(Paper presented at the India International Islamic Academic Conference held on 8-9 October, 2016, at the India Islamic Cultural Centre, New Delhi.)
Abstract: By late 19th century and early 20th century, one finds the emergence of an ‘upper-caste’ Christian public sphere comprised of theologians who identified themselves with the values of ‘Hindu’ and ‘Hindu Nationalism’. For example, Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya from Bengal formulated a ‘Hindu-Catholic faith’ based on ‘Advaitic philosophical theology and an idealized version of caste system’. One finds similar attempts in Colonial South India. The works of Gandhian Srambickal Kuruvilla George, a CMS theologian is one such example.
In this paper, I would present a sociological analysis of S.K. George’s book ‘Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity’ published in late 1940s. In this book, George not only captures the essence of Gandhi’s critique but also presents a blueprint of how religious minorities (Christians) should discipline their aspirations and faith, almost fanatically in accordance with Brahmanic Hinduism. Such a sociological exercise is relevant for two reasons. Firstly, it would help us discern the fault lines in Savarna Christian analysis of Indian society. Secondly, it would contribute to the body of literature which exposes the camaraderie between Savarnas across religion, essentially united in the task of preserving their privileges.
I argue that S.K. George’s work is a contribution to ‘Hindu nationalism’ prescribing strategies for peaceful subordination of religious minorities. I further argue that this literary work falls in place with the historical trajectory of S.K. George’s Syrian Christian community, which actively aligned with upper-castes to oppress Avarnas and Dalits in Kerala.
Contextualizing the ‘Savarna Christian’ in Colonial India
By late 19th century and early 20th century1, one finds the rise of ‘upper-caste’ Christian public spheres2 in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta presidencies (and also Travancore- Cochin principalities) housed and nurtured by Christian Missionary infrastructure. They identified themselves as ‘Indian Christians’ and were closely associated with the ‘national’ elite. For example, the author we would discuss in this essay – S.K.George, was a close associate of M.K. Gandhi and lived in Sabarmati Ashram for a very long time. Similarly, George Joseph described as the ‘first Kerala Christian nationalist’ (Joseph, 2003) was the editor of Young India brought out by Gandhi; K.T. Paul, the Christian representative to Round Table Conference was yet another close associate of the top nationalist leadership. We find several such connections and exchanges as we go through the biographies of ‘upper-caste’ Christians.
Their associations with ‘nationalist conscience’ and attempts to merge or melt with the ‘nation’ can be understood with greater clarity only when we juxtapose their identities, lives and work with the events which characterize nineteenth and first half of the twentieth century. While a detailed investigation is beyond the scope of this essay, glimpses and illustrations of the same are warranted.
One of the major events which characterised early decades of nineteenth century Colonial India is the Charter Act of 1813. It marks the beginning of a State policy on modern western education for Indians. The legislation was a result of a long tug-of-war between Christian Missions and East India Company. One of the major clauses in the Act read as follows–
“It shall be lawful for the Governor-General-in-Council to direct that out of any surplus which may remain of the rents, revenues, and profits arising from the said territorial acquisition, after defraying the expenses of the military, civil and commercial establishments and paying the interest of the debt in manner hereinafter provided, a sum of not less than one lac of rupees each year shall be set apart for the revival and improvement of literature and encouragement of the learned natives of India, and for the introduction and promotion of a knowledge of the science among the inhabitants of the British territories in India (italics mine)”
The legislation was determined to invest on ‘learned natives’ (the upper castes), probably with the hope that ‘knowledge of science’ would trickle down to the masses. It also aspired to evangelize these ‘learned natives’. In the wake of the legislation, several schools and colleges imparting western knowledge were established in major cities of Colonial India. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar in his essay ‘Christianizing India’ gives detailed accounts of the colonial investment (through missionaries) in the making of modern health and educational infrastructure in India. Ambedkar argues that ‘upper castes’ disproportionately cornered the benefits of Christian Missions. In other words, Christian missionary infrastructure consolidated a ‘Savarna public’ (often referred to as ‘Educated Indians’). Mission infrastructures were the meeting places for an entire generation of Savarnas, cutting across religion.
