bishop's Conference of India. Another accused Shri Shourie of labeling Mother Teresa as perfumed scorpion.

The second difference that I could perceive is his admission that there are, after all, some sins that the Church needs to acknowledge. The third is that there is an alienation of those who have been through English education, be the person a Christian or a Hindu.

The reader must realise that many of my comments herein had been brought to the notice of Hansel in the discussions that we have had. Hansel's article made me re-read the book Catholic Ashrams (Sita Ram Goel, Second Edition, 1994, Voice of India, Delhi), and I intend to quote from it. This book was given to Hansel's group as part of our dialogue. I could also quote from other books, particularly those written by Christians themselves. But, Catholic Ashrams is sufficient. With this introduction I would like to address the way Hansel has handled the four points that he has raised, and then make some general comments of my own. Although I have summarised Hansel's article, the whole is enclosed herewith as Annexure A. The editorial in The Examiner is enclosed as Annexure B.

Conversions by Christian missionaries

Hansel would like us to believe that conversion is due to the action of 'misguided zeal of a fanatical few'. He also says, 'However backward, poor and marginalised a tribal may be, it would be foolish to assume that he lacks the intelligence to discern the motives of an ardent missionary and for a bowl of rice or a yard of cloth relinquish his beliefs of centuries.' At the same time, Hansel would like us to believe that whatever little 'wrongs' that were done in the past, things are different today. He says that the Church, post-Vatican Council II, is now veering to the philosophy that' like all human beings, every religion is equal'. He also says that Pope John Paul II has firmly rejected the concept of proselytism during his recent visit to Sri Lanka. He points out that, in a letter to Roman Catholics, the Pope has asked his flock to acknowledge 'its sins over the past 2000 years, including intolerance in the name of religion and complicity in crimes against human rights'. He would have us believe that Mother Teresa has never converted any Hindus. But, he makes a fervent plea to the Church to set out 'strict guidelines in matter of acceptance of new entrants to the Faith and formulate a code for ethical propagation of the faith'.

Hansel has negated the history of missionary activity in India, and, by implication, in the rest of the world. The bloody record has been documented by the historians of the missionaries, not only in recent writings, but even in contemporary documents. If there is negation of history, then dialogue becomes impossible, and issues will be settled by unpleasant means. The blame should squarely lie on those negating the history, and not those who react.

Shri Shourie has brought out Mahatma Gandhi's thoughts on the subject of conversion, and some quotes are appropriate. "In chasing numbers the missionaries, to use Gandhiji's words, became just 'vendors of goods'. And they came to adopt the usual techniques of vendors: the exaggerations common in advertising wares, targeting them at time when they would be most vulnerable, or receptive if you will, using not just dialogue but allurement and violence." (Shourie, p 15.)

On the question of Hansel's 'foolish assumption', this is what Shri Shourie has Mahatma Gandhi saying, "Men and women do not seek fellowship of the Christian Church. Poor Harijans are no better than the others. I wish they had spiritual hunger. Such as it is, they satisfy by visits to the temples, however crude they may be. When the missionary of another religion goes to them he goes like any other vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual merit that will distinguish him form those to whom he goes. He, however, possesses material goods which he promises to those who will come to his fold." (Shourie, pp 237-8.)

A further quote of Mahatma Gandhi is appropriate: "In India under Swaraj I have no doubt that foreign missionaries will be at liberty to do their proselytising, as I would say, in the wrong way; but they would be expected to bear with those who like me, may point out that in their opinion the way is wrong." (Young India, May 7, 1991 )

More importantly, it should be recognised that conversions create a tremendous amount of social tensions. When some European Vedantists, learning that mother Theresa was at the Vatican, went to pay their respects, she rebuked them for 'betraying Christ'. During his visit to South America in October 1992, Pope John Paul II had said that one of the objectives of his was to protect his flock against the wolves of protestantism. Here is a case of a person changing his faith from one branch of Christianity to another. Now, if Protestant missionaries in South America are wolves, what are they and the Catholic missionaries in India? One can give many other examples of how other religions and communities view conversions. The harm that religious conversions has done to local cultures has to be recognised, not negated. The Pope in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope, said, "One should known one's own spiritual heritage well and consider whether it is right to set it aside lightly." (Of course, the Pope said this in context of cautioning the Christians on certain aspects of Buddhism. For the Pope sees conversion as a one-way movement.)

