Christianity and Conversion in India
By Indian Bibliographic Centre
Chapter 14 -
Gandhi was one of those Hindus who had studied the
scriptures of all the important religions with open mind and without prejudice.
During his prayer meetings, parts of the Bible were read out and at times
Psalms were sung along with 'bhajans'. The Sermon on the Mount "went
straight to his heart" he used to say. During his life-time Gandhi had
developed friendship with several Christians. Some of them had become his
followers like C.F. Andrews, Raj Kumari Amrit Kaur; Madeleine Slade (Mirabehn),
and J.C. Kumarappa, to name just a few. The great French writer and philosopher
Romain Rolland (who also wrote Gandhi's biography) used to call Gandhi
a 'second Christ'. In fact Gandhi had shocked the Christian world by living
like Jesus without being a Christian. Like Jesus he disowned all property
as well as his relatives; became a celebate at the age of thirty seven,
lived a simple life adorned by Truth and like Jesus he had gathered around
him followers (apostles) who were prepared to do his bidding without demur.
His life-style and his preachings added to his charisma. He had become
a phenomenon, an enigma, a saint worshipped by millions of people in India.
Christian missionaries were greatly tempted to convert
a man like Gandhi. They thought that if Gandhi was converted millions of
his followers will automatically follow suit. Christian missionaries came
from all parts of the world, to discuss with him matters religious but
often with the sole aim of converting him to Christianity. They argued
with him. He listened to them patiently, argued with them and sometimes
even rebuked them for mixing up social work with proselytising. What they
had brought to sell did not appeal to the Mahatma. He used to tell the
missionaries that he refused to believe that Jesus was the only son
of God and that the salvation of a person lay in accepting Jesus Christ
as the Saviour (in other words by becoming a Christians).
Gandhi's first exposure to a Christian missionary,
while studying in school, was not a very happy event. It left, it seems,
a lasting impression on his mind as childhood impressions often do. Gandhi
has described this incident in his Autobiography (1929) in the following
In those days Christian missionaries used to stand
in a corner near the high school and hold forth, pouring abuse on Hindus
and their gods. I could not endure this. I must have stood there to hear
them once only, but that was enough to dissuade me from repeating the experiment.
About the same time, I heard of a well-known Hindu having been converted
to Christianity. It was the talk of the town that, when he was baptized,
he had to eat beef and drink liquor, that he also had to change his clothes,
and that thenceforth he began to go about in European costume including
a hat. These things got on my nerves. Surely, thought I, a religion that
compelled one to eat beef, drink liquor, and change one's own clothes did
not deserve the name. I also heard that the new convert had already begun
abusing the religion of his ancestors, their customs and their country.
All these things created in me a dislike for Christianity.
While in England as a student (1888-91) Gandhi met
several Christians, made a few friends but most of them were more interested
in vegetarian diet than religious matters. Gandhi had become a member of
the Vegetarian Society and discussed with other members matters diatary.
The real confrontation with Christian missionaries started in 1893 while
Gandhi was in South Africa. (This confrontation continued till almost the
last days of his life). Gandhi has described these first attempts in detail
in his Autobiography thus:
The first to come in contact was one Mr. A.W. Baker.
He, besides being an attorney, was a staunch lay preacher.
He (Mr. Baker) upholds the excellence of Christianity
from various points of view, and contends that it is impossible to find
eternal peace, unless one accepts Jesus as the only son of God and the
Saviour of mankind.
During the very first interview Mr. Baker ascertained
my religious views. I said to him: "I am a Hindu by birth. And yet I do
not know much of Hinduism, and I know less of other religions. In fact
I do not know where I am, and what is and what should be my belief. I intend
to make a careful study of my own religion and, as far as I can, of other
religions as well."
Mr. Baker was happy to hear that and offered to introduce
me to his co-workers in the church which he had built at his own expense.
He also gave some religious books to Gandhi to read, including the Holy
Bible, of course. Mr. Baker had invited Gandhi to a prayer meeting next
day which Gandhi attended. Apart from the general prayer, Gandhi records:
"A prayer was now added for my welfare: Lord, show
the path to the new brother who has come amongst us. Give him, Lord, the
peace that thou has given us. May the Lord Jesus who has saved us save
him too. We ask all this in the name of Jesus."
One of the group was a young man Mr. Coates, a Quaker.
He had given Gandhi quite a few books on Christianity and had hoped that
he would come round and embrace Christianity. Gandhi continues in the Autobiography:
"He (Mr. Coates) was looking forward to delivering
me from the abyss of ignorance. He wanted to convince me that, no matter
whether there was some truth in other religions, salvation was impossible
for me unless I accepted Christianity which represented the truth, and
that my sins would not be washed away except by the intercession of Jesus,
and that all good works were useless."
Gandhi was introduced to several other practicing
Christians, including a family belonging to Plymouth Brethren, a Christian
sect. One of the Plymouth Brethren confronted Gandhi with an argument for
which he A-as not prepared. He said:
"How can this ceaseless cycle of action bring you
redemption? You can never have peace. You admit that we are all sinners.
Now look at the perfection of our belief. Our attempts at improvement and
atonement are futile. And yet redemption we must have. How can we bear
the burden of sin? We can but throw it on Jesus. He is the only sinless
son of God. It is His word that those who believe in Him shall have everlasting
life. Therein lies God's infinite mercy. And as we believe in the atonement
of Jesus, our own sins do not bind us. Sin we must. It is impossible to
five in this world sinless. And therefore Jesus suffered and atoned for
all the sins of mankind. Only he who accepts His great redemption can have
eternal peace. Think what a life of restless is yours, and what a promise
of peace we have."
Gandhi's reaction to this offer is typical of him
and is oft quoted by his western biographers like Erik Erikson and Geoffrey
"The argument utterly failed to convince me. I humbly
replied: If this be the Christianity acknowledged by all Christians, I
cannot accept it. I do not seek redemption from the consequences of my
sin. I seek to be redeemed from sin itself or rather from the very thought
of sin. Until I have attained that end, I shall be content to be restless."
Gandhi was troubled with what was written in the
Bible itself after he started reading it. Gandhi narrates another experience:
"Mr. Baker was getting anxious about my future. He
took me to the Wellington Convention. The Protestant Christian organize
such gatherings every few years for religious enlightenment or, in other
words, self-purification. --- Mr. Baker had hoped that the atmosphere of
religious exaltation at the Convention, and the enthusiasm and earnestness
of the people attending it, would inevitably lead me to embrace Christianity.
--- The Convention lasted for three days. I could understand and appreciate
the devoutness of those who attended it. But I saw no reason for changing
my belief - my religion. It was impossible for me to believe that I could
go to heaven or attain salvation only by becoming a Christian. When I frankly
said so to some of the good Christian friends, they were shocked. But there
was no help for it."
"My difficulties lay deeper. It was more than I
could believe that Jesus was the only incarnate son of God, and that only
he who believed in him would have everlasting life. If God could have sons,
all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God or God himself, then all
men were like God and could be God himself. My reason was not ready to
believe literally that Jesus by his death and by his blood redeemed the
sins of the world. Metaphorically there might be some truth in it. Again
according to Christianity only human beings had souls, and not other living
beings, for whom death meant complete extinction; while I held a contrary
belief. I could accept Jesus as a martyr, an embodiment of sacrifice, and
a divine teacher, but not as the most perfect man ever born. His death
on the cross was a great example to the world, but that there was anything
like a mysterious or miraculous virtue in it my heart could not accept.
The pious lives of Christians did not give me anything that the lives of
men of other faiths had failed to give. I had seen in other lives just
the same reformation that I had heard of among Christians. Philosophically
there was nothing extraordinary in Christian principles. From the point
of view of sacrifice, it seemed to me that the Hindus greatly surpassed
the Christians. It was impossible for me to regard Christianity as a perfect
religion or the greatest of all religions.
I shared this mental churning with my Christian friends
whenever there was an opportunity, but their answers could not satisfy
Gandhi was only twenty-four when these skirmishes
with Christian missionaries occurred. This shows an amazing maturity of
thought at this young age.
Confrontation With Missionaries:
During his life several Christian missionaries met
him and tried relentlessly to convince him about the uniqueness of Christianity
and the infallibility of the Bible. Gandhi was frank enough to tell them
about their folly and the absurdity of their beliefs. Given below is blow
by blow confrontation of Gandhi with Christian missionaries of various
hues. These are chronologically arranged. The arguments put forward by
Gandhi are very much relevant today. This is nothing but a sort of 'National
Debate' which some people advocate and some others dismiss as uncalled
for. We believe that either of the groups have not read Gandhi. Had they
read they would have stopped arguing so convincing are the arguments put
forward by Gandhiji.
The editors have not put in their views or remarks
while presenting these episodes. Let the readers decide for themselves.
These are all reproduced from 'The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi'.
The volume number appearing with each reproduction are those of the Collected
Over to Gandhi:
Speech at Missionary Conference, Madras
Hindustan has become a conservative religion and
therefore a mighty force because of the 'swadeshi spirit' underlying it.
It is the most tolerant because it is non-proselytising, and it is as capable
of expansion today as it has been found to be in the past. It has succeeded
not in driving, as I think it has been erroneously held, but in absorbing
Buddhism. By reason of the swadeshi spirit, a Hindu refuses to change his
religion not necessarily because he considers it to be the best, but because
he knows that he can complement it by introducing reforms. And what I have
said about Hinduism is, I suppose, true of the other great faiths of the
world, only it is held that it is specially so in the case of Hinduism.
But here comes the point I am labouring to reach. If there is any substance
in what I have said, will not the great missionary bodies of India, to
whom she owes a deep debt of gratitude for what they have done and are
doing, do still better and serve the spirit of Christianity better, by
dropping the goal of proselytising but continuing their philanthropic work?
I hope you will not consider this to be an impertinence on my part. I make
the suggestion in all sincerity and with due humility. Moreover, I have
some claim upon your attention. I have endeavoured to study the Bible.
I consider it as part of my scriptures. The spirit of the Sermon on the
Mount competes almost on equal terms with Bhagavad Gita for the domination
of my heart. I yield to no Christian in the strength of devotion with which
I sing, 'Lead, kindly Light' and several other inspired hymns of a similar
nature. I have come under the influence of noted Christian missionaries
belonging to different denominations. And I enjoy to this day the privilege
of friendship with some of them. You will perhaps therefore allow that
I have offered the above suggestion not as a biased Hindu but as a humble
and impartial student of religion with great leanings towards Christianity.
May it not be that the Go Ye unto All the World message has been
somewhat narrowly interpreted and the spirit of it missed? It will not
be denied, I speak from experience, that many of the conversions are only
so called. In some cases, the appeal has gone not to the heart but to the
stomach. And in every case, a conversion leaves a sore behind it which,
I venture to think, is avoidable. Quoting again from experience, a new
birth, a change to heart, is perfectly possible in every one of the great
faiths. I know I am now treading upon thin ice. But I do not apologise,
in closing this part of my subject, for saying that the frightful outrage
that is just going on in Europe, perhaps, shows that the message of Jesus
of Narazeth, the Son of Peace, has been little undersetood in Europe, and
that light upon it may have to be thrown from the East.
Vol. 13 p. 220
6 June, 1925
Speech to Women Missionaries
To try to explain Jesus' teachings to the followers
of Jesus is like carrying the Ganga water to Varanasi. But although I am
myself not a Christian, as an humble student of the Bible, who approaches
it with faith and reverence, I wish respectfully to place before you the
essence of the Sermon on the Mount. If, while doing so, I do not
place before you frankly my inmost thoughts, I would be unfit to address
you as brothers and sisters. I remember the speech I delivered in 1916
before a Conference of Missionaries in Madras. I had observed at that time
that the missionaries were making a grave error in counting the numbers
of their followers. I have absolutely no faith in the proselytizing activity
that is being carried on today. It may have benefited some persons, but
the benefit is of little account when compared with the harm which has
followed. Religious controversy serves no purpose. God wants us to profess
what we sincerely believe. There are thousands of men and women today who,
though they may not have heard about the Bible or Jesus have more faith
and are more godfearing than Christians who know the Bible and who talk
of its Ten Commandments. Religion is no matter for words, it is
the path of the brave. And my humble intelligence refuses to believe that
a man becomes good when he renounces one religion and embraces another.
I can cite numerous instances of Indians and Zulus who have become Christians
but who know nothing of Jesus' way of love or sacrifice or his message.
In this connection, I recall the talk I had with
a missionary named Mr. Murray in Johannesburg. A friend had introduced
me to him hoping that I would become a Christian. We went out for a walk
in -the course of which Mr. Murray cross-examined me by asking me a number
of questions. When he has cross-examined me enough, he told me: "No, friend.
I do not wish to convert you. Not only that, I will never try to convert
anyone in future." I was very much pleased. He even accepted my interpretation
of Jesus' teaching. Quoting from the Bible itself, I had said to him: "Not
he who says 'God, God' shall gain deliverance, but he who surrenders himself
to God and does His will, he alone shall gain it." I am aware
of my weaknesses. I am struggling against them with what strength God has
given me, not with my own. Do you wish that, instead of thus struggling
with my God-given strength, I should repeat parrotwise that Jesus has washed
off my sins and that I have become pure?" He looked up, stopped me and
said: 'I understand what you say.'
I am today talking to you with the same emotion with
which I talked to my friend then, because I want to touch your hearts just
as I wanted to touch his. Why do you want merely to count heads, why do
you not go on with silent service? Will you please tell me why you wish
to convert people? Should it not be enough if, by coming into contact with
you, people learn to live pure and noble lives, they give up the way of
untruth and darkness and take to the path of truth and light? What more
do you want than that you take up a helpless child and help it to earn
the means wherewith to feed and clothe itself? Is not this sufficient reward
for your work? Or is it that you wish to make the person whom you serve
say without conviction, "I have become a Christian'? Today we see competition
and conflict among different religions for counting the number of their
followers. I feel deeply ashamed of this and, when I hear of people's achievement
in converting such and such a number to a particular faith, I feel that
that is no achievement at all, that on the contrary it is a blasphemy against
God and the self.
Your work does not end with serving people. You should
identify yourselves with them. Only when you meet the poorest of the poor
will you be able to render true service. In this connection I recall the
words of Lord Salisbury (Prime Minister of England), to a deputation of
missionaries which waited on him. Those missionaries had arrived from China
and were seeking Government protection against the Boxers. Lord Salisbury
told them: "I am not unwilling to offer you protection. But will it do
you any credit? The missionaries of old were brave. Trusting that the only
true protection was God's they opposed all obstacles and sacrificed their
lives. If you must go as far as China for the propagation of religion,
you should seek such protection as the godfearing seek and take the risks
which one would take for whom religion is one's very lifebreath would take."
Those were the words of an honest and practical man. You, too, if you wish
to serve the people of India, should go on with your work moving about
with your life in your hand. Whatever the failures or harassment you may
have to face, serve them in a truly missionary spirit.
If you would breathe life into these poor people,
embrace the programme which I have' been placing before every Indian today
and enter their lives along with it. Through no other kind of work can
you fulfil the command of Jesus as well as you can through this.
Speech at a Meeting of missionaries (Y.M C.A. Calcutta)
28 July, 1925
Not many of you perhaps know that my association
with Christians, not Christians so called but real Christians, dates from
1889, when as a lad I found myself in London; and that association has
grown riper as years have rolled on. In South Africa, where I found myself
in the midst of inhospitable surroundings, I was able to make hundreds
of Christian friends. I came in touch with the late Mr. Spencer Watton,
Director of South Africa General Mission, and, later, with the great divine,
Rev. Mr. A Murray and several others.
My acquaintance, therefore, this evening with so
many missionaries is by no means a new thing. There was even a time in
my life when a very sincere and intimate friend of mine, a great and good
Quaker, had designs on me. (Laughter.) He thought that I was too
good not to become a Christian. I was sorry to have disappointed him. One
missionary friend of mine in South Africa still writes to me and asks me,
'How is it with you?' I have always told this friend that so far as I know,
it is all well with me. If it was prayer that these friends expected me
to make, I was able to tell them that every day the heartfelt prayer within
the closed door of my closet went to the Almighty to show me light and
give wisdom and courage to follow that light.
In answer to promises made to one of these Christian
friends of mine, I thought it my duty to see one of the biggest of Indian
Christians, as I was told he was, - the late Kali Charan Banerjee. I went
over to him - I am telling you of the deep search that I have undergone
in order that I might leave no stone unturned to find out the true path
- I went to him with an absolutely open mind and in a receptive mood, and
I met him also under circumstances which were most affecting. I found that
there was much in common between Mr. Banerjee and myself. His simplicity,
his humility, his courage, his truthfulness, all these things I have all
along admired. He met me when his wife was on her death-bed. You cannot
imagine a more impressive scene, a more ennobling circumstance. I told
Mr. Banerjee, 'I have come to you as a seeker,'- this was in 1901 - 'I
have come to you in fulfillment of a sacred promise I have made to some
of my dearest Christian friends that I will leave no stone unturned to
find out the true light.' I told him that I had given my friends the assurance
that no worldly gain would keep me away from the light, if I could but
see it. Well, I am not going to engage you in giving a description of the
little discussion that we had between us. It was very good, very noble.
I came away, not sorry, not dejected, not disappointed, but I felt sad
that even Mr. Banerjee could not convince me. This was my final deliberate
striving to realize Christianity as it was presented to me. Today my position
is that though I admire much in Christianity, I am unable to identify myself
with orthodox Christianity. I must tell you in all humility that Hinduism
as I know it, entirely satisfies my soul, fills my whole being and I find
a solace in the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads that I miss even in the Sermon
on the Mount. Not that I do not prize the ideal presented therein,
not that some of the precious teachings in the Sermon on the Mount
have not left a deep impression upon me, but I must confess to you that
when doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and when
I see not one ray of light on the horizon I turn to the Bhagvad Gita, and
find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst
of overwhelming sorrow. My life has been full of external tragedies and
if they have not left any visible and indelible effect oil me, I owe it
to the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita.