For example, Brahmabandhav Upadhyaya (1861-1907), a Brahmin convert to Christianity, was educated in Christian schools. His uncle, Kalicharan Banerjee was a close associate of Scottish Missionary, Alexander Duff (Amaladass, 2005:260)
Similarly, Dr. Krishna Mohun Banerjee3, who was baptised in 1832, was part of the Bishop’s Cotton College4. He was also the member of the committee which decided the fate of the first set of universities in colonial India5.
P. Lakshmi Narasu in his book ‘A Study of Caste’ (Narasu, 1921) gives detailed accounts of how contact with Christian missionaries embarrassed ‘high-caste’ Hindus to reinterpret their religion. The birth of Brahmo Samaj and its many branches6; Arya Samaj7 etc., were varied consequences, reactions of these contacts. What one finds is the complex proximity between the ‘learned natives’ and the missionaries. This proximity and its consequential benefits can be understood with the help of G. Aloysius’s essay ‘The Brahmanical Inscribed in Body Politic’. He argues how Brahmins and other Brahminized castes collaborated with imperialism and were the chief beneficiaries of its instruments. The role played by Christian Missions to catalyse and facilitate this collaboration is crucial.
The same class of ‘collaborators’ become the flag bearers of nationalism in India.
Aloysius times the emergence of nationalism in India in the concluding decades of nineteenth century. In the biography of K.T. Paul, published in 1938, one finds the description of how the Indian Association was formed in 1876 which later facilitated the formation of Indian National Congress. As a child, Paul was influenced by Rev. Kali Charan Banerjee, ‘the Christian Nationalist’ and marks the Madras Session of Congress as an influential event in his life (H.A.P., 1938:1). One finds similar instances in the life of Narayan Vaman Tilak8, a Chitpavan Brahmin convert, baptized in 1895, who wrote many patriotic songs (Amaladoss, 2005:246;).
Thus, instead of treating Savarna Christian public life in colonial India as an exclusive self-sufficient sphere, one can only understand its emergence and growth in tandem with the Savarna Hindu public life which shaped nationalism in India. They were travelling together on major issues, responding to each other and finding an audience amongst themselves or in the ‘West’. They were neighbours and friends, studying in common schools and colleges, speaking a common language. The fact, that they were all part of the ‘Brahmanical’ ruling class, as expounded by G. Aloysius in his earlier mentioned essay, is crucial in understanding the nature of their public life.
However, this story has certain irritants, often contributed by the foreign ruler. In the case of Syrian Christians of Kerala, the coming of Anglican Missionaries accrued benefits for sure but it also meant disturbances in their relationships with Savarna Hindu neighbours. For example, George G. Joseph (2003) discusses how the steps taken by the Church Missionary Society (hereafter CMS) under the leadership of John Munro9 to fund Syrian Christian Churches created fissures between Syrian Christians and their Savarna Hindu neighbours. The immediate repercussion was the denial of traditional temple honours to aristocratic Syrian Christian families. Travancore also witnessed communal tensions between Syrian Christians and Savarna Hindus in the late nineteenth century (Joseph, 2003). The concluding decades of 19th century and early 20th century marked an increase in the number of lower-caste Christians. The inflow of lower-castes created something like an ‘identity crisis’ among the Syrian Christians. The need to distinguish oneself from the lower-caste Christians (who would soon comprise the majority of the Christian population) was a matter of great concern both regionally and nationally. The 1941 census clearly indicated the dwindling numerical dominance of Syrian Christians (among Christians, as compared to other Christians) in Travancore. Writing and publishing stories of apostolic and brahmanic origin has been a literary strategy to maintain their distinction10. The nature of Syrian Christian ‘identity crisis’ and their attempts to maintain distinction can only be explained in terms of their ‘high’ status in Travancore’s caste hierarchy.
In other words, it cannot be explained in terms of religion or uniqueness of culture. Other strategies include/d use of systemic violence against lower-castes (lower-caste Christians in specific) inside and outside the Church11. The rise of Dalit Christian assertions epitomized in the lives of Pampadi John Joseph12, Poikayil Appachan13 (who later left Christianity) among others was a response to the cultural and material hegemony of Syrian Christians and its consistent reproduction.