One does wonder if Hansel wishes to follow the injunction of the Pope on him to 'acknowledge (the Church's) sins over the past 2000 years'. (The same thought occurs when one reads other sections of his article.) At the same time, he does raise the question that if the Pope is against proselytising, would the Church negate Matt 28:19. ("Jesus drew near and said to them, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Go then, to all peoples everywhere and make them my disciples: baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And I will be with you always, to the end of the age."') Of course, one would like to see the negation of many other parts of the Bible, to really accept the Pope's words at their face value. It must be recognised that these injunctions are printed (and taught) in a post-Vatican II era, when the thinking is supposed to be pluralistic.

As far as acknowledgment of past sins, one has to see the way the Pope handled the question of his derogatory remarks on Buddhism in his book Threshold of Hope. During his trip to Sri Lanka, the Buddhist clergy refused to meet him unless he offered an apology. This was not forthcoming. In India, the Church must come forward and acknowledge the harm that has been done by people like Francis Xavier. In a brief exchange of letters between the Archbishop of Delhi and the President of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, there is the same negation that Hansel exhibits. The Archbishop has also challenged Shri Shourie to prove each and every point that the latter has written in his book.

That Mother Theresa and her Sisters of Charity have never converted Hindus is yet another case of negation. The television programme Hell's Angel shown in Britain on Mother Theresa provoked so much adverse reaction, that the producer wrote in an article in the Guardian Weekly (November 13, 1994, London, "The saintly glow goes from Mother Teresa) stating his case. Apart form other things, he said, "In an unremarked part of her celebrated conversation with Malcolm Muggeridge, Mother Teresa had made it even more plain that her work was not for its own sake, but was part of an effort at proselytisation." Similarly, in another television programme in the United States in January 1985, the Dayspring International, an evangelical organisation, described India as land of 'division, despair and death'. It presented Indians as 'without spiritual hope' and quoted Mother Teresa as holding that India was 'in dire need of Jesus'. (Ashrams pp 174 and 228.)

In spite of all his verbose explanation, Hansel felt it necessary to make a plea to the Church on setting out guidelines for conversions. This is indeed a very inconsistent position, and one finds it difficult to understand the motives. But, such inconsistencies abound in the article, and one is forced to come to a conclusion that the objective is to confuse rather than enlighten.

Denigration of Hinduism by Christians

Hansel would like us to believe that this was the work of European missionaries and colonial agents 'with a misguided zeal of "civilising" the colonies'. Once again, Hansel would like us to believe that post-Vatican II the situation is vastly different, and that the Church 'has no choice but to accept that the calumny of the past was a grievous error on the part of over-zealous crusaders for the Faith'. He also would like us to believe that the prime objective of missionaries today is involvement in 'the day to day struggle of our people for justice, dignity and a better way of life'. He also says that 'for a Catholic living in pluralistic society like India, it is an entirely different experience from that of the Catholic living in almost a monotheist western nation'. (It would be interesting to know what the difference is.) He avers, 'Only when we learn to live with genuine respect for each other's faith can we grow'.

Once again we see negation of history. By labeling the missionaries as 'European' he has completely absolved the Church of any blame. If true, then why should the Church accept the blame of these 'over-zealous crusaders of the Faith'? After all, they went against the instructions of the Church, did they not, Hansel? Their actions were 'anathema to the basic teachings of Christ', were they not, Hansel?