I have told you all these things in order to make
it absolutely clear to you where I stand, so that I may have, if you will,
closer touch with you. I must add that I did not stop at studying the Bible
and the commentaries and other books on Christianity that my friends placed
in my hands; but I said to myself, if I was to find my satisfaction through
reasoning, I must study the scriptures of other religions also and make
my choice. And I turned to Koran. I tried to understand what I could of
Judaism as distinguished from Christianity. I studied Zoroastrianism and
I came to the conclusion that all religions were right, but every one of
them imperfect, imperfect naturally and necessarily - because they were
interpreted with our poor intellects, sometimes with our poor hearts, and
more often misinterpreted. In all religions, I found to my grief, that
there were various and even contradictory interpretations of some texts,
and I said to myself, 'Not these things for me. If I want the satisfaction
of my soul, I must feel my way. I must wait silently upon God and ask Him
to guide me.' There is a beautiful verse in Sanskrit which says 'God helps
only when man feels utterly helpless and utterly humble'. Some of you have
come from the Tamil land. When I was studying Tamil, I found in one of
the books of Dr. Pore a Tamil proverb which means 'God helps the helpless'.
I have given you this life-story of my own experience for you to ponder
You, the missionaries come to India thinking that
you come to a land of heathens, of idolators, of men who do not know God.
One of the greatest of Christian divines, Bishop Heber, wrote the two lines
which have always left a sting with me: 'Where every prospect pleases,
and man alone is vile." I wish he had not written them. My own experience
in my travels throughout India has been to the contrary. I have gone from
one end of the country to the other, without any prejudice, in a relentless
search after truth, and I am not able to say that here in this fair land,
watered by the great Ganges, the Brahmaputra and the Jumna, man is vile.
He is not vile. He is as much a seeker after truth as you and I are, possibly
more so. This reminds me of a French book translated for me by a French
friend. It is an account of an imaginary expedition in search of knowledge.
One party landed in India and found Truth and God personified, in a little
Pariah's hut. I tell you there are many such huts belonging to the untouchables
where you will certainly find God. They do not reason but they persist
in their belief that God is. They depend upon God for His assistance and
find it too. There are many stories told throughout the length and breadth
of India about these noble untouchables. Vile as some of them may be, there
are noblest specimens of humanity in their midst. But does my experience
exhaust itself merely with the untouchables? No, I am here to tell you
that there are non-Brahmins, there are Brahmins who are as fine specimens
of humanity as you will find in any place on the earth. There are Brahmins
today in India who are embodiments of self-sacrifice, godliness, and humility.
There are Brahmins who are devoting themselves body and soul to the service
of untouchables, with no expectation of reward from the untouchables, but
with execration from orthodoxy. They do not mind it, because in serving
pariahs they are serving God. I can quote chapter and verse from my experience.
I place these facts before you in all humility for the simple reason that
you may know this land better, the land to which you have come to serve.
You are here to find out the distress of the people of India and remove
it. But I hope you are here also in a receptive mood and, if there is anything
that India has to give, you will not stop your ears, you will not close
your eyes and steel your hearts, but open up your ears, eyes and, most
of all, your hearts to receive all that may be good in this land. I give
you my assurance that there is a great deal of good in India. Do not flatter
yourselves with the belief that a mere recital of that celebrated verse
in St. John makes a man a Christian. If I have read the Bible correctly,
I know many men who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ or have even
rejected the official interpretation of Christianity, will probably, if
Jesus came in our midst today in the flesh, be owned by him more than many
of us. I therefore ask you to approach the problem before you with open-heartedness,
If you give me statistics that so many orphans have
been reclaimed and brought to the Christian faith, I would accept them,
but I do not feel convinced thereby that it is your mission. In my opinion,
your mission is infinitely superior to that. You want to find men in India
and if you want to do that, you will have to go to the lowly cottages not
to give them something, might be to take something from them. A true friend
as I claim to be of the missionaries of India and of the Europeans, I speak
to you what I feel from the bottom of my heart. I miss receptiveness, humility,
willingness on your part to identify yourselves with the masses of India.
I have talked straight from my heart. May it find a response from your
At the end of the address questions were invited.
The most important question and its answer is given below:
Q. Do you definitely feel the presence of the
living Christ within you?
A. If it is the historical Jesus, surnamed Christ,
that the inquirer refers to, I must say I do not. If it is an. adjective
signifying one of the names of God, then I must say I do feel the presence
of God - Call him Christ, call him Krishna, call him Rama. We have one
thousand names to denote God, and if I did not feel the presence of God
within me, I see so much of misery and disappointment every day that I
would be a raving maniac and my destination would be the Hoogli.
Bihar Notes With Aboriginals
Vol.27 p.434-39. Young India, 6-8-1925
October 8, 1925
The Mundas are another tribe whom I met at Khunti
on my way to Ranchi. The scope for work in their midst is inexhaustible.
Christian missionaries have been doing valuable service for generations,
but, in my humble opinion, their work suffers because at the end of it
they expect conversion of these simple people to Christianity. I had the
pleasure of seeing some of their schools in these places. It was all pleasing,
but I could see the coming conflict between the missionaries and the Hindu
workers. The latter have no difficulty in making their service commendable
to the Hos, the Mundas and the others. How very nice it would be if the
missionaries rendered humanitarian service without the ulterior aim of
Vol.28 p. 295-96. (Young India 8-10-1925)
The Aim of Christian Missions
December 17, 1925
In answering a question from an American student:
I would like to know your very frank evaluation of the work of Christian
missionaries in India. Do you believe that Christianity has some contribution
to make to the life of our country? Can we do without Christianity?
G: In my opinion Christian missionaries have done good to us indirectly.
Their direct contribution is probably more harmful than otherwise. I am
against the modern method of proselytizing. Years' experience of proselytizing
both in South Africa and India has convinced me that it has not raised
the general tone of the converts who have imbibed the superficialities
of European civilization, and have missed the teaching of Jesus. I must
be understood to refer to the general tendency and to brilliant exceptions.
The indirect contribution, on the other hand, of Christian missionary effort
is great. It has forced us to put our own house in order. The
great educational and curative institutions of Christian missions I also
count, amongst indirect results, because they have been established, not
for their own sakes, but as an aid to proselytizing.
The world, and therefore we, can no more do without the teaching of
Jesus than we can without that of Mahomed or the Upanishads. I hold all
these to be complementary to one another, in no case exclusive. Their true
meaning, their interdependence and interrelation, have still to be revealed
to us. We are but indifferent representatives of our respective faiths
which we believe more often than not.
Vol.29 p.326. (Young India 17-12-1925)
Discussion with Missionaries
July 29, 1927
opened the discussion by claiming himself to be a friend of the missionaries,
ever since his close contact with them in South Africa.
I have been a friend, I have always been a critic, not from any desire
to be critical, but because I have felt that I would be a better friend
if I opened out my heart, even at the risk of wounding their feelings.
They never allowed me to think that they felt hurt, they certainly never
resented my criticism.
he referred to his first speech before the missionaries in India on swadeshi,
since which twelve years had rolled away and with them much of the mists
first distinction I would like to make, after these prefatory remarks,
between your missionary work and mine, is that while I am strengthening
the faith of the people, you are undermining it. Your work, I have always
held, will be all the richer, if you accept as settled facts the faiths
of the people you come to serve - faiths which, however crude, are valuable
to them. And in order to appreciate what I say, it becomes perhaps necessary
to re-read the message of the Bible in terms of what is happening around
us. The world is the same, but the spirit ever broadens intensively and
extensively, and it might be that many things in the Bible will have to
be re-interpreted in the light of discoveries - not of modem science -
but in the spiritual world in the shape of direct experiences common to
all faiths. The fundamental verses of St. John do require to be re-read
and re-interpreted. I have come to feel that like us human beings words
have their evolution from stage to stage in the contents they hold. For
instance the contents of the richest word - God - are not the same to every
one of us. They will vary with the experience of each. They will mean one
thing to the Santhal and another to his next door neighbour Ravindranath
Tagore. The sanatani may reject my interpretation of God and Hinduism.
But God Himself is a long-suffering God who puts up with any amount of
abuse and misinterpretations. If we were to put the spiritual experiences
together we would find a resultant which would answer the cravings of human
nature. Christianity is 19,000 years old, Islam is 1,300 years old, who
knows the possibility of either? I have not read the Vedas in the original,
but have tried to assimilate their spirit and have not hesitated to say
that though the Vedas may be 13,000 years old - or even a million years
old, as they well may be, for the word of God is as old as God Himself
even the Vedas must be interpreted in the light of our experience. The
powers of God should not be limited by the limitations of our understanding.
To you who have come to teach India, I therefore say, you cannot give without
taking. If you have come to give rich treasures of experiences, open your
hearts out to receive the treasures of this land, and you will not be disappointed,
neither will you have misread the message of the Bible.
questions and answers followed, which I summarize below:
What then are we doing? Are we doing the right thing?
A. You are trying to do the right thing in the wrong way. I want you to
complement the faith of the people instead of undermining it. As the Dewan
of Mysore said in his address to the Assembly, the Adi Karnatakas should
be made better Hindus, as they belong to Hinduism. I would similarly say
to you, make us better Hindus, i.e., better men or women. Why should a
man, even if he becomes a Christian, be torn from his surroundings? Whilst
a boy I heard it being said, that to become a Christian was to have a brandy
bottle in one hand and beef in the other. Things are better now, but it
is not unusual to find Christianity synonymous with denationalization and
Europeanization. Must we give up our simplicity, to become better people?
Do not lay the axe at our simplicity.
There are not only two issues before us, viz., to serve and to teach, there
is a third issue, viz., evangelizing, declaring the glad tidings of the
coming of Jesus and his death in redemption for our sins. What is the right
way of giving the good news? We need not undermine the faith but we may
make people lose their faith in lesser things.
A. That lands me into the region of interpretation. Whilst I must not enter
into it, I may suggest that God did not bear the Cross only 1,900 years
ago, but He bears it today, and He dies and is resurrected from day to
day. It would be poor comfort to the world if it had to depend upon a historical
God who died 2,000 years ago. Do not then preach the God of history, but
show Him as He lives today through you. In South Africa I met a number
of friends, and read a number of books - Pearson, Parker and Butler - all
giving their own interpretations, and I said to myself I must not bother
myself with these conflicting interpretations. It is better to allow our
lives to speak for us than our words. C.F Andrews never preaches. He is
incessantly doing his work. He finds enough work and stays where he finds
it and takes no credit for bearing the Cross. I have the honour to know
hundreds of honest Christians, but I have not known one better than Andrews.
But what about animistic beliefs? Should they not be corrected?
A. Well, we have been working amongst the so-called untouchables' and backward
classes, and we have never bothered ourselves with their beliefs, animistic
or otherwise. Superstitions and undesirable things go as soon as we begin
to live the correct life. I concern myself not with their belief but with
asking them to do the right thing. As soon as they do it, their belief
How can we help condemning if we feel that our Christian truth is the only
A. That brings me to the duty of tolerance. If you cannot feel that the
other faith is as true as yours, you should feet at least that the men
are as true as you. The intolerance of the Christian missionaries does
not, I am glad to say, take the ugly shape it used to take some years ago.
Think of the caricature of Hinduism, which one finds in so many publications
of the Christian Literature Society. A lady wrote to me the other day saying
that unless I embraced Christianity all my work would be nothing worth.
And, of course, that Christianity must mean what she understands as such.
Well, all I can say is that it is a wrong attitude.
Vol. 34 p.260-63 (Young India, 11-8-1927)
Interview to Mr. And Mrs. Bjerrum
Before July 14,1927
the new missionary friends is a Danish couple Mr. and Mrs. Bjerrum.
Yes. They have to alter their attitude. Today they tell people that there
is no salvation for them except through the Bible and through Christianity.
It is customary to decry other religions and to offer their own as the
only one that can bring deliverance. That attitude should be radically
changed. Let them appear before the people as they are, and try to rejoice
in seeing Hindus become better Hindus and Mussalmans better Mussalmans.
Let them start work at the bottom, let them enter into what is best in
their life and offer nothing inconsistent with it. That will make their
work far more efficacious, and what they will say and offer to the people
will be appreciated without suspicion and hostility. In a word let them
go to the people not as patrons, but as one of them, not to oblige them
but to serve them and to work among them.
Vol. 34 P. 164 (Young India 14-7-1927)
April 23, 1931
angry or curious have sent me clippings from the Press or their comments
on what has been ascribed to me by interviewers on the subject of foreign
missionaries. Only one correspondent has been cautious enough to ask me
whether I am correctly reported. Even George Joseph, my erstwhile co-worker
and gracious host in Madura, has gone into hysterics without condescending
to verify the report. That is the unkindest cut of all.
is what a reporter has put into my mouth:
instead of confining themselves to humanitarian work and material service
to the poor, they do proselytization by means of medical aid, education,
etc., then I would certainly ask them to withdraw. Every nation's religion
is as good as any other. Certainly India's religions are adequate for her
people. We need no converting spiritually.
have given so many interviews that I cannot recall the time or the occasion
or the context for the statement. All I can say is that it is a travesty
of what I have always said and held. My views on foreign missions are no
secret. I have more than once expounded them before missionary audiences.
I am therefore unable to understand the fury over the distorted version
of my views.
me retouch the statement as I should make it:
instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work such as education,
medical services to the poor and the like, they would use these activities
of their 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.'
me now amplify the bald statement. I hold that proselytizing under the
cloak of humanitarian work is, to say the least, unhealthy. It is most
certainly resented by the people here. Religion after all is a deeply personal
matter, it touches the heart. 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? In my opinion these practices are not
uplifting and give rise to suspicion if not even secret hostility. The
methods of conversion must be like Caesar's wife above suspicion. Faith
is not imparted like secular subjects. It is given through the language
of the heart. If a man has a living faith in him, it spreads its aroma
like the rose its scent. Because of its invisibility, the extent of its
influence is far wider than that of the visible beauty of the colour of
am, then, not against conversion. But I am against the modern methods of
it. Conversion nowadays has become a matter of business, like any other.
I remember having read a missionary report saying how much it cost per
head to convert and then presenting a budget for 'the next harvest'.
I do maintain that India's great faiths are all-sufficing for her. Apart
from Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism and its offshoots, Islam and Zoroastrianism
are living faiths. No one faith is perfect. All faiths are equally dear
to their respective votaries. What is wanted therefore is living friendly
contact among the followers of the great religions of the world and not
a clash among them in the fruitless attempt on the part of each community
to show the superiority of its faith over the rest. Through such friendly
contact it will be possible for us all to rid our respective faiths of
shortcomings and excrescences.
follows from what I have said above that India is in no need of conversion
of the kind I have in mind. Conversion in the sense of self-purification,
self-realization is the crying need of the times. That however is not what
is ever meant by proselytizing. To those who would convert India, might
it not be said, 'Physician heal thyself'?
Vol. 46 p. 27-29. (Young India. 23-4-1931)
Cable to "Daily Herald"
After April 23, 1931
wire. Report about foreign missionaries was distortion of my views. Have
published 'Young India" full article setting forth view. Am certainly against
use of hospitals, schools and like for purposes conversion. It is hardly
healthy method and certainly gives rise bitter resentment. Conversion matter
of heart and must defend upon silent influence of pure character and conduct
of missionaries. True conversion comes imperceptibly like aroma of a rose.
Thus am not against conversion as such but am certainly against present
methods. Conversion must not be reduced to business depending for increase
upon pounds, shillings, pence. I also hold that all great religions are
of equal merit to respective nations or individuals professing them. India
is in no need of conversion of type described. Whilst under swaraj all
would be free exercise their own faiths. Personally I would wish present
methods adopted by missionaries were abandoned even now and that under
conviction not compulsion.
Note: The article "Foreign Missionaries" referred to in the text way
published on April 23 (preceding item).
Vol. 46 P.34.
Foreign Missionaries Again
May 7, 1931
friend of mine gave me a copy of the Madras Catholic Leader of the 26th
March, and it is there that you are reported to have given expression to
the remarks "Every nation's religion is as good as any other. Certainly
India's religions are adequate for her people. We need no converting spiritually."
am a Christian, but I certainly am against Christianity being brought as
an instrument of Imperialism. But as a message of love and fellowship,
who will deny it a place in Indian life? In this great struggle for swaraj,
are we not fighting for liberty, liberty to worship our God as we please,
liberty to be convinced by our fellows who can convince us? Is India so
bigoted as to think that within her are confined all the riches of the
world, all the treasures of knowledge and human experience?
I deem, is a matter between an individual and his own conception of right
conduct. Religion belongs to the great realm of thought and personal experience
which knows neither boundaries nor nations. But I would like to know, if
you made those remarks, what you meant by them, or I confess they are a
mystery to me.
Nuwara Eliya, Ceylon,
11th April, 1931
James P. Rutnam
I do not know that in reply to this letter I need do more than refer the
writer to my article in Young India. It might be as well to add that in
mentioning Hinduism, Islam, Zoroastrianism, etc., as India's religions,
I had no desire to claim them as India's exclusively or to exclude Christianity.
The issue was Christianity on the one hand claimed as the one true religion
and other religions on the other being regarded as false. In joining issue
I contended that the great world religions other than Christianity professed
in India were no less true than Christianity. It was thus neither relevant
nor necessary for me to assert before Christian missionaries and their
protagonists that Christianity was true. Moreover, with my known partiality
for the Sermon on the Mount and my repeated declarations that its author
was one of the greatest among the teachers of mankind I could not suspect
that there would be any charge against me of underrating Christianity.