On the other hand, individual conversions from ‘upper-caste’ Hindu families in the nineteenth century created a typical flux in their personal lives. According to Julius J. Lipner (1999), Brahmabandhav Upadhyay exemplifies these tensions/dilemmas. He writes –
“Was he a Hindu or a Christian? Surely he couldn’t be both! Was he a reformer or a revivalist of Hinduism, of Christianity? He was tried for sedition. So was he a political extremist? One of ‘us’ or one of ‘them’? Enigmas cloak the man.” (Lipner, 1999: xvi)
Lipner argues that Upadhyay cannot be easily placed in any ‘disjunctive categories’ of ‘social, religious and political phenomena’ of 19th century colonial India. However, in the same biography, one finds enough proof to conclude that Upadhyay closely held his caste-identity of being a brahmin through the thick and thin of the so called ‘identity crisis’ in his life. His letter to Annie Besant, in the heyday of his ‘Christian’ life read as follows –
“[…] As a genuine Brahman I was, while very young, agitated by the desire to know God (Brahmajijnasa) […] In short, dear madam, I am a Brahman by birth and a Christian and Catholic by faith. […] I therefore invite you to a public discussion with me on the above subject… I am a Brahman by my present and first birth, and you profess to have been a Brahman in your last birth. It is a Brahman’s duty and a Brahman’s privilege to hold religious discussions […]” (Lipner, 1999:159)
Clinging to one’s caste-identity with such resolve is not a surprising fact in Christianity. In the case of ‘individual’ upper caste theologians like Upadhyay it was also a strategy to communicate with a larger ‘upper-caste’ audience. The almost ‘rabid’ repetition of the value-loaded noun/adjective ‘Brahman’ in the letter is an illustration of such a communication.
Among the Savarna Christian theologians, especially the variety of Upadhyay (one can include A.J. Appasamy, Vaman Narayan Tilak in this list among others) the fear of ‘denationalization’ by embracing Christ was a perpetual dilemma. This dilemma was rooted in their social contexts, the policies of Colonial Government, and the rise of ‘Hindu’ nationalism which created the ‘excluded’ and the ‘subordinated’ (Aloysius, 1998). Keeping their ‘upper-caste’ titles and jatis intact, with periodic furnishing was a strategy to deal with these fears. These theologians also devised methods to ‘indigenise’ Christianity, often always invoking brahmanic cultural symbols. For example, Upadhyay formulated a ‘Hindu-Catholic faith’ based on ‘Advaitic philosophical theology’ and an ‘idealized version of caste system’ (Lipner, 1999). Thus, irrespective of their religious affiliation; their everyday personal and ‘national’ life continued to be forged in the grammar of castes. However, the ‘brahmanical inscribed’ (Aloysius, 2010) in their socio-political lives was neatly disguised by trappings of ‘secularism’.
The preceding discussion was only a glimpse of how Savarna Christians contextualized their associated life in Colonial India. This educated class often represented ‘Indian Christians’, though they remained oblivious and quite often dismissive of ‘Dalit-Bahujan’ Christians who formed the majority of the imagined ‘Indian Christian community’. In the absence of any discursive, enduring engagement with Dalit-Bahujan struggles, Savarna Christian associated life catered purely to their provincial and sectarian goals (there may be notable exceptions, however they are very few).
To delve deeper into their dismissals of majority Christian life and struggle and to understand their visions of a ‘shared future’ one should systematically study their literary productions and political-social-economic actions.
As a contribution to such an exercise, this essay would evaluate a book written by Srambickal Kuruvilla George, a Syrian Christian theologian turned Gandhian.
Prescriptions to peaceful subordination
S.K. George’s book ‘Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity’ was first published in 1947. However, based on the events mentioned in the book one can assume that it was written in the late 1930s. Before getting into the details of the book a brief note on the writer is necessary.