The truth is that the 'European' character of the missionaries is incidental - what is important is their Christian character. The denigration and calumny is being continued by the Indian missionaries. They were, and are, doing what the Bible enjoins them to do, and what the Church tells them to do. One should read the Christian publications in India, and abroad, to understand that the plan of calumny is not a 'grievous error' but a deliberate effort. The pluralism is just not there in the Vatican II, or in the recent apostolic letter of the Pope, or in what the Archbishop of Delhi has to say. Like the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church does not really believe all religions are equal.

As regards the new theory of the missionaries' objective being social justice, the best way to prove would be for the Church to set an example from within itself. Are the Dalit Christians (surely, a contradiction in terms) properly treated by their own community and by the Church? Is there social justice in countries with Christian majorities? And, if this is the prime objective, why does the Church not stop all conversions? This is what Mahatma Gandhi said to the missionaries when they said the same thing about social justice to him. Shri Shourie's book covers this extensively. An accidental redeeming value is clearly no justification.

That this new theory is designed to fit into the propaganda of today has been confirmed by Dr Raimundo Pannikar, Professor Emeritus of the University of California, an ordained priest and a Christian theologian. "(W)ere it not for the fact of the political decolonisation of the world, we would not be speaking the way we are doing today." (Ashrams, p 180.) Bishop Stephen Nell tells us that a "century of experience suggests that the missions were right in their decision..... In thousands of villages where there was a Christian nucleus, the village teacher served also as a catchiest, carrying out many of the duties which in older churches rest on ordinary ministry. About a third of the cost of educational work was borne by the private agencies, two thirds by the Government." He further adds that "even in independent India .... the old order has continued in being without radical modification." (Ashrams, p 235.)

Ashrams (p 181) narrates an incident which conveys what the Church really thinks of this social justice. "At a recent International Conference of Mission Work in Rome, Cardinal Josef Tomko criticised (liberation) theologians like (Paul) Knitter (Professor of Theology at the University of Cincinnati, USA) for being more occupied with 'social work' and 'inter-religious dialogue' than with announcing the Gospel. The answer to this criticism by one truly pluralist was obvious: that announcing the Gospel was redundant, that it was even arrogant, that other people do not need a Christian Gospel and probably many of them have a Gospel of their own as good as the Bible. But Dr Knitter's answer was different. 'We are not saying outreach evangelisation should only consist of action of human welfare but we are saying that working for human welfare, is an essential part of the work .... It is essential to the Gospel of Christ', he said. Missionary strategist will have no difficulty in agreeing with this view. They already know that 'social work' is a great aid to proselytisation."

The social justice alibi is also clearly exposed when one sees from history that the missionaries first tried to convert the upper castes, which would then set examples for the lower castes to emulate. (This has been the technique, successfully used, all over the world. In Akbar's court, the Church envoy made strenuous effort to convert him, and paid very little attention to his subjects.) Having failed in the plan to convert the Brahmins, and to justify the continuation of the missionary activity, they turned to the lower castes. This also proves the charge of 'rice converts' since the upper caste alone could have converted on the basis of an intellectual study.

I agree with Hansel that there should be 'genuine respect for each other's faith' so that the country can progress. In context of Hindu-Christian dialogue, this has to be addressed to the Christians, since the record of Hindus for genuine respect is quite clear. When the Jews and the Parsis came here due to religious persecution, their faith was respected by the Hindus, who are proud that it is only in India that the Jews were not oppressed in any way, a fact that is officially recognised in the Jewish history. Today, the holy place for Parsis is not Iran, from where they came, but India, where they received succor like nowhere else. The same can be said for Syrian Christians, who behaved in an exemplary manner until the arrival of the Portuguese and their armed forces. Can Hansel show similar examples in Christian countries, or where Christians went? Hindus do not need to be taught how to respect other religions.