As for Christian Indians, I count among them many warm friends and I have
had no difficulty whatsoever in establishing friendly touch with the Christian
masses wherever I have gone. Nor is there any fear of my estranging even
the foreign missionaries among whom I claim many personal friends. The
attack against me has therefore surprised me not a little especially because
the views I have now enunciated have been held by me since 1916, and were
deliberately expressed in a carefully written address read before a purely
missionary audience in Madras and since repeated on many a Christian platform.
The recent criticism has but confirmed the view, for the criticism has
betrayed intolerance even on friendly criticism. The missionaries know
that inspite of my outspoken criticism of their methods, they have in India
and among non-Christians no warmer friend than I. And I suggest to my critics
that there must be something wrong about their method or, if they prefer,
themselves when they will not brook sincere expression of an opinion different
from theirs. In India under swaraj I have no doubt that foreign missionaries
will be at liberty to do their proselytizing, 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.
Vol.46 p-109-10 (Young India, 7-5-1931)
Missionary Methods in India
June 4, 1931
has given great umbrage to missionaries by his declaration against the
prevailing methods of evangelization, and by challenging the claim to superiority
put forward by them on behalf of Christianity. They strongly resent his
assertion that their modus operandi is open to suspicion. It was stated
in the Indian Census Report for 1911 that the aboriginal tribes accept
Christianity, 'in the hope of obtaining assistance from the missionaries
in their difficulties and protection against the coercion of landlords."
In 1821, Raja Rammohan Roy urged in the Brahmanical Magazine that the superiority
of Christianity should not be advocated "by means of abuse and insult or
by affording the hope of worldly gain."
Charles Howard, Secretary, Society for the Education of the Women of India,
Chicago, in a letter to Sr. Virchand R. Gandhi of Bombay, wrote in 1896:
"But I am more concerned for poor India. Why should Christianity, which
is a failure here, be thrust upon India?"
comes from a retired Deputy Collector. The collection of quotations from
named sources should, instead of offending missionaries, cause an inward
search. I have several other similar articles, some from Christian Indians.
The writers will excuse me for withholding them. The controversy ought
not to be prolonged. The incautious zeal of reporters, who trusted too
much to memory, led to a discussion, which I would fain have avoided.
Vol. 46 p.314 (Young India, 4-6-1931)
Note to Dr Thornton (A Christian Missionary)
February 23, 1931
the missionary friends will forget their mission, viz., of proselytizing
Indians and of bringing Christ to them, they will do wonderfully good work.
Your duty is done with the ulterior motive of proselytizing. I was one
of the first to raise a note of warning in this matter. To realize what
harm the missions are doing you have to see a man like Mr. Andrews. He
could tell you how his soul rebelled against the missionaries' presumption
to give the Indians new religion. He belonged to the Cambridge Mission,
but he left it inasmuch as seeing God everywhere he realized that every
religion taught devotion to God, however defective it may be. You may certainly
point out and help to correct the, defects in my religion, but insist on
my finding my salvation through my own religion. I am reminded of a simile:
what is the use of going to a higher altitude when I am born on the plains
and must find what nourishment and health the plains can give? The fact
is there are no irreconcilable differences between different religions.
If you were to probe the surface, you will find one and the same thing
at the bottom, forget your missionary spirit and simply live your life
in the midst of-people. Help certainly you have (brought), viz., what comes
through contact with you and in spite of you, i.e., the spirit of inquiry
about the shortcomings of our own religion. You did not want us to pursue
the inquiry because you saw immorality where we saw spirituality. When
I go to your institutions I do not feel I am going to an Indian institution.
That is what worries me.
Interview To The Press
March 22, 1931
an interview to the press on 21 March, 1931 a correspondent asked: If he
(Gandhi) would favour the retention of American and other foreign missionaries
when India secured self-government, Gandhiji replied.
instead of confining themselves purely to humanitarian work and material
service to the poor, they do proselytizing by means of medical aid, education,
etc., then I would certainly ask them to withdraw. Every nation's religion
is as good as any other. Certainly India's religions are adequate for her
people. We need no converting spiritually.
Vol. 45 p. 320 The Hindu, 22-3-1931
January 14, 1935
Q: Your campaign (against untouchability) is taking away from the Mission's
Gandhiji: I see what you mean but I do not know why it should disturb them.
We are not traders trenching on one another's province. If it is a matter
of serving oneself, I should understand their attitude, but when it is
entirely a matter of serving others, it should not worry them or me as
to who serves them.
But, perhaps, the authorities in charge of a Mission hospital would rightly
feel worried if you sent your people to go and open a hospital in the same
G: But they should understand that ours is a different mission. We do not
go there to afford them simple medical relief or a knowledge of the three
R's; our going to them is a small proof of our repentance and our assurance
to them that we will not exploit them any more. I should never think of
opening a hospital where there is already one; but if there is a Mission
school, I should not mind opening another for Harijan children, and I would
even encourage them to prefer our school to the other. Let us frankly understand
the position. If the object is purely humanitarian, purely that of carrying
education where there is none, they should be thankful that someone whose
obvious duty it is to put his own house in order wakes up to a sense of
his duty. But my trouble is that the Missionary friends do not bring to
bear on their work a purely humanitarian spirit. Their object is to add
more members to their fold, and that is why they are disturbed. The complaint
which I have been making all these years is more than justified by what
you say. Some of the friends of a Mission were the other day in high glee
over the conversion to Christianity of a learned paundit. They have been
dear friends, and so I told them that it was hardly proper to go into ecstasies
over a man forsaking his religion. Today it is the case of a learned Hindu,
tomorrow it may be that of an ignorant villager not knowing the principles
of his religion. Why should missionaries complain if I open a school which
is more liked by Harijans than theirs? Is it not natural?
But does it mean that you would say the same thing about a Christian who
G: I would. Here is Mirabehn. I would have her find all the spiritual comfort
she needs from Christianity, and I should not dream of converting her to
Hinduism, even if she wanted to do so. Today it is the case of a grown-up
woman like her, tomorrow it may be that of a European child trusted to
my care by a friend. Take the case of Khan Saheb's daughter entrusted to
my care by her father. I should zealously educate her in her own faith
and should strive my utmost against her being lured away from it if ever
she was so inclined. I have had the privilege of having children and grown-up
persons of other faiths with me. I was thankful to find them better Christians,
Mussalmans, Parsis or Jews by their contact with me.
But if it was a pure case of conscience?
G: I am no keeper of anybody's conscience, but I do feel that it argues
some sort of weakness on the part of a person who easily declares his or
her failure to derive comfort from the faith in which he or she is born.
Vol.60 p.76-77 Harijan, 25-1-1935
March 22, 1935
Harijan sevak in Devakottah writes deploring the so-called conversions
to Christianity of Harijans in that locality. The public know how they
are systematically persecuted by the Nattars. If, affected by the persecution
and losing hope of ever receiving help from the other savarna Hindus, the
poor Harijans seek shelter in Christianity, we may not be surprised. And
our grief is worse than useless if we cannot turn it into powerful energy.
Conversion under the stress of physical discomfort is no spiritual conversion.
But we may not grumble if Harijans change their faith in order to better
their material condition and to secure protection from persecution.
we need deplore is the cause of conversion. Let us realize and own that
savarna Hindus are the cause. If the savarna Hindus of Devakottah were
alive to a sense of duty by the Harijans of their locality the Nattars,
who are themselves savarna Hindus, would not dare persecute Harijans as
if the latter were not members of the same human family as the former.
The correspondent suggests that some persons from outside Devakottah might
go and work among the Nattars and the Harijans. It would be good if this
happened. But I doubt if ever substantial results will be obtained by stray
outsiders going there temporarily. Any such effort must be vain, as will
be that of doctors going among and seeking to cure patients who would not
help themselves with the medicines prescribed for them. Both the wings
of the savarna Hindus, those who stand aloof and the Nattar savarna Hindus,
are suffering from illnesses, the latter from hankering after the persecution
of their fellows, and the former from criminal apathy. Outsiders can at
best go among them, diagnose the disease and prescribe the remedy. It is
for the patients to adopt the remedy. The young savarnas of Devakottah
know the cause and the remedy. Will they apply it? Thakkar Bapa is in their
midst or will be presently. Will they listen to his advice? Conversions
are but one small result of the disease. Remove the cause, and the conversions
will cease, as also many worse results.
Interview to a Missionary(1)
Before March 22, 1935
missionary friend who was on a visit to us asked Gandhiji what was the
most effective way of preaching the gospel of Christ, for that was his
To live the gospel is the most effective way most effective in the beginning,
in the middle and in the end. Preaching jars on me and makes no appeal
to me, and I get suspicious of missionaries who preach. But I love those
who never preach but live the life according to their lights. Their lives
are silent yet most effective testimonies. Therefore I cannot say what
to preach, but I can say that a life of service and uttermost simplicity
is the best preaching. If, therefore, you go on serving people and ask
them also to serve, they would understand. But you quote instead John 3,
16 and ask them to believe it. That has no appeal to me, and I am sure
people will not understand it. Where there has been acceptance of the gospel
through preaching, my complaint is that there has been some motive.
But we also see it and we try our best to guard against it.
G: But you can't guard against it. One sordid motive vitiates the whole
preaching. It is like a drop of poison which fouls the whole food. Therefore
I should do without any preaching at all. A rose does not need to preach.
It simply spreads its fragrance. The fragrance is its own sermon. If it
had human understanding and if it could engage a number of preachers, the
preachers would not be able to sell more roses than the fragrance itself
could do. The fragrance of religious and spritual life is much finer and
subtler than than of the rose.
Vol. 60 p.323 (Harijan, 29-3-19
Interview with Missionary Ladies
March 29, 1935
Does your Harijan Sangh do anything for the spiritual welfare of the people?
A. With me, moral includes spiritual, and so my answer to your question
will be 'everything' and 'nothing'. Nothing, because we have no department
to look after their spiritual welfare. Everything, because we expect the
personal touch of the workers to transform the men among whom they are
working. Even as it is, we are caught in the coil of hypocrisy; but when
you set apart a department for the work, you make the thing doubly difficult.
In my career as a reformer I have regarded everything from the moral standpoint.
Whether I am engaged in tackling a political question or a social or economic
one, the moral side of it always obtrudes itself and it pervades my whole
attitude. But I admit I have no special department to look after the Harijans'
But we, Christians, feel that we, who have something to share, must share
it with others. If we want consolation, we find it from the Bible. Now,
as for the Harijans, who have no solace to get from Hinduism, how are we
to meet their spiritual needs?
A. By behaving just like the rose. Does the rose proclaim itself, or is
it self-propagated? Has it an army of missionaries proclaiming its beauties?
But supposing someone asked us, 'Where did you get the scent?'
A. The rose, if it had sense and speech, would say, 'Fool, don't you see
that I got it from my Maker?'
But if someone asks you, 'Then, is there no book?'
A. You will then say, 'Yes, for me there is the Bible.' If they were to
ask me. I would present to some the Koran. to some the Gita, to some the
Bible and to some Tulsidas's Ramayana. I am like a wise doctor prescribing
what is necessary for each patient.
Q. But I find difficulty in getting much from the Gita.
A. You may, but I do not find any difficulty in getting much from the Bible
as well as from the Koran.
Vol.60 p.325-26 (Harijan, 29-3-1935)
Interview to a Missionary Nurse
May 11, 1935
Would you prevent missionaries coming to India in order to baptize?
A. Who am I to prevent them? 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 missionaries. But I
should welcome people of any nationality if they came to serve here for
the sake of service. 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.
Is it not the old conception you are referring to? No such thing is now
associated with proselytization.
A. The outward condition has perhaps changed but the inward mostly remains.
Vilification of Hindu religion, though subdued, is there. If there was
a radical change in the missionaries' outlook, would Murdoch's books be
allowed to be sold in mission depots? Are those books prohibited by missionary
societies? There is nothing but vilification of Hinduism in those books.
You talk of the conception being no longer there. Only 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 Hindus. and it could not belong to the Christians
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.
Q. But, Mr. Gandhi, why do you object to proselytization as such? Is not
there enough in the Bible to authorize us to invite people to a better
way of life?
A. Oh yes, but it does not mean that they should be made members of the
Church. If you interpret your texts in the way you seem to do, you straight
away condemn a large part of humanity unless it believes as you do. If
Jesus came to earth again. he would disown many things that are being done
in the name of Christianity. It is not he who says "Lord, Lord! that is
a Christian", but "He that doeth the will of the Lord" that is a true Christian.
And cannot he who has not heard the name of Jesus Christ do the will of
Vol.61 p.46-47 (Harijan, 11-5-1935)
September 28, 1935
A.A. Paul of the Federation of International Fellowships asked me the other
day to define in these columns my position on 'conversion'. I told him
to frame definite questions on which he would like my answers. The result
was the following letter with a list of propositions attached:
You remember that a little over a month ago, I wrote to you asking you
whether you would publish a statement giving your views on 'conversion'.
You wrote back to say that it would be easier for you if we could put them
in the form of questions or assertions. At the request of the Executive
Committee of the Madras International Fellowship, one of our Christian
members has prepared the enclosed statement and the Committee has asked
me to pass it on to you with the request that you will kindly find it possible
to answer these statements in Harijan. Of course you will notice that the
questions are framed from the Christian point of view; but the Committee
feels that the questions will apply equally well to other missionary religions
which are engaged in conversion programme. May I hope that you will find
it possible to explain your attitude to these questions?
1. Conversion is a change of heart from sin to God. It is the work of God.
Sin is separation from God.
2. The Christian believes that Jesus is the fulfillment of God's revelation
to mankind, that He is our Saviour from sin, that He alone can bring the
sinner to God and thus enable him to live.
3. The Christian, to whom God has become a living reality and power through
Christ, regards it as his privilege and duty to speak about Jesus and to
proclaim the free offer which He came on earth to make.
4. If any man's heart is so moved by the hearing of this message as to
repent and wish to live a new life as a disciple of Jesus, the Christian
regards ft as right to admit him to the company of His professed believers
which is called the Christian Church.
5. The Christian shall do all in his power to sound the sincerity of conviction
in all such cases and shall point out, as he can, the consequences of such
a step, stressing The duty a man owes to his family.
6. The Christian shall do everything in his power to prevent any motives
of self-seeking on his part and of material considerations on the part
of the convert.
7. Inasmuch as Jesus came to give full life, and that as a matter of history
conversion has often meant an enhancing of personality, the Christian shall
not be accused of using material inducements if conversion results in the
social uplift of the convert, it always being understood that such shall
never be used as a means to an end.
8. The Christian is right in accepting as his duty the care of the sincere
convert -- body, soul and mind.
9. It shall not be brought against the Christian that he is using material
inducements, when certain facts in Hindu social theory, out of his control,
are in themselves an inducement to Harijan. (But see points 5 and 6).
In order to understand the background to these propositions, the reader
should know that the origin of the main question was a discussion I was
carrying on with Mr. A.A. Paul on the so-called mass conversion of a village
predominantly or wholly composed of Harijans. The reader may later on read
more of this 'conversion'. For the present purpose it is enough that he
understands that it is the method of mass conversion that has to be tested
in the light of these propositions. Indeed the ninth proposition almost
says as much.
have read the propositions several times, and the more I read them the
more I feel that they can be applied only to individual contacts, never
to the mass of mankind. Take the very first proposition. Sin is defined
to be "separation from God". "Conversion is a change of heart from sin
to God. It is the work of God." So says the author of the propositions.
If conversion is the work of God why should that work be taken away from
Him? And who is man to take away anything from God? He may become a humble
instrument in the hands of God. Even so he cannot be a judge of men's hearts.
I often wonder whether we are always true judges of our own hearts. Man,
know thyself must have been wrung out of a desperate heart. And if
we know so little of ourselves, how much less must we know of our neighbours
and remote strangers who may differ from us in a multitude of things, some
of which are of the highest moment? The second proposition deals with the
Christian belief handed to the believer from generation to generation,
the truth of which thousands of Christians born are never called upon to
test for themselves, and rightly not. Surely it is a dangerous thing to
present it to those who have been brought up to a different belief. And
it would appear to me to be impertinent on my part to present my untested
belief to the professor of another which for aught I know may be as true
as mine. It is highly likely that mine may be good enough for me and his
for him. A thick woollen coat would be the thing for one living in the
cold region of the earth, as a place of loin-cloth for another living near
the equatorial regions.
third proposition too, like the first, relates to the mysteries of religion
which are not understood by the common people who take them in faith. They
work well enough among people living in the traditional faith. They will
repel those who have been brought up to believe something else.
other five propositions deal with the conduct of the missionary among those
whom he is seeking to convert. They seem to me to be almost impossible
of application in practice. The start being wrong, all that follows must
be necessarily so. Thus how is the Christian to sound the sincerity of
the conviction of his hearers? By a show of hands? By personal conversation?
By a temporary trial? Any test that can be conceived will fail even to
be reasonably conclusive. No one but God knows a man's heart. Is the Christian
so sure of his being so right in body, mind and soul as to feel comfortably
"right in accepting as his duty the care of the sincere convert - body,
soul and mind"?
last proposition - the crown of all the preceding ones takes one's breath
away. For it makes it clear that the other eight are to be applied in all
their fulness to the poor Harijans. And yet the very first proposition
has not ceased to puzzle the brains of some of the most intellectual and
philosophical persons even in the present generation. Who knows the nature
of original sin? What is the meaning of separation from God? What is that
of the union with God? What are the signs of him who is united to God?