P.K. Benjamin14 in his Sunday Herald feature published in the year 2000 gives a glimpse of S.K. George’s life. He was an Anglican theologian, a product of Bishop’s College, Calcutta. By the second decade of the 20th century he decided to leave the Church and join Gandhi. In the 1930s, Benjamin points out that S.K. George appealed ‘Indian Christians’ to join the Civil Disobedience Movement and embrace Satyagraha as ‘cross in action.’ According to the author of the feature, S.K. George exemplifies the right mix of a Christian nationalist who did not mind straining his relationship with the Anglican church. The book I would be discussing receives special mention in this feature. It is held as an example of George’s courage to question Christian orthodoxy.
The theological value of the book is debatable and would require a separate essay. For the time being, I aim to sociologically analyse this book in the light of the initial discussions carried out in this essay. The value of such an analysis, I hope, would be evident as I move forward.
Analysing the Book
“It is my hope that this little book may awaken the interest of the Indian Christians to the reality of the problem and help them to give their faith its proper place in India’s religious setting.” – Dr. S. Radhakrishnan in the forward to S.K. George’s ‘Gandhi’s Challenge to Christianity’, p.6-7.
As Radhakrishnan predicted this book clearly provides a blueprint on how Indian Christians should discipline their faith and find a ‘proper place’ in India’s religious settings. The underlined assumption in the foreword and throughout the book being that India is primarily ‘Hindu’. However, one finds no attempt to define ‘Hindu’; in fact George himself holds Hinduism as timeless, ‘essentially mystical and non-dualistic’ (p.42) making a tangible, material definition impossible. However, G.Aloysius marks the historical events which organize the so called ‘Hindu religion’ in 19th century colonial India. These events include the compilation of fragmented sanskrit texts with the help of Brahmin interlocutors, census returns which over determined the question of religion, codification of personal laws based on religion etc. Similarly, one would not find a description of what constitutes a religion in S.K. George’s book. In Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s ‘Annihilation of Caste’ he exposed the nature of Hindu religion as a ‘religion which upholds the sacredness of caste’ or in other words it is a religion of caste. In his logical deliberations he also gives positive descriptions of what should be constitutive of a religion. He argues that religion should be based on principles and not commands and prohibitions (rules). It should be universal and responsible. It should practice fraternity and should work towards common goals. He argues that, Hindu religion in its practice hardly qualifies as a religion, he describes it simply a collection of ‘legalized class-ethics’. The point made by Ambedkar is taken forward by T.M. Yesudasan (2010) when he argues against the word ‘conversion’. He convincingly points out that Dalits were never a part of a religion (based on fraternity, collective responsibility, common goals and universal principles). By embracing Christianity they were entering a ‘religion’ for the first time. Thus he terms Dalit entry as ‘Matharohanam’ and not conversion.
However, we don’t find any fundamental attempt by S.K. George to sociologically ground the meaning of religion or Hinduism. He keeps himself busy with an ‘idealized’ abstraction Hinduism by M.K. Gandhi. This also brings me to the self-evident point that S.K. George does not consider the sociological and theological contexts of embracing Christianity in a caste-ridden society. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1995) points out that the failure of Christian Missions to convert large numbers of Brahmins or other upper-caste Hindus can be traced in the basic tenets of Christianity, brotherhood and equality, which upsets the privilege of the upper-castes. On the other hand, the steady flow of lower-castes into the Church clearly proved their reception to such universal principles. Ambedkar at once turns Gandhi’s arguments against Dalit Christians upside down. Gandhi compares Dalit Christians to cattle and makes the following remark –
‘I do not maintain …. That the vast masses of Harijans and for that matter of Indian humanity, cannot understand the presentation of Christianity, and that, generally speaking, conversion, wherever it has taken place, has not been a spiritual act in any sense of the term. They are conversions of convenience. They (the Harijans) can no more distinguish between the relative merits than can a cow. Harijans have no mind, no intelligence, no sense of difference between God and no-God’ (M.K.Gandhi quoted in Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s essay ‘The Condition of the Convert’).