Cultural alienation of Christians in India

Hansel does admit that a large number of Christians suffer from cultural alienation. He also says that 'Hindu students from an Urban English medium school' suffer from the same defect. He brings in the question of De Nobili's plan of inculturation and that 'a certain section of Indian society felt perfectly at home with professing the Christian faith while retaining their indigenous culture'. He says that 'the solution once again boils down to coexistence' and that 'the answer to (those who suspect Christian's commitment to Indian nationalism) is that the contribution of Indian Christians to the nation's development is disproportionate to their numbers'.

Hansel identifies the schools causing the alienation as English medium schools, and not as missionary schools. In one of our meetings, he had proudly said that 80% of all the schools are run by missionaries. I had corrected him that it was 80% of the English medium schools at best. Is hiding the missionary management yet another attempt at negation, Hansel?

The cultural alienation comes about due to the distorted way history is taught to our Children. The source of this distortion is the calumny that has been heaped on Hinduism by the missionaries, and those with a missionary zeal. It all starts with the so-called Aryan invasion theory, which is supposed to have laid the foundation of Brahmanism and the 'evil' caste system. Much before the calumny plan was put into effect this is what Abbe Dubois, who came to India for the purpose of proselytisation, wrote,: "I have heard some persons, sensible in other respects, but imbued with all the prejudices that they have brought with them from Europe, pronounce what appears to me an altogether erroneous judgment in the matter of caste divisions among the Hindus. In their opinion, caste is not only useless to the body politic, it is also ridiculous, and even calculated to bring trouble and disorder on the people. For my part, having lived many years on friendly terms with the Hindus, I have been able to study their national life and character closely, and I have arrived at a quite opposite decision on this subject of caste. I believe caste division to be in many respects the chef-d' oeuver, the happiest effort of Hindu legislation. I am persuaded that it is simply and solely due to the distribution of the people into castes that India did not lapse into a state of barbarism, and that she preserved and perfected the arts and sciences of civilisation whilst most other nations of the earth remained in a state of barbarism. I do not consider caste to be free from many great drawbacks; but I believe that the resulting advantages, in the case of a nation constituted like the Hindus, more than outweigh the resulting evils." (Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies, Rupa & Co., pp 30-31.).

For missionary activity to succeed, it is obvious that the caste system must be presented as utterly and completely evil. Similarly, for the same success, the past of the people who are sought to be converted has to be negated. In the North-East, the people are taught that their forefathers were head hunters. That this perverted history still continues to be taught is one of the greatest calumny on Hinduism - and for this the blame lies not only with the missionaries, but also those who are supposed to decide how history is to be taught.

As regards De Nobili, Shri Hansel is unable to tell what his real objectives were. (Christian propaganda would have us believe that the Brahmins were oppressors. Yet De Nobili tried to project himself as a Roman Brahmin, and even forged papers to prove his identity. Curious!) So let me enlighten him. In the Editor's introduction of Abbe Dubois book, we come across the following: "(T)he chief cause (of Abbe Dubois' disillusionment with the lack of success of his missionary effort) undoubtedly was the invincible barrier of what we may call nowadays intellectual Hinduism, but which the Abbe called Brahmanical prejudice. He refers regretfully to the collapse of the Church, with its hundreds of thousands of converts, many of them of high caste, established by the Jesuits Beschi and de Nobili in Madurai; but at the same time he made no concealment of the real causes of their failure. 'The Hindus soon found that those missionaries whom their colour, their talents, and other qualities had induced them to regard as such extraordinary beings, as men coming from another world, were in fact nothing else but disguised Feringhis (Europeans), and that their country, their religion, and original education were the same as those of the evil, the contemptible Feringhis who had of late invaded their country. This event proved the last blow to the interests of the Christian religion. No more conversions were made. Apostasy became almost general in several quarters, and Christianity became more and more an object of contempt and aversion in proportion as European manners became better known to the Hindus."' (p xxvii.) This deception continues today in the so-called inculturation programme.