Are all who dare to preach the message of Jesus the Christ sure of their
union with God? If they are not, who will test the Harijans' knowledge
of these deep things?
is my reaction to the foregoing propositions. I hope no Christian who reads
it will be offended by it. I would have been false to my numerous Christian
friends, if I had hidden from them by true position on the nine propositions.
own detached view may now be stated in a few words. I believe that there
is no such thing as conversion from one faith to another in the accepted
sense of the term. It is a highly personal matter for the individual and
his God. I may not have any design upon my neighbour as to his faith which
I must honour even as I honour my own. For I regard all the great religions
of the world as true at any rate for the people professing them as mine
is true for me. Having reverently studied the scriptures of the world,
I have no difficulty in perceiving the beauties in all of them. I could
no more think of asking a Christian or a Mussalman or a Parsi or a Jew
to change his faith than I would think of changing my own. This makes me
no more oblivous of the limitations of the professors of those faiths,
than it makes me of the grave limitations of the professors of mine. And
seeing that it takes all my resources in trying to bring my practice to
the level of my faith and in preaching the same to my co-religionists,
I do not dream of preaching to the followers of other faiths. Judge not
lest ye be judged is sound maxim for one's conduct. It is a conviction
daily growing upon me that the great and rich Christian missions will render
true service to India, if they can persuade themselves to confine their
activities to humanitarian service without the ulterior motive of converting
India or at least her unsophisticated villagers to Christianity, and destroying
their social superstructure, which not withstanding its many defects has
stood now from time immemorial the onslaughts upon it from within and from
without. Whether they - the missionaries - and we wish it or not. what
is true in the Hindu faith will abide, what is untrue will fall to pieces.
Every living faith must have within itself the power of rejuvenation if
it is to live.
Vol. 61 p.454-58 (Harijan. 28-9-1935)
Discussion with a Polish Student
June 12, 1936
Student I am keenly Interested in rural reconstruction. There is at - a
school conducted by Catholic Fathers. I shall help the school from the
proceeds of the sale of this photography.(1)
Returning the photograph Gandhiji said:
that is a different story. You do not expect me to support the Fathers
in their mission of conversion? You know what they do?
with this he told him the story of the so-called conversions in the vicinity
of Tiruchengodu, the desecration and demolition of the Hindu temple, how
he had been requested by the International Fellowship of Faiths to forbear
writing anything about the episode as they were trying to intervene, how
ultimately even the intervention of that body, composed mainly of Christians,
had failed, and how he was permitted to write about it in Harijan.
He, however, had deliberately refrained from writing, in order not to exacerbate
feelings on the matter.
"But," said the student, "the Christians among whom the Fathers I mention
are working became Christians long ago. "
Well, there they foment fresh troubles. I do not know why the professors
of a noble faith should assist in creating deadly quarrels between two
sections of the same faith.
S: But I myself am a Christian convert. I cannot tell you the happiness
and the solace that Christianity has meant to me.
I can understand that. You are using the language of a truly converted
Christian. You have a heart to lose or to keep. If the Harijans in India
reach your intellectual and spiritual level, and experience your sense
of original sin I would bless them for voluntarily embracing Christianity.
Have you read what I have written on my son's so-called conversion to Islam?
If he had become a Muslim from a pure and a contrite heart, I should have
no quarrel with him. But those who had helped him to embrace Islam and
are enthusing over his apostasy simply exploited his weaknesses. They are
no true representatives of Islam. My letter to the Muslims, I tell you,
was written with my pen dipped in my heart's blood. Similarly there is
no redeeming feature about the Tiruchengodu conversions I have spoken to
Vol.63 p.47-48 (Harijan, 27-6-1936)
1. On which the student wanted Gandhiji's autograph.
2. Here Mahadev Desai remarks: "The young man could see the deep pain with
which Gandhiji was speaking. He did not press him to give the autograph
and took his leave."
June 23, 1936
Converting Through Hospitals: Discussion with Pierre Ceresole and
Pierre Ceresole: Religion which should bind us divided us. Is it not a
sorry spectacle that whilst people of various denominations find no difficulty
in working together all day in hearty co-operation, they must disband when
the time for prayer comes? Is religion then meant to divide us?
Must it be allowed to become an expression of conceit rather than of a
desire to be of service? I want some sort of religious communion between
men of different faiths.
Quite possible, if there is no mental reservation.
But a friend of mine, a great humanitarian worker, believes that but for
evangelism he should not have taken up his mission work. He gets the driving
power from communion with Jesus, he says, because Jesus was always in communion
The greatest trouble with us is not that a Christian missionary should
rely on his own experience, but that he should dispute the evidence of
a Hindu devotee's life. Just as he has his spiritual experience and the
joy of communion, even so has a Hindu.
Ceresole seemed to have no doubt about this, and he said that the broadest
view of Christianity seemed to him to have been presented by Frank Lenwood,
whose book Jesus - Lord or Leader, deserved to be better known than
it is. "He says he has the greatest respect for the personality of Jesus,
but he thought he might respectfully criticize him."
Missionary Lady.' I have not had the time or desire to evangelize. The
Church at home would be happy if through our hospital more people would
be led to Christian lives.
But whilst you give the medical help you expect the reward in the shape
of your patients becoming Christians.
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.
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.
In my own work there is no ulterior motive. I care for people, I alleviate
pain, because I cannot do otherwise. The source of this is my loyalty to
Jesus who ministered to suffering humanity. At the back of my mind there
is, I admit, the desire that people may find the same joy in Jesus that
I find. Where is the kink?
The kink is in the Church thinking that there are people in whom certain
things are lacking and that you must supply them whether they want them
or not. If you simply say to your patients, 'You have taken the medicine
I gave you. Thank God, He has healed you. Don't come again,' you have done
your duty. But if you also say, 'How nice it would be if you had the same
faith in Christianity as I have,' you do not make of your medicine a free
But if I feel that I have something medically and spiritually which I can
give, how can I keep it?
G.: There is a way out of
the difficulty. You must feel that what you possess your patient also can
possess but through a different route. You will say to yourself. 'I have
come through this route, you may come through a different route.' Why should
you want him to pass through your university and no other.
Because I have my partiality for my Alma Mater.
There is my difficulty. Because you adore your mother, you cannot wish
that all the rest were your mother's children.
M.L.: That is a physical impossibility.
Then this one is a spiritual impossibility. God has the whole humanity
as His children. How can I limit God's grace by my little mind and say
this is the only way?
I do not say it is the only way. There might be a better way.
If you concede that there might be a better way, you have surrendered your
Well, if you say that you have found your way, I am not so terrifically
concerned with you. I will deal with one who is floundering in mud.
Will you judge him? Have your people not floundered? Why will you present
your particular brand of truth to all?
M.L.: I must present to them the medicine I know
Then you will say to him, 'Have you seen your own doctor?' You will send
him to his doctor, ask the doctor to take charge of him. You will perhaps
consult that doctor, you will discuss with him the diagnosis, and will
convince him or allow yourself to be convinced by him. But there you are
dealing with a wretched physical thing. Here we are dealing with a spiritual
thing where you cannot go through all these necessary investigations. What
I plead for is humanity. You do not claim freedom from hypocrisy for the
Ceresole: Most of us believe our religion to be the best and they have
not the slightest idea of what other religions have revealed to their adherents.
Dr. -------- has made a careful study of the Hindu scriptures, and he has
observed what Hinduism gives to the Hindus.
I say it is not enough for him to read the Song Celestial or the Koran.
It is necessary for him to read the Koran with Islamic spectacles and the
Gita with Hindu spectacles, just as he would expect me to read the Bible
with Christian spectacles. I would ask him: 'Have you read the Gita as
reverently as I have or even as reverently as I have read the Bible?' I
tell you I have not read as many books on Hinduism as I have about Christianity.
And yet I did not come to the conclusion that Christianity or Hinduism
was the only way.
discussed the instance of Mr. Stokes - now Shri Satyanand - who was, in
his early years in India, nearly killed for preaching Christianity to the
Pathans, but who in a truly Christian spirit secured his assailant's reprieve,
and who in the later years said to himself, 'My faith in Jesus is as bright
as ever, but I cannot deliver the message of Jesus to the Hindus unless
I become a Hindu. Unless I make the Hindus better Hindus I shall not; he
said, 'be true to my Lord.'
But then, wondered the missionary friends, what exactly should be
I think I have made it clear. But I shall say it again in other words:
Just to forget that you have come to a country of heathens, and to think
that they are as much in search of God as you are; just to feel that you
are not going there to give your spiritual goods to them, but that you
will share your worldly goods of which you have a good stock. You will
then do your work without a mental reservation and thereby you will share
your spiritual treasures. The knowledge that you have this reservation
creates a barrier between you and me.
Do you think that because of what you call that mental reservation the
work that one could accomplish would suffer?
I am sure. You would not be half as useful as you would be without the
reservation. The reservation means that you belong to a different and a
higher species, and you make yourself inaccessible to others.
C.: A barrier would be certainly my Western way of living.
No, that can be immediately broken.
Would you be really happy if we stayed at home?
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?
Even in America there is enough scope for educational work.
That is a fatal confession. You are not a superfluity there. But for the
curious position that your Church has taken, you would not be here.
I have come because the Indian women need medical care to a greater ex
tent than American women do. But coupled with that I have a desire to share
my Christian heritage.
That is exactly the position I have been trying to counter. You have already
said that there may be a better way.
No, I meant to say that there may be a better way fifty years hence.
Well we were talking of the present, and you said there might be a better
C.: No, there is no better way today than the one I am following.
That is what I say is assuming too much. You have not examined all religious
beliefs. But even if you had, you may not claim infallibility. You assume
knowledge of all people, which you can do only if you were God. I want
you to understand that you are labouring under a double fallacy: That what
you think is best for you is really so; and that what you regard as the
best for you is the best for the whole world. It is an assumption of omniscience
and infallibility. I plead for a little humility.
Vol.63 p.90-94 (Harijan, 18-7-1936)
Letter to A. Donald Miller
11 July, 1936
course the readers of Harijan should know fully what missionary effort
has done to alleviate the suffering of lepers. It would be churlish of
me or anybody to ignore the medical work of the various missions in India
and elsewhere. My complaint is that that work is not done without an alien
motive behind it. I could not give you an adequate conception of the barrier
that this motive erects between them and the thousands who would gladly
take advantage of medical and other help that missionaries could render.
You will probably rejoin that missionaries are 'not deflected from the
call which they consider to be divine, by knowledge of the barrier. Persons
like me who believe in the essential truth of all religions feel on the
contrary that the proselytizing effort prevents so many Indians from benefiting
by the unadulterated teachings of Jesus which ennobles life in spite of
their not believing in him as the only begotten Son of God.
hope you will not regard this paragraph of my letter as in any way qualifying
my gratefulness for your articles. I felt that it would not be complete
if I did not let you know that my view on proselytization could not in
any way affect my recognition of the good that is done by the mission,
apart from their proselytizing attempt. I need hardly say that this little
discussion of my view is not meant as an invitation to a debate on the
subject. This letter itself does not call for any reply. It is merely meant
to be one of thanks and nothing more. You may expect questions on leprosy
as may be prompted by personal contact with lepers which will probably
be my daily lot.
Discussion with C.F. Andrews
November 9, 1936
Their (missionaries) behaviour has been as bad as that of the rest who
are in the field to add to their numbers. What pains one is their frantic
attempt to exploit the weakness of Harijans. If they said, 'Hinduism
is a diabolical religion and you come to us,' I should understand.
But they dangle earthly paradises in front of them and make promises to
them which they can never keep. When in Bangalore a deputation of Indian
Christians came to me with a number of resolutions which they thought would
please me, I said to them: 'This is no matter for bargain. You must say
definitely that this is a matter to be settled by the Hindus themselves.
Where is the sense of talking of a sudden awakening of spiritual hunger
among the untouchables and then trying to exploit a particular situation?
The poor Harijans have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of difference
between God and no-God. It is absurd for a single individual to talk of
taking all the Harijans with himself. Are they all bricks that they could
be moved from one structure to another? If Christian Missions here want
to play the game, and for that matter Mussalmans and others, they should
have no such idea as that of adding to their ranks whilst a great reform
in Hinduism is going on.
Let me ask one question. I said in Australia that all the talk of Dr Ambedkar
and his followers was not in terms of religion, and I said also that it
was cruelty to bargain with unsophisticated people like the Harijans as
they are in most parts of India. Then came the London Missionary Society's
statement that the Ezhavas in Travancore had asked for Christian instruction.
I said then that the Ezhavas were quite enlightened and if they had really
asked to be instructed in Christianity, it would be an entirely different
matter. Was I right?
I do not think so. Whilst there are individual Ezhavas who are doctors
and barristers and so on, the vast majority of them are just the same as
the Harijans elsewhere. I can assure you that no one representing the vast
body of Ezhavas could have asked for Christian instruction. You should
ascertain the fact from our principal workers there.
I see what you mean. Only I wanted to say that the London Missionary Society
was a liberal body and would not make an irresponsible statement.
But they at the centre cannot know, as the Parliament cannot know the truth
of what is happening in India.
But that apart, I should like to discuss the fundamental position with
you. What would you say to a man who after considerable thought and prayer
said that he could not have his peace and salvation except by becoming
I would say that if a non-Christian, say a Hindu, came to a Christian and
made that statement, he should ask him to become a good Hindu rather than
find goodness in change of faith.
I cannot in this go to the whole length with you, though you know my own
position. I discarded the position that there is no salvation except through
Christ long ago. But supposing the Oxford Group Movement people changed
the life of your son, and he felt like being converted, what would you
I would say that the Oxford Group may change the lives of as many as they
like, but not their religion. They can draw their attention to the best
in their respective religions and change their lives by asking them to
live according to them. There came to me a man, the son of Brahmin parents,
who said his reading of your book had led him to embrace Christianity.
I asked him if he thought that the religion of his forefathers was wrong.
He said 'No'. Then I said: 'Is there any difficulty about your accepting
the Bible as one of the great religious books of the world and Christ as
one of the great teachers?' I said to him that you had never through your
books asked Indians to take up the Bible and embrace Christianity, and
that he had misread your book - unless of course your position is like
that of the late Maulana Mahomed Ali's, viz., that a believing Mussalman,
however bad his life, is better than a good Hindu.
C.FA.: I do not accept Maulana Mahomed Ali's position at all. But I do
say that if a person really needs a change of faith I should not stand
in his way.
But don't you see that you do not even give him a chance? You do not even
cross-examine him. Supposing a Christian came to me and said he was captivated
by a reading of the Bhagavata and so wanted to declare himself a Hindu,
I should say to him: 'No. What the Bhagavata offers the Bible also offers.
You have not yet made the attempt to find it out. Make the attempt and
be a good Christian.'
I don't know If someone earnestly says that he will become a good Christian,
I should say, 'You may become one,' though you know that I have in my own
life strongly dissuaded ardent enthusiasts who came to me. I said to them,
'Certainly not on my account will you do anything of the kind. 'But human
nature does require a concrete faith.
If a person wants to believe in the Bible let him say so, but why should
he disregard his own religion? This proselytization will mean no peace
in the world. Religion is a very personal matter. We should, by living
the life according to our light, share the best with one another, thus
adding to the sum total of human effort to reach God.
whether you are going to accept the position of mutual toleration or of
equality of all religions. My position is that all the great religions
are fundamentally equal. We must have the innate respect for other religions
as we have for our own. Mind you, not mutual toleration, but equal respect.
Vol.64 p.18-20. (Harijan, 28-11-1936)
Ambedkar's Bombshell and Discussion with John R. Mott
13/14 November, 1936
Ambedkar announced in a speech at Nasik in 1935 that he will renounce Hinduism.
In the same year a meeting was held at Yevala in which through a resolution
a decision was taken to the effect that "we should Denounce the Hindu
religion". In that meeting Ambedkar had said, "though both a Hindu
because I could not help it, I would not die as a Hindu." This is the
"bombshell" Gandhi was talking about in the following discussion.
John Mott: Removal of untouchability is the business of your lifetime.
The importance of this movement lies beyond the frontiers of India, and
yet there are few subjects on which there is more confusion of thought.
Take for instance the missionaries and missionary societies. They are not
of one mind. It is highly desirable that we become of one mind and rind
out how far we can help and not hinder I am Chairman of the International
Missionary Council which combines 300 missionary societies in the world.
I have on my desk reports of these societies, and I can say that their
interest in the untouchables is deepening. I should be interested if you
would feel free to tell me where, if anywhere, the missionaries have gone
along wrong lines. Their desire is to help and not to hinder.
I cannot help saying that the activities of the missionaries in this connection
have hurt me. They, with the Mussalmans and the Sikhs, came forward as
soon as Dr. Ambedkar threw the bombshell, and they gave it an importance
out of all proportion to the weight it carried, and then ensured a rivalry
between these organizations. I could understand the Muslim organizations
doing this, as Hindus and Muslims have been quarrelling. The Sikh intervention
is an enigma. But the Christian mission claims to be a purely spiritual
effort. It hurt me to find Christian bodies vying with the Muslims and
Sikhs in trying to add to the numbers of their fold. It seemed to me an
ugly performance and a travesty of religion. They even proceeded to enter
into secret conclaves with Dr. Ambedkar. I should have understood and appreciated
your prayers for the Harijans, but instead you made an appeal to those
who had not even the mind and intelligence to understand what you talked;
they have certainly not the intelligence to distinguish between Jesus and
Mohammed and Nanak and so on.
Dr Mott referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech, and the talks
he had with him, and other bishops and missionary leaders in England, and
emphasized the fact that the Christians should in no way seem to be bidding
with others for the souls of the Indian people. He said he had a reassurance
from the Free as well as the State Church leaders, but in the secular papers
it had got abroad that Dr. Ambedkar could hand over 50 million people to
those who were prepared to accept them. He had sensed that it might mean
a tremendous disservice. He said: "The most trustworthy leaders of Protestant
missionary forces would give to what you have said great heed. They do
believe increasingly in work for the untouchables. Tell us what we can
wisely do and what we cannot wisely do.