For Gandhi, ‘conversion’ was a ‘convenience’ which cannot be qualified as a spiritual act. Gandhi’s conception of spirituality is divorced from everyday dignity and comfort. On the other hand, Babasaheb humanizes Dalit Christians and recognizes their agency and struggles. He puts forward a materialist understanding of religion, which is evident in the ‘matharohanam’ of Dalits and other lower-castes. Sanal Mohan argues that entering the church meant entering schools, colleges, hospitals, public office, new occupations etc. However, such a conception of dignity which links the ‘spiritual’ to the ‘material’ is seen as an unforgivable distraction from the ‘pure’ location of theological abstraction. S.K. George subscribes to such theological purity which celebrates ‘performances of poverty’ and Christian piety. For example, in the second chapter titled ‘Gandhi and Peace’ S.K. George compares the ‘frail, mall, half-naked’ ‘tender plant-like’ appearance of Gandhi with the ‘Servant of God’. He describes this appearance as an ‘enigma to the Western World’. He calls Gandhi an embodiment of ‘suffering’. Interestingly such celebrations of ‘images of poverty’ comes from an author who was born and brought in one of the wealthiest Syrian Christian families (Srambickal) with opportunities to study abroad and a successful career as a writer and professor. The same contradiction was evident in the life of M.K. Gandhi.
Taking a deeper look at the content of the book one needs to recognize an undercurrent which runs through all the chapters. S.K. George visions Gandhi as a ‘spiritual fact’ comparable to Christ. This comparison is ‘political’ as S.K. George interprets Gandhi as a ‘patron-saint’ for Christians to enter the nationalist movement. He tries to convince the Christian reader by comparing the methods and metaphors of Gandhi with that of Christianity. In doing all of this he is posing an opposition to the Christian orthodoxy of his times.
‘The Suriyaani Christiany’ – Illustration by Nidhin Shobhana
For example in the first chapter, S.K. George philosophises Gandhi’s politics as a scientific practical reduction of the ‘Sermon of Mount’. He moves on to interpret the conception of Ram Rajya as ‘kingdom of Heaven’ which would be achieved through non-violence. Further, he compares ‘Satyagraha’ as a science which captures the essence of suffering love illustrated by the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth, calling it a non-violent revolution of Love. In other words, S.K. George has tried to ‘indigenize’ Christianity through Gandhi (his methods and metaphors) which are drawn majorly from ‘Hindu cosmology’. As discussed earlier, such attempts do not take into account the experience, resistance and interpretations of the Christian majority.
Major portions of the book, especially the second chapter, in effect epitomize Gandhi as a ‘phenomena’ beyond the scope of mortals. He is the undeniable ‘spiritual leader’ who puts ‘cross in action’.
In the third chapter titled ‘Is Satyagraha Christian?’ S.K. George interprets Satyagraha as an ‘act of aggressive love attacking evil’. In putting up this interpretation he footnotes the example of Gandhi’s ‘fast unto death’ in the aftermath of separate electorate for Scheduled Castes. S.K. George calls it an act of aggressive love towards the ‘untouchables’. However, S.K. George does not explain the contexts or arguments which led to such a fast by Gandhi. He circumvents any social or political explanation. On the other hand, he claims that Gandhi personifies the principle of cross and ‘reincarnates itself’.
The central arguments in the book, relevant to this essay, appear in the concluding chapters. In one of the concluding chapters, S.K. George denigrates Ambedkar as a person with ‘little’ appeal among those he claims to speak for. He also characterises Ambedkar as someone who is overtly supported and accepted by Christian missionaries (read as Orthodoxy), especially after his declaration to leave Hindu religion in 1935. He belittles Ambedkar’s attempts to ‘secure highest political advantage’ for Dalits by upholding Gandhi’s service to the Harijans (a beautiful name according to George). He further moves on to endorse Gandhi’s idea that Christian missions should be above any suspicion like ‘Caesar’s wife’. In other words, evangelization is seen as a treachery/betrayal of ‘larger interests’ which compounds as Hindu and national interests. Untouchables described as the ‘submerged sixth’ by George are just populations (and not persons) which constitute the main drawings of converts. According to him, they are converted without any spiritual actualization. However, such arguments do not take into account or are ignorant of the associational life of Dalit Christians in early 20th century (Yesudasan, 2010). In short, any disturbance to a caste-ordained Hindu social order is seen as an act of national betrayal. In other words, nationalist Christians should uphold the sanctity of the existing order or reduce the problem of caste to ‘untouchability’.