On the question of coexistence, once again Hansel should realise that the onus is on Christians. It is they who have been spreading the calumny, and unless one sees a proper recognition of the past, the future is quite bleak. Christianity has not assimilated itself with the Hindu culture, in the way that the Shukas and Huns have done. The fault is with the Christians, and not the Hindus. In the context of the controversy on Satanic Verses, Shri Clifford Longley wrote, "The very presence of Muslims (in Britain) can only be on terms which are acceptable to the majority."

Finally, in this section, let me deal with the contribution of Christian to India. (There are many Christians who support the Sangh parivar's ideology. What does Hansel make of their Christianity?) The real question that has to be addressed is whether this contribution is due to their faith, or a secular characteristics. If the former, then what drives a Christian to The Church, of course. And what is this Church? It consists of the Pope, the Cardinals, the Bishops, the priests, and all those who run the organisation. The Pope says that many Cardinals and Bishops proposed the following theme for the first year, 1997, when the celebration for the Jubilee of the Year 2000 is due to begin: "Jesus Christ, the one saviour of the world, yesterday, today, and for ever." (Emphasis added.) The effect of all this is that the clergy can have a tremendous power over their flock, because they can, technically, refuse to intercede between a Christian and God. Of course, this power of intercessionary is never refused, because the use itself will eliminate it - the person can go to someone else for the intercession. But, the person cannot be sure of this, and so is fearful. A classic case of Catch-22!

Many times when my group pointed out issues that need to be taken up with the Church, we found that there was reluctance on part of Hansel's group to confront the hierarchy. This is strange considering the claimed openness of Vatican II. But old habits die hard. Brahmabandhab, the converted Hindu missionary who tried to reintroduce the methods of De Nobili, said in context to a dispute he had with the Indian Church hierarchy: Roma locutta est causa finita est (Rome has spoken, the cause has ended). (Ashrams, p 37.)

As a Hindu believing in Ekam Sat, Viprah Bahudda Vadanti, I fail to understand why I need any one to intercede between me and God. Why can I not have a direct line to Him? While a person, on his own volition, may well choose Christ as his mediator, to insist that he is the one mediator takes away man's freedom to determine his own destiny. At the same time, I feel it necessary to read the various scriptures, and their interpretations. After all, not every one can be expected to work out the nuances of the various philosophies, and help from others is always welcome. The great Hindu sages do not provide a unique path to salvation, but a general guideline for it. For this reason, one who keeps a deity of Hanuman in one's house, has no problem of praying to Ganesh.

As a Hindu, I will also debate and interpret what all scriptures have to say. I find Hansel's reluctance to do so baffling, particularly when he wishes that the Christians awake. (Does Hansel repudiate Matt 28:19, in view of the Pope's statement against proselytisation?) I am guided by what Mahatma Gandhi had to say on the subject: "My belief in the Hindu scriptures does not require me to accept every word and every verse as divinely inspired .... I decline to be bound by any interpretation, however learned it may be, if it is repugnant to reason or moral sense." (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol XXI, p 246.)

Time and again, I have accused Hansel of negating history. I am sure that the question that he would like to ask is why do we need to bother about history, particularly if it is unpleasant? Will it not stand in the way of progressing forward? History has to be truthfully told, because we have to learn from it, and not make the same mistakes as in the past. Mistakes are avoided only when we recognise them as such. After a correct rendering of history, it lays the groundwork to discuss what lessons to learn from it. Negation also means that those who are descendants of the group that has caused harm do not wish to recognise that the descendants of those to whom the harm has been done have a genuine reason to feel hurt about the past. The objective is not to ask the present generation to 'pay' for the mistakes of their ancestors - but this objective can be achieved only when the present generation distances itself away from the actions of their ancestors. The Hindus have a genuine reason to ask why Francis Xavier is revered by the Christians today.