So far as this desire of Dr. Ambedkar is concerned, you can look at the
whole movement with utter calmness and indifference. If there is any answer
to Dr. Ambedkar's appeal and if the Harijans and he take the final step
and come to you, you can take such steps as your conscience suggests. But
today it seems unseemly and precipitate to anticipate what Dr. Ambedkar
and Harijans are going to do.
Andrews referred with condemnation to the Lucknow Conference a, id Dr.
Mott said that what the Conference did was not authoritative.
It becomes authoritative owing to the silence of Christian bodies. If they
had disowned all that happened it would have been well, but those who met
at Lucknow perhaps felt that they were voicing the views of the missionary
bodies who, in their opinion, were not moving fast enough. (See also p.
But there was a disclaimer
If there was, it did not travel beyond the English Channel.
But there is a deplorable confusion of thought and divided counsel even
amongst friends. The Devil would like nothing better. My life has been
mostly spent for the intellectual classes, and I feel very much conscience-moved
to help in this movement.
cited the example of good Christians helping by working under the Hindu
banner. There was Mr. Keithahn who was trying hard to smooth the path of
the untouchables. There were Miss Barr and Miss Madden who had thrown themselves
into the rural reconstruction movement. He then adverted to the problem
in Travancore where an indecent competition was going on for enticing away
the Ezhavas from the Hindu fold.
Ezhavas in Travancore want temple-entry. But it is no use your asking me
whether they want temple-entry. Even if they do not want it, I must see
that they enjoy the same rights as I enjoy, and so the reformers there
are straining every nerve to open the temple doors.
But must we not serve them?
Of course you will, but not make conversion the price of your service.
J.M. I agree that we ought to serve them whether they become Christians
or not. Christ offered no inducements. He offered service and sacrifice.
If Christians want to associate themselves with this reform movement they
should do so without any idea of conversion.
Apart from this unseemly competition, should they not preach the Gospel
with reference to its acceptance?
Would you, Dr. Mott, preach the Gospel to a cow? Well, some of the untouchables
are worse than cows in understanding. I mean they can no more distinguish
between the relative merits of Islam and Hinduism and Christianity than
a cow. You can only preach through your life. The rose does not say: 'Come
and smell me.'
But Christ said: 'Preach and Teach', and also that Faith cometh by hearing,
and hearing by the word of God. There was a day when I was an unbeliever.
The J. E. K Studd of Cambridge, a famous cricketer, visited my University
on an evagelistic mission and cleared the air for me. His life and splendid
example alone would not have answered my question and met my deepest need,
but I listened to him and was converted. First and foremost we must live
the life; but then by wise and sympathetic unfolding of essential truth
we must shed light on processes and actions and attitudes, and remove intellectual
difficulties so that it may lead us into the freedom which is freedom indeed.
You do not want the Christians to withdraw tomorrow?
No. But I do not want you to come in the way of our work, if you cannot
The whole Christian religion is the religion of sharing our life, and how
can we share without supplementing our lives with words?
Then what they are doing in Travancore is correct? There may be a difference
of degree in what you say and what they are doing, but there is no difference
of quality. If you must share it with the Harijans, why don't you share
it with Thakkarbapa and Mahadev? Why should you go to the untouchables
and try to exploit this upheaval? Why not come to us instead?
The whole current discussion since the Ambedkar declaration has become
badly mixed with other unworthy motives, which must be eliminated. Jesus
said. 'Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.' A good Christian has to testify
what he has experienced in his own life or as a result of his own observation.
We are not true as His followers, if we are not true Witnesses of Christ.
He said: 'Go and teach and help through the mists and lead them out into
Deenabandhu Andrews here asked to be permitted to put forward a concordant.
He said: "There are fundamental differences between you and the missionaries,
and yet -- are the friend of missionaries. But you feel that they are not
playing the game. You want the leaders of the Church to say: 'We do not
want to fish in troubled waters; we shall do nothing to imply that we are
taking advantage of a peculiar situation that has arisen.'
I do not think it is a matter which admits of any compromise at all. It
is a deeply religious problem and each should do what he likes. If your
conscience tells you that the present effort is your mission, you need
not give any quarter to Hindu reformers. I can simply state my belief that
what the missionaries are doing today does not show spirituality.
What are the governing ideals and aims of this Indian Village Industries
movement? What is the object of your settling down in this little village?
The immediate object of my stay in Segaon is to remove to the best of my
ability the appalling ignorance, poverty and the still more appalling insanitation
of the Indian villages. All these really run into one another. We seek
to remove ignorance not through imparting the knowledge of the alphabet
by word of mouth, but by giving them object-lessons in sanitation, by telling
them what is happening in the world, and so on.
What you are doing here has great industrial significance. Japan with about
as high a rate of literacy as any country in the world is not exempt from
the sins of industrialism.
But I am not seeking to industrialize the village. I want to revive the
village after the ancient pattern, i.e., to revive hand-spinning, hand-ginning,
and its other vital handicrafts. The village uplift movement is an offshoot
of the spinning movement. So great was my ignorance in 1908-1909 that I
mixed up the spinning-wheel with the loom in my small book on Indian Home
What is the cause of your greatest concern, your heaviest burden?
My greatest worry is the ignorance and poverty of the masses of India,
and the way in which they have been neglected by the classes, especially
the neglect of the Harijans by the Hindus. This criminal neglect is unwarranted
by any of the scriptures. We are custodians of a great religion and yet
we have been guilty of a crime which constitutes our greatest shame. Had
I not been a believer in the inscrutable ways of Providence, a sensitive
man like me would have been a raving maniac.
J.M.: What affords you the greatest hope and satisfaction?
Faith in myself born of faith in God.
In moments when your heart may sink within you, you hark back to this faith
Yes. That is why I have always described myself as an irrespressible optimist.
J.M.: So am I. Our difficulties are our salvation. They make us hark back
to the living God.
Yes. My difficulties have strengthened my faith which rises superior to
every difficulty, and remains undimmed. My darkest hour was when I was
in Bombay a few months ago. It was the hour of my temptation. Whilst I
was asleep I suddenly felt as though I wanted to see a woman. Well a man
who had tried to rise superior to the sex instinct for nearly 40 years
was bound to be intensely pained when he had this frightful experience.
I ultimately conquered the feeling, but I was face to face with the blackest
moment of my life and if I had succumbed to it, it would have meant my
absolute undoing. I was stirred to the depths because strength and peace
come from a life of continence. Many Christian friends are jealous of the
peace I possess. It comes from God who has blessed me with the strength
to battle against temptation.
I agree. 'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.'
If money is to be given to India, in what ways can it be wisely given without
causing any harm? Will money be of any value?
No. When money is given it can only do harm. It has got to be earned when
it is required. I am convinced that the American and British money which
has been voted for missionary societies has done more harm than good. You
cannot serve God and mammon both. And my fear is that mammon has been sent
to serve India and God has remained behind, with the result that He will
one day have His vengeance. When the American says, 'I will serve you through
money,' I dread him. I simply say to him: 'Send us your engineers not to
earn money but to give us the benefit of their scientific knowledge.'
But money is stored-up personality. It can be badly used as well as well
used. Through money you can get the services of a good engineer But far
more dangerous than money is human personality. It makes possible the good
as well as the bad use of money Kagawa of Japan admits the use of money
and machinery is attended with peril but insists, and I agree with him,
that Christ is able to dominate both the money and the machine.
I have made the distinction between money given and money earned. If an
American says he wants to serve India, and you packed him off here, I should
say we had not earned his services. But take Pierre Ceresole who came at
his own expense, but after our consent, to serve earthquake-stricken Bihar.
We would love to have as many Ceresoles as could possibly come to our help.
No. It is my certain conviction based on experience that money plays the
least part in matters of spirit.
If money is the root of evil, we are living in a time when there is more
money than ever was before.
Which means that there is more evil in the world.
Vol.64 p.35-41 (Harijan, 19-12-1936 and 26-12-1936)
Note: John Mott was an American evangelist, a prominent Y.M.C.A.
leader and Chairman, International Missionary Council.
Discussion with Basil Mathews acid others
24 November, 1936
Mathews referred to the Archbishop of Canterbury's speech at the Central
Hall, Westminster. Gandhiji said:
is a question to which I have given great thought and I am convinced that
if Christian missions will sincerely play the game, no matter what may
be their policy under normal circumstances, they must withdraw from the
indecent competition to convert the Harijans. Whatever the Archbishop of
Canterbury and others may say, what is done here in India in the name of
Christianity is wholly different from what they say. There are others in
the field also, but as a devotee of truth I say that if there is any difference
between their methods, it is one of degree and not of kind. I know of representatives
of different religions standing on the same platform and vying with one
another to catch the Harijan-ear. To dignify this movement with the name
of spiritual hunger is a travesty of truth. Arguing on the highest plane
I said to Dr. Mott, if they wanted to convert Harijans had they not better
begin to convert me? I am a trifle more intelligent than they, and therefore
more receptive to the influences of reason that could be brought to bear
upon me. But to approach the Pulayas and Pariahs with their palsied hands
and paralysed intelligence is no Christianity. No, whilst our reform movement
is going on, all religious minded people should say: Rather than obstruct
their work let us support them in their work.
Do not the roots of the reform movement go back to the missionary movement?
Did not the missionaries wake up the reformers and make a certain amount
of stir among the untouchables?
I do not think that the missionary movement was responsible for a stirring
of the right kind. I agree that it stung the reformers to the quick and
awakened them to their sense of duty. They say: 'Here is some good work
being done by these missionaries; they open schools and hospitals, train
nurses. Why don't we do these things for our own people?' And they try
to do something in indifferent imitation.
M.: You have spoken of some good work being done by missionaries. Should
not we go on with it?
Oh yes. Do, by all means. But give up what makes you objects of suspicion
and demoralizes us also. We go to your hospitals with the mercenary motive
of having an operation performed, but with no object of responding to what
is at the back of your mind, even as our children do when they go to Bible
classes in their colleges and then laugh at what they read there. I tell
you our conversation at home about these missionary colleges is not at
all edifying. Why then spoil your good work with other motives?
Mathews was curious to know if Gandhiji followed any spiritual practices
and what special reading he had found helpful.
I am a stranger to yogic practices. The practice I follow is a practice
I learnt in my childhood from my nurse. I was afraid of ghosts. She used
to say to me: 'There are no ghosts, but if you are afraid, repeat Ramanama'.
What I learnt in my childhood has become. a huge thing in my mental firmament.
It is a sun that has brightened my darkest hour. A Christian may find the
same solace from the repetition of the name of Jesus and a Muslim from
the name of Allah. All these things have the same implications and they
produce identical results under identical circumstances. Only the repetition
must not be a lip expression, but part of your very being. About helpful
readings we have regular readings of the Bhagavad Gita and we have now
reached a stage when we finish the Gita every week by having readings of
appointed chapters every morning. Then we have hymns from the various saints
of India and we therein include hymns from the Christian hymn book. As
Khan Saheb is with us, we have readings from the Koran also. We believe
in the equality of all religions. I derive the greatest consolation from
my reading of Tulsidas's Ramayana. I have also derived solace from the
Testament and the Koran. I don't approach them with a critical mind.
They are to me as important as the Bhagavad Gita, though everything
in the former may not appeal to me - everything in the Epistles of Paul
for instance, nor everything in Tulsidas. The Gita is a pure religious
discourse given without any embelishment. It simply describes the progress
of the pilgrim soul towards the Supreme Goal. Therefore there is no question
You are really a Protestant.
I do not know what I am or not; Mr. Hodge will call me a Presbyterian.
Where do you find the seat of authority?
to his breast, Gandhiji said:
lies here. I exercise my judgement about every scripture, including the
Gita. I cannot let a scriptural text supersede my reason. Whilst I believe
that the principal books are inspired, they suffer from a process of double
distillation. Firstly, they come through a human prophet, and then through
the commentaries of interpreters. Nothing in them comes from God directly.
Mathew may give one version of one text and John may give another. I cannot
surrender my reason whilst I subscribe to Divine revelation. And above
all, 'the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life.' But you must
not misunderstand my position. I believe in Faith also, in things where
Reason has no place, e.g., the existence of God. No argument can move me
from that faith, and like that little girl who repeated against all reason
'yet we are seven' I would like to repeat, on being baffled in argument
by a very superior intellect, 'Yet there is God.'
Vol.64 p. 73- 75
Work of the Missionaries: Answers to Questions
1 December, 1936
Question: Do you see a reason for Christian workers in the West to come
here, and if so what is their contribution?
Answer: In the manner in which they are working, there would seem to be
no room for them. Quite unconsciously they do harm to themselves and so
to us. It is perhaps impertinent for me to say that they do harm to themselves,
but quite pertinent to say that they do harm to us. They do harm to those
amongst whom they work and those amongst whom they do not work, i.e., the
harm is done to the whole of India. They present a Christianity of their
belief but not the message of Jesus as I understand it. The more I study
their activities the more sorry I become. There is such a gross misunderstanding
of religion on the part of those who are intelligent, very far advanced
and whose motives need not be questioned. It is a tragedy that such a thing
should happen in the human family.
Q. You are referring to things as they are at present. Do you visualize
a situation in which there is a different approach?
A. Your ability is unquestioned. You can utilize all those abilities for
the service of India which she would appreciate. That can only happen if
there are no mental reservations. If you come to give education, you must
give it after the Indian pattern. You should sympathetically study our
institutions and suggest changes. But you come with preconceived notions
and seek to destroy. If people from the West came on Indian terms, they
would supply a felt want. When Americans come and ask me what service they
could render, I tell them: 'if you dangle your millions before us, you
will make beggars of us and demoralize us.' But in one thing I do not mind
being a beggar. I would beg of you your scientific talent. You can ask
your engineers and agricultural expects to place their services at our
disposal. They must not come to us as our lords and masters but as voluntary
workers. a paid servant would throw up his job any day, but a volunteer
worker could not do so. If such come, the more the merrier. A Mysore engineer
who is a Pole(1) has sent me a box of hand-made tools made to suit village
requirements. Supposing an engineer of that character comes and studies
our tools and our cottage machines and suggests improvements in them, he
would be of great service. If you do this kind of work in a religious spirit
you will have delivered the message of Jesus.
There is this mood abroad in the world.
A. I would like to see it amongst missionaries in general in India.
What would happen if there is an increase in the process of multiplying
A. If there is an appreciable increase, there would be blood feuds between
Harijans themselves, more savage than the feuds we have in Bombay. Fifty
per cent of the residents in Segaon are Harijans. Supposing you stole away
10 Harijans and built a church for them, you would set up father against
son, and son against father, and you would find texts in the Bible to support
your action. That would be a caricature of Christianity.
Gandhiji explained that the whole story of the sudden uprush of spiritual
hunger among the millions of untouchables was absurd. A speech at Central
Hall, Westminster, made by Bishop Pickett, of which he had read a report
in the Church Times, had greatly shocked him. He said:
has made such extravagant statements that I would want a demonstration
of them - even of the statement that millions were seeking to be converted.
Q. Apart from the contribution through the realm of scientific achievement,
evangelism seems to be out of the question in establishing relationships
between East and West?
A. I do say that. But I speak with a mental reservation. I cannot only
reconcile myself to - I must recognize a fact in nature which it is useless
to gainsay - I mean proper evangelization. When you feel you have received
peace from your particular interpretation of the Bible, you share it with
others. But you do not need to give vocal expression to it. Your whole
life is more eloquent than your lips. Language is always an obstacle to
the full expression of thought. How, for instance, will you tell a man
to read the Bible as you read it, how by word of mouth will you transfer
to him the light as you receive it from day to day and moment to moment?
Therefore all religions say: 'Your life is your speech.' If you are humble
enough you will say you cannot adequately represent your religion by speech
But may not one in all humility say, 'I know that my life falls far short
of the ideal: let me explain the ideal I stand for'?
A. No. You bid good-bye to humility the moment you say that life is not
adequate and that you must supplement it by speech. Human species need
not go to animals and shout to them: 'We are humans. 'The animals know
them as humans. The language of the soul never lends itself to expression.
It rises superior to the body. Language is a limitation of the truth which
can be only represented by life.
Q. How then is experience to be passed on from generation to generation
without some articulate expression?
A. There is no occasion for articulate expression. Life is its own expression.
I take the simile of the rose I used years ago. The rose does not need
to write a book or deliver a sermon on the scent it sheds all around, nor
on the beauty which everyone who has eyes can see. Well, spiritual life
is infinitely superior to the beautiful and fragrant rose, and I make bold
to say that the moment there is a spiritual expression in life, the surroundings
will readily respond. There are passages in the Bible, the Gita, the Bhagavata,
the Koran, which eloquently show this. "Wherever", we read, "Krishna appeared,
people acted like those possessed." The same thing about Jesus. Spiritual
life has greater potency than Marconi waves. When there is no medium between
me and my Lord and I simply become a willing vessel for his influences
to flow into it, then I overflow as the water of the Ganges at its source.
There is no desire to speak when one lives the truth. Truth is most economical
of words. There is thus no truer or other evangelism than life.
But if a person were to ask the source of such a life, what then?
A. Then you will speak, but your language will be well thought out. You
will yourself feel that. It defies expression. But then the questioner
probes further, if he is a searcher. Then you will draw him to you. You
will not need to go to him. Your fame will so spread that people from all
parts of the world will flock to see you and listen to you. You will then
speak to them.
You see any indication that there is a drawing together of those who have
intimations of a higher life?