He consistently tries to place ‘Christ’ within Hinduism. This exercise is crucial as it philosophically determines the location of Indian Christians in a ‘Hindu’ India. He invokes the concept of Ishta Devata to achieve his goal –
‘Today this battered Christian creed is thrown into the melting-pot of religions and civilizations, which is what the world is at the present time. Particularly in India it comes into the closest contact with Hindu thinking. The Hindu world-view is something that has maintained itself for centuries and is finding new life today. Is reconciliation possible between that and Christian thought? Is there a place in it for the personality and ethic of Jesus, for the cult and devotion centering round him? The Hindu will not say no. Hinduism is no closed, no credal system. It has certainly a place for Jesus among the many leaders and teachers it reverences as revealers of God to man, nay, as incarnations of God in His aspect as the Lover and Redeemer of man. Its conception of a favourite God, Ishta Devata, would sanction even an exclusive worship of him to those who find in such adoration the way to God-realization.’ p.44 (Italics mine)
Very clearly, George invokes the concept as a strategy to legitimize ‘exclusive worship’ of Christ in an innately meritorious Hindu nation. In other words, Christ becomes one among an array of Gods and Goddesses worshipped in India without any scope for conflict or dissent. He substantiates this argument by pointing out how Western traditions of Christianity embraced cultures of Greek and Rome. Similarly, Christianity needs to be placed within Hindu intellectual traditions. Again, it goes without saying, that caste, rather untouchability is only viewed as a peripheral subversion which has not harmed the essence of Hinduism.
Among other things, George attributes Christian missions to have catalysed nationalism in India. The rise of nationalism he argues has led to a ‘new awakening’ making India a ‘veritable melting pot’. In such a context, he imagines Christianity to play the role of a ‘little leaven’ and not a ‘rival’ of the ancient religion of the land. In other words, Christianity should not grow as an oppositional discourse. This conception of Christianity, again, contradicts and betrays the social and political contexts of lower-castes in general and lower-caste Christians in particular.
In order to illustrate the prescribed role of Christianity, George gives the example of his own community –the Syrian Christians. He describes and explains the survival of the community in the following words –
‘It settled down as a caste or community within Hindu society, accepting beliefs like the transmigration of souls and that Christian baptism was not essential for salvation.’ – p.47
‘ […] The survival of this small community through the centuries and its material prosperity under Hindu rulers show the tolerance of Hinduism and its willingness to assimilate other faiths, provided these are prepared to shed their exclusiveness and militancy.’ –p.48
The readiness of Syrian Christians to accept the caste hierarchy and practice the rules of caste which included untouchability, slavery and violence should be contextualized in their role within the political economy of Kerala. As traders and commercial farmers they maintained amicable relationship with the Savarna Hindu rulers. The condition of their existence can only be explained in terms of their observance of rules of caste. This community, according to George is an example to follow suit.
George is convinced about the dominant position of Hinduism in India. He clearly argues that no attempt should be made to replace it or claim equivalence. He images this ‘subordination’ of minority religious thought with the help of the following metaphor –
‘Any new light, any new emphasis that another religion may bring, must be added to the ancient faith, rather than seek to blot out the ancient light. Sometime after I had that experience in the Hindu temple I happened to see a Christian church built in Hindu style, as some Christian churches are coming to be built in India; and I was reminded of some of the smaller shrines adjoining the central structure in Hindu temple yards, and I seemed to see a vision of the future of Christianity in India, existing by the side of, never seeking to displace, the giant structure of Hinduism […]’ p.51
The metaphor of ‘smaller shrines’ co-existing beside the ‘giant structure’ of Hinduism is very interesting in contemporary times. S.K. George is a philosopher of subordination standing in opposition to the struggles of his Christian brethren. He imagines a similar role for all religious minorities. The metaphor is a strategy to claim nationalism, though a subordinated nationalism.
