The Christian Roots of India’s Independence: The Untold Story

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Photo: League of India

THIS YEAR MARKS the 75th anniversary of India’s independence from British rule. India gained her independence from the British Raj after nearly 200 years of its dominion. Yet paradoxically, it was the British rule that paved the way for India’s freedom. The noted jurist Nani A. Palkhivala maintained: “ . . . paradoxical as it may seem, if India is a free republic today, that is also the consequence of British rule. Indians fought and fought valiantly, to get rid of foreign domination. But it is probable that, up to now, India would not have shaken off the domination of Indian rulers but for the notions of freedom imbibed from the days of British rule.” The catalyst, however, and the major player was the European Christians in India—Evangelicals and protestant missionaries. This is the untold story of the unsung heroes who made modern India.

In the early years of British rule, Indians had no notion of Indian nationhood. There was no national spirit as found in Tagore’s song “Punjab-Sind-Gujarata-Dravita-Bangla” that arouses a spirit of oneness—that spirit arose only in the 20th century after the arrival of Gandhi on the national movement scene. When the British showed up in India, Indians had no idea of her own great Indus-Valley civilization or knew of Ashoka—those were discovered by the British scholars! So much for Indian-ness. And interestingly, the word ‘India’ is not found in any of the ancient Indian scriptures, but found in the Bible!— thus the European explorers’ interest in finding India.

Hindus have always been the majority in India, making up about two-third of India’s population. Yet hinduism did not bring about unity in India. Rather its adherents were divided by the religion for its practice of caste system. Thus there was no spirit of Nationalism in the caste-minded Hindus. Hindu Scholar Ram Mohun Roy clearly came to see the problem in Hindu religion, after coming in contact with Christian faith through missionaries like William Carey. In 1828, he wrote,“ I regret to say that the present system of religion adhered to by the Hindus is not well calculated to promote their political interest. The distinctions of castes introducing innumerable divisions and sub-divisions among them has entirely deprived them of patriotic feeling, and the multitude of religious rites and ceremonies and the laws of purification have totally disqualified them from undertaking any difficult enterprise. It is, I think, necessary that some change should take place in their religion at least for the sake of their political advantage.” Even in the 20th century, the caste system was Gandhi’s biggest challenge to India’s freedom struggle.

Also read | Marching ahead with the spirit of Swatantra Bharat

The revolt of 1857 is popularly described as India’s “first war of independence.” But was it? When in 1857 the mutineers revolted against the British, the Indian rebels were not fighting for Indian nationhood. They were simply fighting to end foreign rule. There was no rallying cry of “Bharat mata ki jai.” It was not a war for national

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