A. Yes. But not through these organizations. They are a bar to the process.
Why am I at Segaon? Because I believe that my message will have a better
chance of penetrating the masses of India, and may be through them to the
world. I am otherwise not a man capable a shutting myself up. But I am
so downright natural that once I feel a call I go forward with it, whatever
happens. Mr. Hofmeyer(2) of the South African Delegation appreciated any
desire not to move out: he did not resent it as pride or indifference.
Economy of words and action has therefore its value. Only it has to be
Vol.64 p.98-101. (Harijan, 12-12-1936)
1: Maurice Frydman
2. He visited India in September 1936
Extravagant Statements By Missionaries
January 19, 1937
Interview to Bishop Moore, Bishop Abraham and Others
Moore received Gandhiji cordially and welcomed the Temple-entry Proclamation
(in Travancore) as an important event. He inquired if the savarnas and
Brahmins also welcomed it, or if there was any opposition on their part.
said he had seen no signs of opposition. He had met several thousands of
people, visited several temples, and had found savarnas and avarnas entering
the temples in perfect friendliness.
Abraham asked if the Ezhavas were ready to treat the Depressed Classes
of lower castes on terms of equality.
said he could not reply with confidence but he was striving to emphasize
that point everywhere, and he hoped that the Proclamation would be carried
out in that spirit.
Moore said that he had heard that Mr Gandhi was disturbed over reports
of Christian missionary work in Travancore, and that he was ready to remove
any misunderstanding that it was possible for him to remove.
said that he was indeed surprised at the report of conversions of thousands
of people in the Telugu country and in Travancore made in Bishop Pickett's
speech in England and in a statement of the Church Missionary Society appealing
for funds over the signature of Prebendary Cash. He could not understand
how responsible Christians could make extravagant statements to the effect
that thousands had experienced a spiritual awakening and accepted the Gospel.
The Bishop of Dornakal had even stated that those thousands included not
only the Depressed Classes but a large number of so-called high-caste Hindus.
Gandhiji said he had challenged the truth of these statements in the columns
of Harijan and had invited them to prove that he was wrong. He had also
met leaders working in Andhra and asked them to make inquiries into the
truth of these extravagant statements.
Moore, confessed that he had trot read either the appeal for funds or Bishop
Pickett's speech and could not, therefore, express any opinion thereon.
He was quite sure, however, that no responsible missionary journal should
ever publish statements that were not based on actual facts, and he wanted
to assure Mr. Gandhi that no wrong information had ever been supplied from
his diocese for which alone he could speak. During the last year they could
record 530 persons as having been baptized into the Anglican faith.
Bishop Abraham said he had been to the Andhra country and had seen with
his won eyes that there was a tremendous awakening there even among the
middle-class savarnas he had addressed meetings which were attended by
many of the high-caste people.
But that means nothing. Hundreds of students attend meetings addressed
by Dr. Stanley Jones, but they cannot be said to seek conversion to Christianity.
To say that hundreds attended meetings addressed by Christian preachers
is very different from saying that hundreds have accepted the message of
Jesus and from making an appeal for money in anticipation of people becoming
Christian in large numbers.
Kuruvilla here put in whether Mr. Gandhi had any objection to their stimulating
and responding to the spiritual hunger of people.
said it was wholly irrelevant to the issue.
Abraham said they were responding to the spiritual hunger of the people.
Mr. Gandhi could have no objection to that?
said he could have no objection to responding to spiritual hunger, provided
it was genuinely felt and expressed. But the matter was quite irrelevant
to the discussion which was entirely about extravagant statements made
by responsible people. He said to Bishop Moore that he would furnish him
with a copy of the C. M. S. statement and he would like to know what Bishop
Moore would have to say regarding it.
Vol.64 p.285-86. (Harijan, 13-3-1937)
Note: The interview took place at Bishop Moore's house at Kottayam.
The object was to clear up misunderstandings.
Amrit Kaur's Views
January 30, 1937
Amrit Kaur was with me during the Travancore pilgrimage. Though she could
not enter the temples, she followed the pilgrimage in all other respects.
She has felt moved by what she observed during the pilgrimage, and has
placed in my hands the following letter which I dare not withhold from
am of opinion that the missionary with the best intention in the world
- for we must credit him with honesty of purpose - has wronged Indian Christian
in more ways than one. Many converts here have been denationalized, e.g.,
even their names have been changed in many instances to those of Europeans;
they have been told that there is no true light to be found in the religion
of their forefathers. The ancient scriptures of their ancestors are a closed
book to them. At the same time, while there has been no conscious effort
to purge the Indian Church of the taint of untouchability that exists within
its own doors, the untouchability that exists in Hinduism has been exploited
to the extent of so-called Christianity of the Depressed Classes. I say'
so-called Christianity' advisedly, because I know that not one of these
poor people to whom I have spoken and I have spoken to many - has been
able to tell me anything of the spiritual implications of his change of
faith. That he is equally ignorant of the faith of his forefathers and
has been sadly neglected by his own community does not seem to me to be
ample or any reason for transplanting him to an alien soil where he can
find no root.
utterances during your pilgrimage of penitence in Travancore have been
a great joy. In particular do I rejoice in your special message to the
Christian community at Kottayam. In admitting once again the equality of
all religions you have given Christians much food for thought, and I hope
and pray that this will be the beginning of an era of self-purification
for them no less than for the members of the Hindu fold. Are we not all
Hindus inasmuch as we are the children of Hind? Is there not room for Jesus
in Hinduism? There must be. I cannot believe that any who seek to worship
God in spirit and in truth are outside the pale of any of the great religions
which draw their inspiration from Him who is the fountain-head of all Truth.
I am sure I am not the only Indian born in the Christian faith who holds
these views, but I feel that if the teaching and example of Jesus are to
enrich the life of our country, Indian Christians must turn the search-light
inwards and seek to serve in that spirit of humility and tolerance which
is the essence of all true religions and without which there can be no
unity and no peace and goodwill on earth.
you not help the Indian Christian to realize his mission? You can, because
you have drawn inspiration from Jesus' undying teachings as embodied in
the Sermon on the Mount. We assuredly stand in need of guidance.
to her close contact with me there was hesitation on my part over the publication.
But the knowledge that she has very imperfectly voiced what other Christian
friends have told me has overcome my hesitation. But I do not feel competent
to guide Indian Christians. I can, however, appeal to them as I did at
Kottayam and as I have done before then through these columns. I am on
safer ground in responding to the Rajkumari's belief that there is in Hinduism
room enough for Jesus, as there is for Mahomed, Zoroaster and Moses. For
me the different religions are beautiful flowers from the same garden,
or they are branches of the same majestic tree. Therefore they are equally
true, though being received and interpreted through human instruments equally
imperfect. It is impossible for me to reconcile myself to the idea of conversion
after the style that goes on in India and elsewhere today. It is an error
which is perhaps the greatest impediment to the world's progress towards
peace. 'Warring creeds' is a blasphemous expression. And it fitly describes
the state of things in India, the mother, as I believe her to be, of religion
or religions. If she is truly the mother, the motherhood is on trial. Why
should a Christian want to convert a Hindu to Christianity and vice
versa? Why should he not be satisfied if the Hindu is a good or godly
man? If the morals of a man are a matter of no concern, the form of worship
in a particular manner in a church, a mosque or a temple is an empty formula,
it may even be a hindrance to individual or social growth, and insistence
on a particular form or repetition of a credo may be a potent cause of
violent quarrels leading to bloodshed and ending in utter disbelief in
religion, i.e., God Himself.
Vol.64 p.325-27 (Harijan. 30-1-1937)
Note: Rajkumari Amrit Kaur belonged to the royal family of Kapurthala
(Punjab) and was daughter of Sir Harnam Singh who had embraced Christianity.
Thus Amrit Kaur was a Christian though a devoted disciple of Gandhi like
several other Christians.
March 6, 1937
As Others See Us
is a letter which has been lying on my file for some time:
attitude towards religious conversion and particularly the hope you entertain
for the Depressed Classes within the fold of Hinduism, overlooks the prevalent
practices of Hinduism as it exists in India today.
religion is judged by its fruits. Here is a contrast. Take the case of
the Christian religion, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant. The funds
that are collected from the rich and poor are carefully accounted for and
repaid in the form of medical and educational service. Religious worship
is open to all alike. The number of schools, colleges, dispensaries, hospitals
and orphanages admirably served by their religious institutions bear eloquent
testimony to the quality of faith that is in them. It is not a theology
and philosophy which they possess but the self-sacrificing service which
they render in abundant measure towards all that is a contrast to the service
rendered by the temples and mutts (A Hindu monastery). What are the uses
of the wealth of temples and mutts? Are not these weapons of superstition
and oppression? The heads of these mutts live princely lives with vast
endowments. I am informed that there are regular lawyers to collect dues
and serve the interests of these religious heads, swamis and gurus. This
state of affairs is an oppression worse than popery in its worst days.
Not merely the accumulated wealth and the annual collections, which in
all these mutts must amount to several crores, are never properly accounted
for, but this gigantic system of ghastly exploitation continues to be supported
by the most intellectual leaders of the people as if Hindu society will
break up by questioning it. This is practical Hinduism. Why should there
be any surprise that the Depressed Classes alone should revolt against
a system which denies them equal rights to worship the Deity but keeps
them also in perpetual social excommunication? Why is it that no one ventures
to question the priestly oppression, this draining away annually the wealth
of the people without any service whatever?
It is exploitation by religious
heads that has crushed the people, and the money-lender and the State combined
have finished the process. It is not more work and harder work, and the
variety of cottage industries that these half-dead half-living masses require,
but more vocational schools and dispensaries, maternity and child-welfare
centres and better food. If the State is not moved very easily by your
Herculean endeavours, Hinduism requires a far more drastic purge as it
has been established some thousands of years longer than this alien Government.
and priests of the Christian religion, in spite of the fierce criticism
levelled against them in this land and every other country, render humanitarian
service unequalled by any other class of human beings who follow any other
faith or no faith, and are approchable to all people.
is good to see ourselves as others see us. Try as we may, we are never
able to know ourselves fully as we are, especially the evil side of us.
This we can do only if we are not angry with our critics but will fake
in good part whatever they might have to say. Anyway, I propose to examine
the foregoing criticism as dispassionately as I can. The grave limitations
of Hinduism as it is seen today in practice must be admitted. Many mutts
and their administration are undoubtedly a disgrace to Hinduism. The money
that is poured into some of them does not return to the worshippers in
the form of service. The state of things must be ended or mended.
work done by Christian missions must also be admitted.
these admissions of mine must not be interpreted to mean endorsement of
the deductions of the writer. Economic and educational relief is required
by most poor Indians in common with Harijans. But the latter suffer from
special disabilities. It is not a question of what disabilities they resent.
It is the duty of the so-called superior Hindus to break the chains that
bind the Harijans even though they may hug them. The admission by the writer
of the sublimity of Hinduism as expounded by Vivekanand and Radhakrishnan
should have led to his discovery of its percolation down to the masses.
I make bold to say that in spite of the crudeness which one sees among
the villagers, class considered, in all that is good in human nature they
compare favourably with any villagers in the world. This testimony is borne
out by the majority of travellers whom from the times of Huen Tsang down
to the present times have recorded their impressions. The innate culture
that the villagers of India show, the art which one sees in the homes of
the poor, the restraint with which the villagers conduct themselves, are
surely due to the religion that has bound them together from time immemorial.
his zeal to belittle Hinduism, the writer ignores the broad fact that Hinduism
has produced a race of reformers who have successfully combated prejudices,
superstitions and abuses. Without any drum-beating Hinduism has devised
a system of relief of the poor which has been the envy of many foreign
admirers. I myself feel that it leaves much to be desired. It has its evil
side. But from the philanthropic standpoint it has wholly justified itself.
It is not the Indian habit to advertise charities through printed reports
and the like. But he who runs may see the free kitchens and free medical
relief given along indigenous lines.
writer belittles village work. It betrays gross ignorance. If the mutts
and the revenue offices were extinguished and free schools were opened,
the people would not be cured of their inertia. Mutts must be reformed;
the revenue system must be overhauled, free primary schools must be established
in every village. But starvation will not disappear because people pay
no revenue and mutts are destroyed and schools spring up in every
village. The greatest education in the villages consists in the villagers
being taught or induced to work methodically and profitably all the year
round whether it be on the land or at industries connected with the villages.
my correspondent seems to resent acceptance by us of humanitarian services
by missionaries. Will he have an agitation led against these missionary
institutions? Why should they have non-Christian aid? They are established
with the view of gleaning Indians from their ancestral faith even as expounded
by Vivekanand and Radhakrishnan. Let them isolate the institutions from
the double purpose. It will be time enough then to expect non-Christian
aid. The critic must be aware of the fact that even as it is some of these
institutions do get non-Christian aid. My point is that there should be
no complaint if they do not receive such aid so long as they have an aim
which is repugnant to the non-Christian sentiment.
Vol.64 p.425-27 Harijan, 6-3-1937
An Unfortunate Document
April 3, 1937
highly educated Indian Christians occupying important social positions
have issued a joint manifesto setting forth their views on the missionary
work among Harijans. The document has been published in the Indian
Press. I was disinclined to publish it in Harijan, as after having read
it more than once I could not bring myself to say anything in its favour
and I felt that a critical review of it might serve no useful purpose.
But I understand that my criticism is expected and will be welcomed no
matter how candid and strong it may be.
reader will find the manifesto published in full in this issue. The heading(1)
is also the authors'. They seem to have fallen between two stools in their
attempt to sit on both. They have tried to reconcile the irreconcilable.
If one section of Christians has been aggressively open and militant, the
other represented by the authors of the manifesto is courteously patronizing.
They would not be aggressive for the sake of expedience. The purpose of
the manifesto is not to condemn uniquivocally the method of converting
the illiterate and the ignorant but to assert the right of preaching the
Gospel to the millions of Harijans. The key to the manifesto is contained
in paragraphs 7 and 8. This is what one reads in paragraph 7:
and women individually and in family or village groups will continue to
seek the fellowship of the Christian Church. That is the real movement
of the Spirit of God. And no power on earth can stem that tide. It will
be the duty of the Christian Church in India to receive such seekers after
the truth as it is in Jesus Christ and provide for them instruction and
spiritual nurture. The Church will cling to its right to receive such people
into itself from whatever religious group they may come. It will cling
to the further right to go about in these days of irreligion and materialism
to awaken spiritual hunger in all."
few sentences are a striking instance of how the wish becomes father to
the thought. It is an unconscious process but not on that account less
open to criticism. Men and women do not seek the fellowship of the Christian
Church. Poor Harijans are no better than the others. I wish they had real
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 vendor of goods. He has no special spiritual
merit that will - distinguish him from those to whom he goes. He does,
however, possess material goods which he promises to those who will come
to his fold. Then mark, the duty of the Christian Church in India turns
into a right. Now when duty becomes a right it ceases to be a duty. Performance
of a duty requires one quality - that of suffering and introspection. Exercise
of a right requires a quality that gives the power to impose one's will
upon the resister through sanctions devised by the claimant or the law
whose aid he invokes in the exercise of his right. I have the duty of paying
my debt, but I have no right to thrust the owed coppers (say) into the
pocket of an unwilling creditor. The duty of taking spiritual message is
performed by the messenger becoming a fit vehicle by prayer and fasting.
Conceived as a right, it may easily become an imposition on unwilling parties.
the manifesto, undoubtedly designed to allay suspicion and soothe the ruffled
feelings of Hindus, in my opinion, fails to accomplish its purpose. On
the contrary, it leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I venture to suggest
to the authors that they need to reexamine their position in the light
of my remarks. Let them recognize the fundamental difference between rights
and duties. In the spiritual sphere, there is no such thing as a right.
1. The heading of the manifesto was. "Our Duty to the Depressed and Backward
Note: The signatories were: K.K. Chandy, S. Gnanaprakasam, S. Gurubatham,
S. Jesudasen, M. P. Job, G. Joseph, K.I. Matthai, A. A. Paul, S.E. Ranganadham,
A.N. Sudarsanam, O. F.E. Zacharia, D.M. Devasahayam, G.V. Martyn.
Vol.65 P. 47-48 (Harijan, 3-4-1937)
Discussion with a Missionary
April 14, 1937
I have been following your comments on the statement regarding mass movement
made by the Indian Christians. I wonder if those who made the statement
were thinking of anything in the nature of a legal right. It is, I think,
a moral right they claim here rather than a legal one.
My criticism would apply even if they had used the word 'moral right'.
But it is clear that they mean a legal right, because for one thing there
is no such thing as a moral right, and secondly because in the very next
para of the manifesto, in which they have referred to the Karachi Resolution
on Fundamental Rights, they make it clear that they mean by 'right' legal
right. A moral right, if there is any such thing, does not need any asserting
main purpose of the manifesto was to check the agitation that is going
on in certain quarters. I admit that if it was meant to be a protest, it
was not properly drafted.
is why I have called it "an unfortunate document." And is there anything
like a moral right? Give me an illustration.
Have I not a moral right to speak?
It is not a moral right, but a legal right. There is no right but is legal.
Divorced from legality moral right is a misnomer. And therefore you either
enforce a right or fight for it. Whereas nobody asserts one's duty. He
humbly performs it. I shall take an illustration. You are here. You feel
like preaching to me the Gospel. I deny the right and ask you to go away.
If you regard praying for me a duty, you will quietly go away and pray
for me. But if you claim the right to preach to me, you will call the police
and appeal to them for preventing my obstructing you. That leads to a clash.
But your duty no one dare question. You perform it here or elsewhere, and
if your prayers to God to change my heart are genuine, God will change
my heart. What Christianity, according to my interpretation of it, expects
you to do is to pray to God to change my heart. Duty is a debt. Right belongs
to a creditor, and it would be a funny thing indeed if a devout Christian
claimed to be a creditor.