The pen-ultimate moment in the book is the celebration of Syrian Christians as an example of spiritually nationalist. This brings me to the personal crisis of S.K. George and Savarna Christians like him (discussed in some detail in the first section). Attempts to mitigate personal identity crisis and finding ways to negotiate with a nationalist elite which is predominantly Hindu has meant prescribing a formula for subordination and acceptance of status quo. I argue that S.K. George’s work is a contribution to ‘Hindu nationalism’ prescribing strategies for peaceful subordination of religious minorities. This literary work falls in place with the historical trajectory of
S.K. George’s Syrian Christian community, which actively aligned with upper-castes to oppress Avarnas and Dalits in Kerala.
In lieu of a Conclusion
P. Lakshmi Narasu (2009) argues that the most certain characteristic of Hinduism is the dominance and supremacy of the Brahmin. In other words, he calls an average Hindu a ‘Brahmanist’. Similarly, he describes Hindu religion as a set of rules with no ideas but only ‘practice of rules’. His description falls in place with the perspectives of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar and many other anti-caste scholars (Aloysius, 2005). In the light of my discussion on Savarana Christian public life and the specific example of S.K. George’s book, one realises how caste is an over determining factor in the identity formations of ‘upper-caste’ Christians. They prescribe to idealisms of Hinduism which do not find any place in the everyday life of a caste-ordained society. Gandhi is seen as an ally by them, though they are fully mindful of his unsubstantiated wrath on lower-caste Christians. The ignorance and dismissal of Dalit-Bahujan experiences of organized religion is a severe intellectual disability of Savarna Christians like S.K. George. Under the garb of ‘secularism’ and ‘inter-faith dialogue’ Savarna Christian public maintain their ‘caste’ determined privileges. The delegitimization of any material understanding of religion is part of their strategy.
1 For example See Julius Lipner’s biographical account on Brahmabandhav Upadhyay (1999); See George Gheverghese Joseph’s biographical account of his grandfather Congressmen George Joseph (2003); See the biographical account of K.T. Paul by H.A.P. (1938).
2 Habermas et al (1964) define public sphere as a ‘realm of social life’ where ‘public ‘opinions are formed. Such realms are not simply a collection of individuals or a crowd but are defined by institutions.
3 Alongwith Dr. Banerjee, Rev. Lal Behari Dey, Mohesh Chander Ghose, Anando Chand Mazumdar, Gopee Nath Nundi were also part of the Anglican Church in Calcutta in various capacities in different time-periods.
4 See Indian Christians: Biographical and Critical Sketches of Poets, Educationists, Publicists, Reformers, Ministers of the Church in India’, 1910.
5 See ‘Papers Connected with Establishment of Universities in India, Calcutta: John Gray, Calcutta Gazette Office, 1857’. Retrieved from www.archive.org
6 Brahmo Samaj, Adi Samaj (Debenranath Tagore), Sadharna Samaj (Keshab Chandra Sen), Prarthana Samaj (mostly operated in Western India) etc. tried to reform Hinduism in varying degrees. However, upholding the authority of Vedas was a common feature among most of these associations. (See Narasu, 2009, p.118)
7 Arya Samaj under the leadership of Dayanand Saraswati desired a synthesis between western science and Vedas. (See Narasu 2009, p.119)
8 Narayan Vaman Tilak (1861-1919) is a popular Marathi poet of Colonial Maharashtra. See H.L. Richard (1998)
9 John Munro was the British Resident of Travancore in the second decade of the 19th century (1810-1819).
10 Kerala Council of Historical Research has archived 188 such family histories. Retrieved from: http://www.keralahistory.ac.in/2011pdf/familyhistorylist.pdf
11 Sanal Mohan (2006) and T.M. Yesudasan (2010) document the violence of Syrian Christians in their works.
12 See Kunnikuyi S. Mani & Anirudhan P.S’, ‘Mahatma Ayyankali: Ayyankaliyude Ariyapetathu Charitram’, DC Books: 2013
13 See Sanal Mohan (2005)
14 P.K. Benjamin is Coordinator, Bangalore Initiative for Religious Dialogue (BIRD); Member, Karnataka State Minorities Commission and a Freelance journalist with 35 years experience. Retrieved from http://panavelinbenjamin.blogspot.in/2007/12/prof-skgeorge.html
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Nidhin Shobhana is an artist and writer.