The way the present-day Germans have recognised the harm done by Hitler's generation is an admirable characteristic, and one that needs to be emulated. In its Leader, "Remembering Auschwitz", The Economist (London, January 28, 1995) wrote: "The 'relativists' in Germany, who argue that the Holocaust was just one exceptionally dreadful horror in a long list of human misdeeds, that many Germans suffered as badly as the Jews, and that - by implication - it is time to accept that the redemptive debt has been paid, are sadly wrong. True, modem Germany has been admirably relentless in its confession of mea culpa. But humble self-analysis should be an eternal process for all mature nations. The Japanese, belatedly and less rigorously, are beginning to teach their children the truth, in outline, about wartime atrocities. The Russians have furthest to go in examining the degree to which they, as people, were complicit in Stalin's crimes. For Germans especially, the stain of the Holocaust can never - should never - be erased."

In our discussions with Hansel and his group, we have been informed that the present Pope, John Paul II, is ultra conservative. And yet, he quotes approvingly from the apostolic letter on the question of the Church recognising the sins of the past 2000 years, and the rejection of proselytism. Such inconsistencies has made it difficult for my group to present our views in a dispassionate manner. We have been consistently presented with shifting targets, and every time an answer is given, another question is asked. For example, in discussing Shri Shourie's book, the argument was that he had quoted from Protestant writings. Have the Catholics said similar things? When these were presented, the question became, but does this represent the whole of the Catholics? And when the Pope is quoted, the question becomes, but do the laity have to accept everything that the Pope says?

Hansel has talked about Christianity in glowing terms, and would like us to believe that the Church has built a fair record in India. From this one would also conclude that the Church has built a fair record in their 'home' nations as well. Does it not, then, seem strange that one sees a decline in Church attendance - not only in terms of those offering prayers, but also those who wish to devote their lives in spreading Christian values? Hansel manifests a syndrome that the Germans call vorbeireden, talking past the point. It is a verbose device to circumvent the truth.

Hansel, in his second last paragraph, accuses the RSS of being unconcerned about the poor and marginalised, and wishes to perpetuate the age-old hegemony of the landlords and traders. If his article was not meant to be serious, one could have a good laugh over these meaningless expressions. At the same time, I do admire his excellent command over the language! But, good English is no substitute for sound logic. In my group, only I could be accused of being a trader, and none of us of being landlords in the pejorative sense.


Dialogues are an essential feature of any civilised society. In this dialogue, there should be freedom for a person to hold whatever opinion that he/she wishes to. But, a dialogue cannot deny facts. And a dialogue is not meant to bring everyone to exactly the same line of thinking.

If Hansel has to look over his shoulder, I am afraid he will find very little support. The Vatican II defines a dialogue in the following terms: "By the witness of their lives and their message, let the missionaries enter into a sincere dialogue with those who do not yet believe in Christ. Accommodating their approach to the mentality and culture of their audience, they will open up the way for them to reach the point where they are ready to accept the Good News [of the Gospel of Christ]." (Ashrams, p 85.) The Thailand Report on Hindus, by the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelisation, is more forthright: "The use of dialogue in reaching people has to be carefully considered .... It must lead to proclaiming Christ as Lord .... The purpose of dialogue should be carefully and constantly borne in mind. It should not simply end in dialogue."

What the Roman Catholic Church thinks of dialogue has been well expressed by Cardinal Arinze, president of the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians, in the opening lines of the latest official declaration on "Urgency of Dialogue with Non-Christians" has said the following: "Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made man, is our saviour ... He ascended to heaven but not before he had carefully prepared his apostles to bring salvation to all men, of all times, in all places..... Interreligious dialogue would be unnecessary if all men believed in Jesus Christ and practiced only the religion which he established." {"The Urgency of Dialogue with Non-Christians" in Origins 39/14, Washington (March 14, 1985), pp.641-50. Quoted in Hindu-Christian Dialogue, edited by Harold Coward, Page No. 267.} What should one make of this, in the context of Vatican II?

I do not know how many Hindus would like to dialogue with Catholics under these conditions. Perhaps most of them would like to follow Shri Max Muller when he says, "(I)n ancient Greece the dialogue reflected most truly the intellectual life of the people." (What India can teach us?, Delhi, p ix.)

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