You have objected to Christian propaganda on the ground that Harijans are
illiterate and ignorant. What would you say of propaganda amongst non-Harijans?
I have the same objection, because the vast mass of people of India would
not understand the pros and cons of Christianity better than a cow. I repeat
this simile in spite of the fact that it has been objected to. When I say
I do not understand logarithms any better than my cow, I do not mean any
insult to my intelligence. In matters of theology the non-Harijans masses
can understand no better than Harijans. I would take you to Segaon and
show you that there is no distinction, so far as capacity to understand
such things is concerned, between Harijans and non-Harijans. Try to preach
the principles of Christianity to my wife. She can understand them no better
than my cow. I can, because of the training that I have had.
But we do not preach any theology. We simply talk of the life of Christ
and tell them what a comfort His life and teaching have been to us. He
has been our guide, we say and ask others also to accept Him as their guide.
G. Oh yes, you do say that. But when you say I must accept Jesus in preference
to Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, you will have to go into deep waters. That
is why I say, let your life speak to us, even as the rose needs no speech
but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose
perceive its fragrance. That is the secret of the Gospel of the rose. But
the Gospel that Jesus preached is more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel
of the rose. If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ
need any agent.
M. But then your objection is to the commercial aspect of the Christian
propaganda. Every true Christian will agree that no baits should be offered.
G. But what else is Christianity as it is preached nowadays? Not unless you
isolate the proselytizing aspect from your educational and medical institutions
are they any worth. Why should students attending Mission schools and colleges
be compelled or even expected to attend Bible classes? If they must understand
the message of Jesus, why not also of Buddha, Zoroaster and Mahomed? Why
should the bait of education be offered for giving education (sic)?
That was the old way, not the modern way.
I can cite to you any number of modern examples. Is not the Bishop of Dornakal
a modern? And what else is his open letter to the Depressed Classes of
India? It is full of baits.
He represents a type of Christianity which I do not approve. But where
there is no compulsion to attend the Bible classes, and only education
is given, what objection is there to educational institution run by Missions?
There is a subtle kind of propaganda when you expect students to attend
As regards hospitals, I think philanthropy without the dynamic(s) of some
religious teaching will not tell.
Then you commercialize your gift, for at the back of your mind is the feeling
that because of your service some day the recipient of the gift will accept
Christ. Why should not your service be its own reward?
But leave alone these. I think I can cite instances of exceptionally fine
people who attract people to them by the example of their lives.
I too can cite such instances. Andrews is one such. But they are exceptions.
But then you must judge Christianity by its best representatives, and not
I am not judging Christianity as a religion. I am talking of the way Christianity
is being propagated, and you cannot judge it by exceptions, even as you
may not judge the British system of Government by some fine specimens of
Englishmen. No, let us think of the bulk of your people who preach the
Gospel. Do they spread the perfume of their lives? That is to me the sole
criterion. All I want them to do is to live Christian lives, not to annotate
them. I have come to this view after laborious and prayerful search, and
I am glad to say that there is a growing body of Christians who accept
Then, I should be obliged to hear from you your attitude to the personality
I have often made it clear. I regard Jesus as a great teacher of humanity,
but I do not regard him as the only begotten son of God. That epithet in
its material interpretation is quite unacceptable. Metaphorically we are
all begotten sons of God, but for each of us there may be different begotten
son of God in a special sense. Thus for me Chaitanya may be the only begotten
son of God.
But don't you believe in the perfection of human nature, and don't you
believe that Jesus had attained perfection?
I believe in the perfectability of human nature. Jesus came as near to
perfection as possible. To say that he was perfect is to deny God's superiority
to man. And then in this matter I have a theory of my own. Being necessarily
limited by the bonds of flesh, we can attain perfection only after dissolution
of the body. Therefore God alone is absolutely perfect. When he descends
to earth, He of His own accord limits Himself. Jesus died on the cross
because he was limited by the flesh. I do not need either the prophecies
or the miracles to establish Jesus's greatness as a teacher. Nothing can
be more miraculous than the three years of his ministry. There is no miracle
in the story of the multitude being fed on a handful of loaves. A magician
can create that illusion. But woe worth the day on which a magician would
be hailed as the Saviour of humanity. As for Jesus raising the dead to
life, well, I doubt if the men he raised were really dead. I raised a relative's
child from supposed death to life, but that was because the child was not
dead, and but for my presence there she might have been cremated. But I
saw that life was not extinct. I gave her an enema and she was restored
to life. There was no miracle about it. I do not deny that Jesus had certain
psychic powers and he was undoubtedly filled with the love of humanity.
But he brought to life not people who were dead but who were believed to
be dead. The laws of Nature are changeless, unchangeable, and there are
no miracles in the sense of infringement or interruption of Nature's laws.
But we limited beings fancy all kinds of things and impute our limitations
to God. We may copy God, but no He us. We may not divide time for Him.
Time for Him is eternity. For us there is past, present and future. And
what is human life of a hundred years but less than a mere speck in the
eternity of Time?
Vol.65 p.79-82 (Harijan, 17-4-1937)
Our Partial Sight
April 17, 1937
reader will remember Rajkumari Amrit Kaur's letter(1) to me
published in these columns some weeks ago. She received on it, some time
ago, a letter from an English friend. She sent it to me to read. It contained
so much that was good that I asked for permission to publish the relevant
portion. This she readily gave and copied it for me. Here are the passages:
have been meaning to write to you ever since I read in Harijan your fine
letter to Mr. Gandhi. I want to tell you how very much I feel with you
about what you said with regard to missionary work and to thank you for
saying it in your own way to a man like Mahatmaji. When I was in India,
first as a very undeveloped girl thrust into a C.M.S. (Christian Missionary
School) atmosphere, very many years ago, I felt that the approach of the
missionaries to the people of India was all wrong and I had lonely times
of being up against the whole system and yet not exactly being able to
formulate my idea or talk to others with any chance of being understood.
I was also set wondering if we as British people had any right to be ruling
India, and I remember expressing this in those early days and being firmly
dealt with. But ever since those days as my thought life has developed
I have been getting to feel that fundamentally the whole position of the
British in India was wrong and that the missionaries as a whole were sharing
in the superiority complex of those who ruled. I am regarded, I know, as
a real black sheep in missionary circles. So I can thoroughly sympathize
with criticism that I am sure you have met with from those quarters. But
what you said needed saying by someone who was a Christian and who yet
saw a different way of sharing her faith with others. And it makes all
the differences when someone like you who is known and has a position in
the country says these things.
sing in our Churches in England that grand hymn, whose words I expect you
know, written by that inspired blind poet George Matheson:
Gather us in; we worship only Thee
In varied names we stretch a common hand;
In diverse forms a common soul we see;
In many ships we seek one spirit land;
Gather us in.
Each sees one colour in Thy rainbow light,
Each looks upon one tint and calls it heaven,
Thou art the fulness of our partial sight,
We are not perfect till we find the seven;
Gather us in.
it is a step beyond 'From Green Land's Icy Mountains'! But I sometimes
wonder if the people here who sing this realize its implications.
Vol.65 p.96-97 (Harijan, 17-4-1937)
May 1, 1937
Harijans on Begar*
newspapers have given publicity to the threat of certain Harijans in certain
villages to transfer their allegiance to the Christian Missions seeking
to wean them from Hinduism under promise of better treatment, and especially
freedom from began(1) to which they are subjected by savarna
Hindus. It seems that representatives of the Hindu Mission and of the Harijan
Sevak Sangh visited the aggrieved Harijans and got the savarna Hindus to
promise better treatment. The storm has abated for the time being. I do
not know what would have been the gain to the Missions concerned if the
Harijans had gone over to their fold and how far the Harijans could have
been claimed as bona fide converts. This I know that such proselytizing
efforts demoralize society, create suspicions and bitterness and retard
the all-round progress of society. If, instead of wanting the so-called
conversion as the price of better treatment, Christian Missions co-operated
with Harijan sevaks in their effort to ease the burdens of Harijans, their
help would be welcomed and the evolution of society would be hastened.
I write this more to awaken savarna conscience than to criticize the Mission
methods brought to light. The system of forced labour exacted by petty
land-owners from Harijans and other classes called backward is almost universal
in India. The petty landlords are mostly Hindus. Harijans and others can
legally resist forced labour. They are slowly but surely being awakened
to a sense of their rights. They are numerous enough to enforce them. But
all grace will be gone when savarna Hindus impotently resign themselves
to their merited fate. Better surely by far if they will recognize their
duty of regarding Harijans as blood-brothers, entitled to the respect that
belongs to man and to receive due payment for services voluntarily performed.
is the privilege of Harijan sevaks, no matter to what organization they
belong, to befriend Harijans, to study their condition in detail, to approach
savarna Hindus and show them as gently as possible what their duty is towards
those whom they have treated as outcastes of society and deprived even
of legal rights.
the papers before me I further find that in Ode and some other villages
in Gujarat the savarna Hindus take from Harijans who dispose of
their dead cattle half the hide. This is unlike the usual practice of allowing
the Harijans to own the dead cattle they remove. In some cases Harijans
not only retain the dead cattle they remove, but receive a payment for
the labour of removing carcasses. The matter demands more investigation
and fair adjustment. If Harijans were better treated and if savarna Hindus
had no horror of dead cattle and had no superstitious laws of pollution,
they would learn the art of flaying the dead cattle and turning every part
of the carcasses into wealth, both to the benefit of themselves and the
Harijans whom they may invite to help them in the process of disposing
of their dead cattle.
Vol.65 p.159-60. (Harijan, 1-5-1937)
* Begar: Forced labour without any wages.
June 5, 1937
Shameful if True: The Methodology of Conversion
Bapa sends me the following statement which he received during his recent
tour in the Nizam's Dominions'.
six months ago an event which took place at Karepally, Warangal District,
Nizam's Dominions, describes the methods adopted by the Christian missionaries
to make conversions of Hindus and especially Harijans. Some days previous
to the appointed, date, the village teachers sent out news of the coming
event into all the surrounding villages and made sure that the people of
all castes of Hindus and especially Harijans were present on the occasion
in large numbers. Then the pastor arrived at the place bringing with him
a girl, about 12 years old, who he said would cure all that were presented
to her of all sorts of diseases and also show them the real path to realization
pastor then stood and said addressing those present: "You believe in gods
who are dead and gone. Your Rama was born, behaved and acted like an ordinary
mortal and then died. So was the case with Krishna also, who had many more
vices to his credit. Here is before you a person who is the very incarnation
of Christ. Christ is in her now, which fact you can verify yourself by
being cured of your diseases at the mere touch of her hands. Why believe
in gods who are past and no more effective? You should all believe in and
follow the path of Jesus Christ who was born to Virgin Mary, preached the
Gospel which leads to salvation, died outwardly but rose again on the third
day to redeem the sinning millions of the world."
subscription of one anna per head and two annas for a metal cross were
charged. They were told that unless they wore the cross at all times and
believed in the truth and efficacy of Christianity, there would not be
any good effect in the case of diseased patients.
happened on two occasions. On the third occasion, the Secretary of the
District Committee and friends visited them and told them that they could
preach their religion as they wanted to, but they should not wound the
feelings of the people by repeating unpleasant things which were not true.
The local police then stopped the proceedings fearing there might be breach
of peace in the place.
it is true, it stands self-condemned. I would like the Mission concerned
to investigate the complaint and throw light on it.
Vol.65 p.277-78 (Harijan, 5-6-1937)
How They Convert and Need For Introspection
Bapa had his attention drawn to the so-called conversion to Christianity
in Shahabad District. He thereupon called for a report on the statements
made to him. The following is the report made by the local Harijan Sevak
the district of Shahabad, about 40 years ago, a Methodist Episcopal Christian
Mission was established at Arrah (U.P.). Through its efforts a large number
of Harijans, numbering about three thousand, were converted to Christianity
upto the year 1931. Last year a Roman Catholic Mission appeared on the
scene. Since then, the activities of both the Missions have increased.
Enquiry has revealed that they have been successful in getting some new
Christian converts from the Rabidas (Chamar) community amongst whom their
activities are mainly confined. Roughly their method of work may be described
having visited the village and created familiarity with the Harijans they
at once start a school and put it in charge of a Harijan teacher who either
himself is an influential man or related to such a one. Whenever they come
to learn that some tension or actual litigation is going on between the
Harijans and other villagers they at once seize the opportunity to take
up the side of the poor Harijans and help them with money and advice. They
are thus hailed as saviours and conversion follows as if to repay the obligation.
their work is scattered throughout the thana in the remotest villages,
the present enquiry could not be exhaustive. The one remarkable feature
of these recent conversions is that they take place en masse. Whenever
a village Harijan leader accepts the new faith almost all belonging to
his clan follow him. In all cases of conversions new or old, not a single
instance can be found in which the acceptance of the new faith was due
to any religious conviction. The reasons, therefore, of conversions may
be roughly described as economic or socioeconomic. Generally, the Harijans
have to submit to a number of unjust exactions and to suffer from humilitating
treatment which are now resented by them. Those of the new and the old
who are still continuing as nominal Christians are willing to return to
Hinduism if their grievances are removed. Their grievances as disclosed
during the enquiry are briefly indicated below:
1. They are forced to labour for their maliks(l) and other caste Hindus
of their villages at about half or even less wages than they would get
for the same kind of labour in other villages.
2. They are forced to labour for their maliks and other caste-Hindu villagers
on occasions of marriages and deaths in their families on almost no wages.
3. They are charged six annas per year family as mutharfa (house rent).
4. They have to pay Re. 1, Rs. 2 and Rs. 3 or Rs. 4 for the hide of every
dead cow, bullock or buffalo respectively to their owners if they fail
to deliver a corresponding number of pairs of shoes to them.
5. Their wives are paid only four annas for a male or two annas for a female
child born in the house of the caste-Hindu villagers where they have to
work as midwives during confinement, and even these payments are not regularly
6. They are forced to work for their masks and caste-Hindu villagers even
at the sacrifice of their own agricultural needs or when they are ill or
engaged in their social or religious functions.
7. The levy of the chowdikari(2) tax on them is generally excessive.
8. They are not allowed to draw water from wells used by caste Hindus.
9. They are not allowed to enter temples nor are Brahmin priests available
to recite religious kathas at their houses.
what is said in the report about the conversions be true, it is from my
standpoint reprehensible. Such superficial conversions can only give rise
to suspicion and strife. But if a missionary body or individuals choose
to follow the methods described in the report, nothing can be done to prevent
them. It is therefore much more profitable to turn the searchlight inward
and to discover our own defects. Fortunately the report enables us to do
so. Nine causes are enumerated to show why Harijans are induced to leave
the Hindu fold. Seven are purely economic, one is social, and one is purely
religious. Thus they are reduced economically, degraded socially and boycotted
from religious participation. The wonder is not that they leave Hinduism:
the wonder is that they have not done so for so long and that so few leave
their ancestral faith even when they do. The moral is obvious. Let us make
every discovery, such as the one made in Shahabad, an occasion for greater
self-purification, greater dedication to the Harijan cause, greater identification
with the Harijans. It should result in the local Sangh collecting more
workers than it has for doing on the one hand service among the Harijans
and on the other propaganda among the so-called caste Hindus; not in the
shape of reviling them but showing them that religion does not warrant
the treatment that is meted out to Harijans by them.
Note: 1. Literal meaning 'owner'.
December 4, 1938
Discussion with John R. Mott:
Mott wondered if the world, including the world of missionaries, had advanced
since they had last met.(1) He was going to preside over the
deliberations of the International Missionary Council meeting in Madras
during the month, and he wanted to share with Gandhiji the plans of the
meeting, and wanted Gandhiji's "intuition and judgment on things to be
discussed at the Convention."
said: "This is a unique Convention where 14 councils of the younger churches
of Asia, Africa and Latin America, and 14 of the older churches of Europe,
America and Australia will be represented by over 400 delegates. We want
this to be a help and not a hindrance to India. Am I, I ask, right in thinking
that the tide has turned a little bit on the great things you impressed
on me? Is there not a clearer recognition of these evils?
What I have noticed is that there is a drift in the right direction so
far as thought is concerned, but I do feel that in action there is no advance.
I was going to say "not much advance", but I deliberately say "no advance".
You may be able to give solitary instances of men here and there, but they
do not count. Right conviction to be of use has to be translated into action.
Mott: Take the first question, viz., that of the Communal Award. Has there
been no progress?
No progress at all.
I have been studying the manuscript of the life of K.T Paul, to which I
have been asked to write a foreword. Don't you think there has been an
advance since his time? The attitude of the Roman Catholics is hostile,
but what about Protestant Christians?
If Protestant Christians are all one on this question, they can have the
Award changed, so far as they are concerned. But there is no solid action
in the matter.
I did not know that they could have an exception made in their behalf.
Take the next question. Is not taking advantage of people's disabilities
being avoided now? I must say I was terribly pained to read of the McGavran
incident and greatly relieved to know that the misunderstanding has been
Even on this question, whilst some friends, I agree, are in earnest, so
far as action goes, there has been no change.
You mean to say there is not action enough?
No, there is no action at all. I have plenty of evidence to prove what
I say. I do not publish all the correspondence I get. Mr. A.A. Paul, whom
you may know, convened a conference some time ago. The proceedings were
revealing. Their resolutions were half-hearted. As far as I am aware, there
was no unanimity about any definite action.
I was encouraged by a resolution of the national Christian Council which
insisted on pure motives and pure practice.
You may cite the resolution but you will not be able to show corresponding
J.M. I understand. Without action no decision is anything worth. This lesson
was burnt on my mind even as a student when Foster's great essay on the
Decision of Character helped me more than anything I had read.
