- There’s an old belief about Europeans that they came to Asian countries for three Gs—‘Gold,’ ‘Glory,’ and ‘God’. When the Europeans established their factories in India, Christian missionaries also slowly started penetrating into India. Of all the Europeans, the Portuguese were the most active in spreading Christianity. They also used ‘force’ because of which they became unpopular among the people.
The English East India Company on the other hand, was more cautious and did not encourage the missionary’s activities, at least initially. It was the declared policy of the Company not to interfere with the religion of Indians. The Company was more interested in trade and empire in India and did not want any disturbances till their goal was achieved.
- Till the eighteenth century, Christianity progressed mainly in South India, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century missionary work expanded in North India too, particularly in Bengal. The Charter Act of 1813 removed restrictions on the entry and activities of the Christian missionaries in India, which provided an opportunity for increased and intensive missionary activities throughout the country.
Among various Christian missionaries, the role of the Serampore (Srirampur) missionaries is the most commendable one. The missionary establishment was set up at Serampur (a Danish settlement in Bengal) because the English East India Company was hostile to the idea of spreading Christianity.
Its founder was William Carey, a cobbler from a small village in England who was helped by William Ward and Joshua Marshaman. William Carey and his fellow missionaries were the first to draw the attention of the Government of India towards the social evils of Hindu society, like Sati, caste system, untouchability, etc. They kept writing against malpractices like Sati in the columns of a number of journals urging the Government and society to abolish it.
- In May 1829, they submitted two petitions to William Bentinck, urging him to abolish the practice of Sati. Carey also urged the Government to pass legislation against the practice of female infanticide. Both these inhuman practices were finally banned in British India. They opposed polygamy and kulinism (kulinism means having mistress, especially common among the Zamindars of Bengal) too. The Serampore missionaries also worked for uplifting the depressed classes and the womenfolk too.
- Many Christian missionaries of Europe and America were preaching actively in India. Of these, the London Missionary Society, the Baptist Missionary Society and the Church Missionary Society were the most active missionary organisations. The Baptist Missionary Society (Serampore Mission) left a deep impression on the minds of the people. Apart from raising the people s voice against social evils, missionaries also did a lot of humanitarian work, especially during droughts and famines, flood or any such natural disasters.
The real motive behind this work was unfortunately, to spread Christianity and to prove a point that only Christianity can uplift mankind, to prove that it is the most superior religion on the surface of the earth. Interestingly, in Europe, rationalists, scientists, free thinkers attacked Christianity stating that many teachings of the Bible and the Church were unfounded and unscientific. The missionaries wanted to neutralise these attacks and thus focused more on humanitarian work to impress the vulnerable people.
Another interesting aspect of this movement was that, the parent organizations in Europe that sponsored the missionaries in India provided funds for them to spread Christianity through conversion and not for any humanitarian activity. But the missionaries, who actually lived and worked in India at grassroot level, realised the unique value of humanitarian work.
- To encourage religious conversion, Lord Dalhousie’s Government passed Caste Disabilities Removal Act, 1850, under which a person could inherit family property even if he changed his religion. Development and growth of western educational curricula was also an important contribution of Christian missionaries. They believed that a western model of education would help in spreading Christianity.
While the Serampore missionaries opened many schools in Bengal, American missionaries were more active in the Bombay and Madras Presidencies. Education of girls was also given a lot of importance. Baptist Female School Society, run by Serampore Missionaries, opened its schools at Dhaka, Chittagong (Chattagram) and Calcutta. London Missionary Society set up a girls college at Chinsura in 1818. The Female Juvenile Society was running about six girls’ schools in Calcutta. Besides, The Church Missionary Society established girls’ schools in Bombay and Madras Presidencies. The Presbyterian Church opened schools for girls at Dehradun, Sialkot and Gujaranwala. The Methodists opened a girls’ school at Nainital while The Lutheran Church established a girls’ school at Guntur in Madras Presidency. These schools gave a big blow to the priestly class of Hindus and Muslims opposing education of girls.
- The Christian missionaries also helped in the development of local Indian languages like Bengali, Marathi, Tamil and Telugu. They translated Bible into these languages and ensured that the message of Christianity spread without any language barriers. Their activities inspired many an Indians to undertake social reform in an organised manner. Their consistent attacks on Indian religion and society roused the Indian people and made them aware of their society’s weaknesses. The limited renaissance was made possible because of the activities of the Christian Missionaries.
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