I assure you you will find confirmation of what I say. I would say that
there is not even concrete recognition of the danger of taking an undue
advantage of people's disabilities. They will never give up what they call
the right of mass conversions.
They are now talking of conversion of groups and families. I am not quite
clear, though, as to what in certain cases the word 'group' implies.
I am quite clear. It is mass conversions called by another name.
That is strange. How can groups or families be converted en masse? Conversion
in my family for instance came first with my father, then my oldest sister,
then youngest sister, then I. It is an individual matter, a matter entirely
between one and one's God.
So it is. On this matter of untouchability, I may tell you that for years
I could not carry conviction to my own wife. She followed me willy-nilly.
The conviction came to her after long experience and practice.
In dealing with the holiest of things we should use the purest methods.
But you will pardon me if I reiterate that I am hopeful of the tide having
turned. Discerning Christian leaders to my knowledge are not only thinking
of these things keenly but sincerely addressing themselves to fostering
right practice. On the third question of the wise use of money I see signs
But it is a virtue of necessity. The Indian Christians are thinking aloud
and of doing things themselves. They are talking of their own responsibilities
and saying, "Thank God, American money can't come."
came a rather long digression on the wise and unwise use of money. The
topic had engaged their attention on the occasion of the last visit too
and Gandhiji had put the matter most forcefully when he said:
"I think you cannot serve God and Mammon both, and my fear is that Mammon
has been sent to serve India and God has remained behind, with the result
that He will one day have His vengeance."
How may the missionaries and Christians in general help in constructive
activities like the village industries movement, the new educational movement
and so on?
They should study the movements and work under or in co-operation with
these organizations. I am happy to be able to say that I have some valued
Christian colleagues. But they can be counted on one's fingers. I fear
that the vast bulk of them remain unconvinced. Some have frankly said that
they do not believe in the village movement or the education movement as
they are conducted by the associations you have named. They evidently believe
in industrialization and the western type of education. And the missionaries
as a body perhaps fight shy of movements not conducted wholly or predominantly
I get in my activities the hearty and active co-operation of the 5000 Protestant
missionaries in India, and if they really believed in the living power
of nonviolence as the only force that counts, they can help not only here
but perhaps in affecting the West.
Note: Dr Mott visited in 1936; also a flying visit to Ahmedabad in 1928.
What is Neutrality?
24 December, 1939
An American missionary writes:
Are you and the Congress generally neutral in regard to which religion
a person belongs to? I believe the Congress claim to be neutral, but my
contention is that they are not.
Your friend, the late Prime Minister of Madras, sent a wire of congratulation
to Christians who became Hindus. Is that being neutral? And just the other
day, here near Bombay in Thana District, when about fifty hill people returned
to Hinduism, the leaders in making them Hindus were the Congress leaders
of Thana District. So this plainly shows that the Congress leaders favour
Under such a Government what chance would the small minority of Christians
stand when 'puma swaraj'* is given, to be monopolized by the Hindu majority?
Are they to be placed at the mercy of anti-Christian leaders? Will it be
possible for the Congress Government to be impartial and neutral in religious
matters as the British Government has been? If not, we certainly would
not hail it as a blessing.
I am not aware of what Shri Rajagopalachari said. He is well able to take
care of himself. But I can give my idea of neutrality. In free India every
religion should prosper on terms of equality, unlike what is happening
today. Christianity being the nominal religion of the rulers, it receives
favours which no other religion enjoys. A Government responsible to the
people dare not favour one religion over another. But I should see nothing
wrong in Hindus congratulating those who having left them may return to
their fold. I think that the Christians of free America would rejoice at
the return to their ancestral Christianity of Americans of the slums -
if there are any in America - temporarily calling themselves Hindus under
the influence of a plausible Hindu missionary. I have already complained
of the methods adopted by some missionaries to wean ignorant people from
the religion of their forefathers. It is one thing to preach one's religion
to whomsoever may choose to adopt it, another to entice masses. And if
those thus enticed, on being undeceived, go back to their old love, their
return will give natural joy to those whom they had forsaken. The missionary
friend errs in regarding the Congress as a Hindu organization. It has on
its roll perhaps three million men and women. Its register is open to all.
As a matter of fact it has on it men and women belonging to all religions.
There is no reason why Christians or Muslims should not capture the Congress.
It is true, however, that a national democratic Government will represent
the majority of Hindu voters in the aggregate. But owing to unequal distribution
of population in the various provinces, Bengal, Punjab, Frontier and Sind
have a preponderance of Muslims, as the other provinces of Hindus.
hold that it is wrong to look at the question from the narrow sectarian
standpoint. The only true standpoint is national. Therefore the American
missionary seems to me to labour under a threefold mistake when he mistakes
a natural joy for want of neutrality, regards the Congress as a Hindu organization,
and views India as divided religiously into parts hostile to and suspicious
of one another But economic and political aspirations of all the communities
are surely the same except that the privileged ones will find their privileges
melting in the sunshine of freedom. It seems to me to be wrong to import
religious differences into a political discussion. Common law should prevent
Vol.71 p.52-53 (Harijan, 30-12-1939)
* Complete independence
January 6, 1940
Discussion with Christian Missionaries
Professor:) Will you under swaraj allow Christians to go on with their
proselytizing activity without any hindrance?
No legal hindrance can be put in the way of any Christian or of anybody
preaching for the acceptance of his doctrine.
can't answer that question categorically because I do not know what is
exactly allowed and what is not allowed under the British regime today.
That is a legal question. Besides, what is permitted may not necessarily
be the same thing as what is permissible under the law. All, therefore,
I can say is that you should enjoy all the freedom you are entitled to
under the law today.
Some of us are under an apprehension that they may have hereafter to labour
under disabilities. Is there any guarantee that such a thing would not
As I wrote in Harijan, you do not seem to realize that Christians are today
enjoying privileges because they are Christians. The moment a person here
turns Christian, he becomes a Sahib log. He almost changes his nationality.
He gets a job and position which he could not have otherwise got. He adopts
foreign dress and ways of living. He cuts himself off from his own people
and begins to fancy himself a limb of the ruling class. What the Christians
are afraid of losing, therefore, is not their rights but anomalous privileges.
The visitor admitted the truth of Gandhi's remarks, but assured him that
whatever might have been the case in the past Christians as a class no
longer wished to retain any exceptional privileges.
Another missionary friend recalling Gandhiji's well-known objection to
the prevailing proselytizing practices chimed in: "Why may not I share
with others my experience of Jesus Christ which has given me such an ineffable
Because you cannot possibly say that what is best for you is best for all.
Quinine may be the only means of saving live in your case but a dangerous
poison in the case of another. And again, is it not superarrogation to
assume that you alone possess the key to spiritual joy and peace, and that
an adherent of a different faith cannot get the same in equal measure from
a study of his scriptures? I enjoy a peace and equanimity of spirit which
has excited the envy of many Christian friends. I have got it principally
through the Gita.
Your difficulty lies in your
considering the other faiths as false or so adulterated as to amount to
falsity. And you shut your eyes to the truth that shines in other faiths
and which gives equal joy and peace to their votaries. I have not hesitated,
therefore, to recommend to my Christian friends a prayerful and sympathetic
study of the other scriptures of the world. I can give my own humble testimony
that, whilst such study has enabled me to give the same respect to them
that I give to my own, it has enriched my own faith and broadened my vision.
interlocutor was silent. "What would be your message to a Christian like
me and my fellows?" the professor finally asked.
Become worthy of the message that is imbedded in the Sermon on the Mount
and join the spinning brigade.
Vol.71 p.79-80 (Harijan. 13-1-1940)
February 24, 1940
Secretary of the Seng Khasi Free Morning School, Mawkhar, Shillong, has
sent a circular letter to those who are concerned in matters educational
and has favoured me also with a copy. I extract the following from it:
British Government gave education grants to the Christian missionaries
for spreading education among the people of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills
District. The missionaries printed the textbooks for schools according
to their liking and choice. They translated the Bible into Khasi language
and made it a textbook for schools. Some pure Khasi gentlemen started the
Seng Khasi Free Morning School as early as 1921, with a view to preserving
Khasi national culture. The Deputy Inspector of Schools, Khasi and Jaintia
Hills, desired us to follow the curriculum prescribed by his department.
I agreed to accept the curriculum provided that those books written or
compiled by the missionaries are not included in the curriculum of the
Seng Khasi School The Deputy Inspector of Schools did not recommend this
school for a grant from the Government on the plea that the curriculum
was not followed in the school. It is a matter of great regret that the
Deputy Inspector of Schools compels this schools to teach missionary books
and frustrate the very object with which it was established.
what is stated here is true, it enforces the argument often advanced by
me that Christian missionary effort has been favoured by the ruling power.
But I advertise the circular not for the sake of emphasizing my argument.
I do so in order to ventilate the grievance of the Secretary of the school.
Surely he has every right to object to teaching proselytizing literature
prepared by the missionaries. It should be remembered that the school has
been in receipt of a grant from Government. It is not clear why the question
of the missionary books has now cropped up. It is to be hoped that the
school will not be deprived of the grant because of the Secretary's very
Vol. 71 p. 218-19.
Discussion with a Missionary
March 12, 1940
(Q.) Could you tell me the things one should avoid in order to present
the gospel of Christ?
(A). Cease to think that you want to convert the whole world to your interpretation
of Christianity. At the end of reading the Bible, let me tell you, it did
not leave on my mind the impression that Jesus ever meant Christians to
do what the bulk of those who take his name do. The moment you adopt the
attitude I suggest, the field of service becomes limitless. You limit your
own capacity by thinking and saying that you must proselytize.
I see what you mean. We have been cumbered by creeds and manmade things.
We feel that we should be in a place where all barriers have broken down.
instanced a few Christians who, he said, saw the central fact that, if
they wanted to live this Christian life, they should literally follow the
words: "Not he that sayeth 'Lord, Lord', but he that doeth His will."}
You are living a guided life. Could you kindly tell me your experience
I do not regard God as a person. Truth for me is God, and God's Law and
God are not different things or facts, in the sense that an earthly kind
and his law are different, because God is an idea, law Himself. Therefore,
it is impossible to conceive God as breaking the Law. He therefore does
not rule our actions and withdraw Himself. When we say He rules our actions,
we are simply using human language and we try to limit Him. Otherwise He
and His law abide everywhere and govern everything. Therefore, I do not
think that He answers in every detail every request of ours, but there
is no doubt that He rules our action, and I literally believe that not
a blade of grass grows or moves without His will. The free will we enjoy
is less than that of a passenger on a crowded deck.
Do you feel a sense of freedom in your communion with God?
I do. I do not feel cramped as I would on a boat full of passengers. Although
I know that my freedom is less than that of a passenger, I appreciate that
freedom as I have imbibed through and through the central teaching of the
Gita that man is the maker of his own destiny in the sense that he has
freedom of choice as to the manner in which he uses that freedom. But he
is no controller of results. The moment he thinks he is, he comes to grief.
Vol. 71 p. 320-21 (Harijan, 23 -3 -1940)
Missionary Education in Assam
June 3, 1940
Shri Thakkar Bapa writes:
have seen your notes in Harijan of 9th March and 18th May regarding the
grievance of the Secretary, Seng Khasi School, Shillong. The Secretary
has been running the school with great zeal and without any grant from
the Government. That the Christian Missions have been working in Assam
with the sole view to convert the hill tribes to Christianity with the
help of the Government grants is very apparent from the Quinquennial
Education Report of the Assam Government for the Year 1932-37 as submitted
by Mr. G.A. Small, Director of Public Instruction. In his review of the
report he wrote in April 1938, (p.63): "The general policy at present is
for Government to take over the responsibility for education from the Missions
as early as possible. While acknowledgment must be made of the debt owed
to the Missions for their work as pioneers in the field of education, it
must also be recognized that the Missions have interested themselves in
education solely with the object of Christianizing the children... The
Governments of the past have definitely neglected the hill areas and it
is only recently that they have recognized at all their responsibility
in the matter. The question of the policy to be adopted in the Lushai Hills
is still under consideration. In the Mikir Hills Government schools are
being opened and arrangements are being made for the production of Mikir
text-books in Assamese character."
but confirms what I have already published in these columns. One only hopes
that things will be better managed now.
Vol. 72 p. 123 (Harijan, 15-6-1940)
Discussion with Emily Kinnaird
July 20, 1940
G. What was the good of Jesus Christ laying down His life?
E.K Oh, that was a different matter. He was the son of God.
G. And so are we.
E.K. No. He was the only son of God.
G. It is there, that the mother and son(1) must differ. With you Jesus was
the only begotten son of God. With me He was a son of God, no matter how
much purer than us all, but every one of us is a son of God and capable
of doing what Jesus did, if we but endeavour to express the Divine in us.
Yes, that is where I think you are wrong. If you accepted Christ in your
heart and appealed to your people to do likewise, you could delivery our
message with greater ease and far better effect. He is our salvation, and
without receiving Him in our hearts we cannot be saved.
G. So those who accept the Christ are all saved. They need do nothing more?
We are sinners all, and we have but to accept Him to be saved.
And then we may continue to be sinners? Is that what you mean? You do not,
I hope, belong to the Plymouth Brothers(2) do you?
E.K. No, I am a Presbyterian.
G. But you talk like some of the Plymouth Brothers I met long ago in South
Yes, I am afraid you were so unfortunate in the Christian contacts you
formed in South Africa. You did not meet the right kind of people.
Surely you will not say that. I met a number of estimable people. They
were all honest and sincere.
K But they were not true Christians.
then gave a graphic account of his contact with a number of Christians
in those early days, ending up with the intimate contact with F.W. Meyer.
He asked Lady Emily:
you know F.W. Meyer?
K Oh yes.
Well, then, let me tell you that it was F.W. Meyer who after a long talk
with me asked the other Christian friends to let me alone. He said to them
that I was as good as converted, and that I did not need any formal process
of conversion. But of course that did not satisfy them. And old A.W. Baker,
who must be much over eighty now, is still at me. He writes to remind me
time and again that unless I accept Christ in his way I cannot be saved.
K. But you do think of those Christians, Mr. Gandhi, even at this distance
she wondered why we were so obtuse as not to see what was so obvious to
her - the outstanding superiority of the message of Christianity to any
other message. The Bible had been translated into several hundred languages,
and the heathen in the remotest parts of the world, who knows not a syllable
of English, was agreeably surprised to find God's message delivered to
him in his own dialect.
That proves nothing.
E.K. And then, whereas fifty years ago there were so many hundred thousand
Christians in India, there are today ten times as many.
Again that proves nothing. But why all this quarrel about labels? Cannot
a few hundred thousand Indians or Africans live the message of Christ without
being called Christians?
Vol. 72 p. 297-99 (Harijan, 4-8-1940)
1. Emily Kinnaird and Gandhiji. She was 86 and Gandhiji
addressed her as mother.
2. Non-conformist sect founded by J.N. Darby. They recognize no orders
of ministers and receive into communion all who acknowledge Christ.
What Jesus Means to me
I have devoted a large part of my life to the study of religion and to
discussion with religious leaders of all faiths, I know very well that
I cannot but seem presumptuous in writing about Jesus Christ and trying
to explain what He means to me. I do so only because my Christian friends
have told me on more than a few occasions that for the very reason that
I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) "I do
not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God", it
is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of His teachings,
or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that
man has ever known.
this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that
it is an erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible
with the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For He was, certainly,
the highest example of one who wished to give everything asking nothing
in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the
recipient. I am sure that if He were living here now among men, He would
bless the lives of many who perhaps have never even heard His name, if
only their lives embodied the virtues of which He was a living example
on earth; the virtues of loving one's neighbour as oneself and of doing
good and charitable works among one's fellow-men.
then, does Jesus mean to me? To me He was one of the greatest teachers
humanity has ever had. To His believers He was God's only begotten Son.
Could the fact that I do or do not accept this belief make Jesus have any
more or less influence in my life? Is all the grandeur of His teaching
and of His doctrine to be forbidden to me? I cannot believe so.
Discussion With A Philippino And Missionaries
Modern Review, October 1941; (Vol. 75 p. 69-70).
June 7, 1947
individual and every nation should search their hearts far more seriously
than they do today. Instead of thinking of strife and competition and wealth,
we should cultivate family-feeling, strive for self-purification and spread
love and a sense of brotherhood. That alone can be called an ideal state
in which men can lead a really 'human' life and get opportunities to cultivate
perfection in every sphere. Today even in our own country anarchy is reigning.
The fault is not wholly ours. We have been suppressed as slaves for a hundred
and fifty years. The British and American missionaries in India have rendered
no real service to the country. Their conception of service is to do work
of compassion and serve the poor. But by establishing hospitals, schools
and such other institutions, they attracted our children and men and our
people left their own religion and embraced Christianity. Our religion
is in no way inferior to Christianity. I can cite you numerous instances
like these to show how far we have been bled. And when the blood has disappeared,
only the skeleton remains. That is our plight today, but I am full of hope
that we shall regain our health in a few years and a revitalized India
will make missionary bodies also reorientate their outlook and activities.
Interview to the President, Punjab Student Christian League
July 31, 1947
to a question by the President of the Punjab Student Christian League,
missionaries will not be asked to quit India. Indian Christians will be
free to occupy high official positions in the Indian Dominion.
if non-Christians in the Indian Dominion would have freedom to embrace
Christianity, Mahatma Gandhi said he would be guided in this connection
by the rules and laws framed.
came into this world to preach and spread the gospel of love and peace,
but what his followers have brought about is tyranny and misery. Christians
who were taught the maxim 'Love thy neighbour as thy self,'(1)
are divided among themselves.Hindustan Times, 3-8-1947, Vol. 88 p.471-72